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If you have just taken the LSAT and didn’t quite as well as you expected, fear not! All schools consider the results of a retake of the LSAT and MOST schools only really consider the best score you have received on the LSAT.
It wasn’t always this way: formerly, the ABA required schools to report all of incoming applicants scores, and the average of a given students multiple scores was used in reporting the strength of a school’s student profile. Because schools are ranked based on this reported data, they had a huge incentive to take applicants with only one score so that a lower score wasn’t dragging down the reportable average score of the student. As law schools are now only required to report the highest LSAT score received by a matriculating student, that particular incentive is gone.
Now law schools have a heavy incentive to disregard your lower score entirely. Again this is largely because of US News and World Report rankings (if you don’t know already, these rankings are king, largely because students rely heavily on these rankings in deciding which school to attend). These rankings are based in significant part on how high students’ LSAT scores were. Since they are now allowed to report only the highest score for rankings purposes, they prefer students with highest reportable score, regardless of whether it came from a retake or not.
So let’s say a school is considering Applicant #1 who has a one time score of 173 against Applicant #2 who got a 168 on their first try then and 174 on the retake. Applicant #2 should be in a marginally better position because now schools only need report the highest LSAT received, in this case a 174. If the law school in question is shooting for a 75th percentile of 174, the 174 student might be in a significantly better position.
The irony of this is that the average of a student’s LSAT score is supposedly the best predictor of their performance in law school. So the 173 applicant is theoretically the better applicant by the narrowest of margins. However, schools don’t really split hairs that finely, because there is practically no difference between them (the LSAT isn’t so powerful a predictor of law school performance that one point should make any difference).
So what principle do they use in choosing these candidates? As a general rule, law schools take the applicants with the numbers they need to get their desired class profile. Though they undoubtedly do use a very holistic approach in evaluating candidates, much of this is done after having already obtained enough students with satisfactory numbers. So say a school is choosing between several 172 candidates and thinks they have more available than they need to admit- then other factors beyond the number will influence their decision as to who gets fat envelopes. However, if they needed to admit all of these candidates to get enough 172 students to come, then they would take them all with minimal consideration of factors beyond the numbers.
Now, a lot of schools, particularly in the T14, maintain that they don’t merely take the highest score. The following is a list of current information on how the Top 14 law schools look at multiple LSAT scores, which will give us an idea of current policies regarding retaking the exam:
Yale- Says that they “consider all information about an applicant, including multiple LSAT scores.” (Source)
The LSAT need be taken only once. If you take the test more than once, all scores and their average will be reported and considered.” (Source)
“The LSAT need be taken only once. If you take the test more than once, all scores will be received but we will use the highest score in our evaluation.” (Source)
UPDATE: January 15, 2014 – Harvard has changed their policy and now only uses your highest score!
Stanford – From Faye Deal’s admissions blog: “Ideally, the LSAT should be properly studied for and taken once. Reality shows this is not always the case, but you need to keep in mind that every time you retake the LSAT we expect your score to go up – familiarity with the test accounts for this. Now, if there is a noticeable gap between scores, you should tell us why you think that happened – in an addendum and not in your personal statement.”
Columbia – “Even though the ABA requires that we report the highest LSAT score, the Committee considers the entire LSAT testing history when evaluating applications for admission.”
NYU – “If I take the LSAT more than once, does the Committee see the higher score?
Yes, but they evaluate based on the average score in most cases. The Committee may take special circumstances into account. If a candidate can point out specific reasons why the Committee should consider an LSAT score aberrant, they should detail those reasons in an addendum to the personal statement.” (Source)
- Ed. note: NYU appears to be fairly willing to disregard a lower score score. Also, if they are averaging, it isn’t clear from looking at applicant submitted data (one doesn’t see people with multiple scores getting waitlist or rejected so long as their higher score is in NYU’s desired range). Most people who have looked hard at it are very skeptical that they average.
University of Chicago – “We will review all LSAT scores that you have received. In accordance with the American Bar Association and LSAC policies, we place the most importance on the highest LSAT score and report the highest score (we do not average). Any large differences between LSAT scores should be explained in an addendum (uploaded through the LSAC electronic application). If you submit an addendum, we are looking for your honest assessment of why one score is a better predictor of your ability than another.” (Source)
Berkeley – “We advise preparing well and performing your best on test day in order to take the LSAT only once. However if something unexpected occurs that negatively affects your performance, or if you believe you could improve your performance, then you may wish to consider taking the test again. We usually use the highest score. We use the average if multiple scores are closely clustered. We will not penalize you for canceling scores in accordance with what LSAC policy.” (Source)
Penn – “All LSAT scores are noted by the Admissions Committee and are part of the application evaluation. If there are circumstances that you believe affected your performance on a prior test, we encourage you to provide a supplemental essay explaining those circumstances. The Admissions Committee will consider such information and may, at its discretion, evaluate your application based on the higher (or highest) LSAT score.” (Source)
- Also from Dean Post: “Our interpretation rests squarely on the shoulders of the applicant. If an applicant provides the Committee with a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy, the Committee is likely to place more consideration on the higher score.” (Source)
Michigan – “The LSDAS report for an applicant who has sat for the LSAT more than once will show every score or cancellation, as well as the average score. The ABA requires law schools to report score information based on an admitted student’s highest score, and therefore, that is the score to which we give the most weight. We do, however, consider the average score as well, because data provided by the Law School Admissions Council suggests that it has the greatest predictive utility. If you have a significant disparity between scores (six or more points), it would be very helpful to address any explanation for the difference in an optional essay or addendum.” (Source)
Virginia – “The ABA requires law schools to report LSAT information using an admitted student’s highest score, so that is the score to which we give the most weight. We evaluate all information submitted as part of the application for admission, however, including all scores earned on the LSAT. Studies by the Law School Admission Council suggest that in most cases the average score is the most accurate predictor of academic performance in the first year of law school, so we encourage applicants with a significant difference in LSAT scores to include with their application any information that may be relevant to the interpretation of test results, such as illness, testing conditions, or other circumstances that may have affected LSAT performance.” (Source)
Northwestern – “Northwestern Law’s policy is to take the highest score earned on the LSAT.” (Source)
Cornell – In general, Cornell Law’s policy is to take the higher score if it is at least 3 points higher than a prior score, but the Admissions Committee invites applicants to submit an addendum to their application explaining the different LSAT scores and why we should take the higher score. (Source)
Duke – “In the case of multiple test scores, data show that the average score is generally the most useful in predicting law school performance. However, we may place greater weight on a high score if you provide compelling information about why that score is a better indication of your potential. If you feel that one or more of your test scores does not accurately reflect your ability or potential, please explain this disparity in a separate attachment.” (Source)
Georgetown – “For reporting purposes, Georgetown Law adheres to the ABA policy of reporting the higher LSAT score. For evaluation purposes, the Georgetown Admissions Committee typically considers the highest LSAT score. Georgetown may consider an average of scores if you have taken the LSAT more than two times. Please address any mitigating circumstances you feel the Admissions Committee should consider in your application materials.” (Source)
Reading Between The Lines: How LSAT Retakes Are Really Viewed
The above should give you a sampling of different approaches taken by the top schools. In general, as you go down in rank it becomes much likelier that the school just takes your top score. This is especially true when you get out of the T14. Although it contains 2009 information, a good compilation of multiple LSAT policies of different schools can be viewed here: http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=107648
I want readers to note that no schools take a really hard line on averaging save Harvard, who can afford to because their spot among the top 3 law schools is not threatened. NYU may be seen as a bit anomalous, but the information I have seen suggests that NYU is for the most part taking the higher score. This comes from looking on LawSchoolNumbers.com at the results of actual applicants to the school.
Berkeley has changed in the past several years from doing what NYU was doing (saying they average) to admitting that they really don’t.
Northwestern, Cornell, and Georgetown take what is likely the predominant approach, which is considering the highest score only.
Virginia and Michigan are emblematic of one modern approach, which is that the average score is “considered.” No one knows exactly what that means, but every commentators best guess is that what they really mean is that your lower score is hardly considered at all. Why? because if a given law school chooses to use an average of your scores or something like it, then its peer schools can snap up all the good retakers and be in a better position to rank well on the USNWR rankings.
So Where Does this All Leave Me If I Am Considering Retaking the LSAT?
The long as short of it is that retaking the LSAT now has a MUCH greater potential upside then it once did. Say you got a 166 the first time around. Formerly the best score you could ever get on a retake, a 180, still left you with an average of 172. Good, but no 180. Nowadays if you just write an addendum explaining the lower score, by and large it will be disregarded. You’ll be considered much like any other candidate with a 180.
The downside of retaking is largely gone as well! Even if you do worse on a retake, law schools still have the ability and the incentive to just consider your higher score. Again, if the school allows you to, you may wish to explain the lower score to the admissions staff. Generally the school’s website will tell you if there is a procedure for doing so.
That said, law schools generally don’t view a 2 or 3 point score bump as a significant improvement. For one thing, these scores are within the range of one standard deviation. Secondly, some improvement is expected merely because of your increased familiarity with the test.
However, retaking the LSAT is not a lot of fun. We at Lawschooli.com highly recommend that you give it your all and prepare right the first time. Please see our other posts for advice on how to do this such as: http://lawschooli.com/lsat-prep-books-self-study/
Making the decision to retake the LSAT is a difficult one based on several factors. If you are making the decision, we’ve written a post that should provide everything you need to know about whether to retake the LSAT.