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Before you retake the LSAT, you have some serious thinking to do. Retaking the LSAT is a lot of time and effort to put in for uncertain results. Sometimes, it’s an easy call whether you should retake. Other times, it comes down to judgment. In this post, we give you everything you need to know to decide whether you should retake.
Retaking the LSAT is going to be a different decision depending on your score, the time of year, and a number of other factors. We take that all into account here. One of the most common questions we get is from 150s or lower scorers wondering if they should retake to improve that score. Often, the 150s score is a little below expectations for the applicant and they aren’t sure if they like the school options that come with that score. We have a special section devoted to that question: Click here to jump down the page to “Should I retake the LSAT if I scored in the 150s.”
Does A Retake Hurt You?
If you are deciding whether to retake, the good news is that law schools currently put very little if any weight on any lower LSAT scores you have. What this means for you is that if you improve on a retake you’ll be judged by the higher score. Even if your score gets worse, you still aren’t substantially worse off. Check out our post on how law schools view multiple LSATs for a broader explanation as to how schools factor retakes into their admissions decisions.
Here’s the problem: since retaking isn’t going to hurt you much (all else being equal), how do you decide where to draw the line? When is your score good enough? It’s all about assessing how likely you are to do better on a retake.
How Much Do People Usually Improve on an LSAT Retake?
Overall, the odds of making a significant improvement are always against you. Take a look at average improvement in LSAT score for those who retake the LSAT?
The following table summarizes the average increase or decrease in performance on the LSAT for test-takers who retook the LSAT in 2009-2010. The “Initial LSAT Score” listed is the score that test-takers received on a previously administered LSAT exam.
For each Initial LSAT Score, the “Average Improvement On Retake” is the average score increase (+) or decrease (-) earned on the subsequent administration.
|Initial LSAT Score||Average Improvement On Retake|
As you can see, the average jump, where there is one, isn’t very substantial. With the exception of 170 and 171 scorers, the 170+ crowd can’t really count on things going better on retake. Almost everyone else can expect somewhere between a 2 and 3 point jump.
That said, these are just averages. You can take comfort in the fact that seeing improvement is genearlly much more common than going down. LSAC’s repeater data can tells us in detail how people fare on the retake. I turned some numbers into percentages for you:
|Initial LSAT Score||% Higher Score On Retake||% Same Score On Retake||% Lower Score On Retake|
As you can see, the odds of improving, staying the same, or doing worse are somewhat stable across a wide range of scores. You might be wondering, what are the odds of doing much better, like 10 points or more better. For those scoring a 150, only a mere 5% scored a 160 or better on their next retake. For 160 scorers, only 4% were able to get a 170+ score on the retake. It’s a lot more common to do five points better: for example 29% of 165 takers got a 170 or better on their next LSAT. That’ s huge. 5 points is a big jump that makes a world of difference in your law school options.
That last stat should be encouraging to you. In fact, if any of this data looks discouraging, realize that you shouldn’t get too caught up in these numbers. You may not know this, but the overwhelming majority of LSAT takers don’t adequately prepare for this test. What I’m going to tell you next may shock you: even on a retake, most people still don’t bother to study a whole lot. I have no idea why after getting a score you’re unhappy with you would do the same things over again and underprepare, but trust me, that’s what people do. That’s good news for you: if you prep smart and and really focus, you’ve got much better odds of seeing significant improvement than these charts would indicate.
On that note, let’s talk about when you should definitely retake.
When You Should Always Retake The LSAT
There’s some times where there is just no doubt you should retake. Myself and just about every other expert would agree with me on these points.
You Did Significantly Worse Than Usual
When you do significantly worse than your average on the recent practice tests you’ve taken, that’s a retake everytime. Well-known admissions counselor Ann Levine posted on our site recently that you should ALWAYs retake if your score was more than three points below your practice test average. I accept that as beyond questioning and you should too. You are just leaving points on the table otherwise! Get back in there and get the points you deserve!
The LSAT is designed so that your score should fall within a tight range the majority of the time. As long as you just maintain your skills from now until the next LSAT, chances are very high that next time, you will hit around your practice average. Just trust me. That’s how it works. You have nothing much to worry about. For tips on how to maintain your abilities, see our post on how to improve on a retake.
You Were Sick, Overly Anxious, or Something Else Went Wrong
If you scored significantly below your preptest range perhaps due to illness or another extenuating circumstances that is unlikely to reoccur, that means you should retake. Lightening isn’t likely to strike twice. Again, just keep up your LSAT skills and you’ll be fine come the next test. If anxiety was an issue, you may have to take some steps to make sure it doesn’t pounce on you again. Evan is somewhat of an expert on dealing with test anxiety. Here is his post on managing LSAT stress.
You Grossly Under-Prepared The First Time
Another possible reason to retake is if you did not do as much prep as you should have done the first time around. You likely have the potential to do better. We always advocate preparing for the test correctly the first time around by studying intensely with a rigorous prep schedule. If you can’t prep properly in time for the LSAT, it’s best to not take the test and wait until you have done prep right, rather than get a bad score and try to retake later. However, for various reasons (usually because they are ill-informed) people often take the test without preparing properly. If you only studied a month the first time you took it, chances are you could improve your the second time around.
Now this isn’t quite a reason that always counsels a retake. If you under-prepared, that might be a good indication that your heart just isn’t in with this law school thing. If you realized how important this test was the first time but couldn’t bring yourself to study, you may want to look hard at whether this game is for you. It only gets harder past the LSAT.
That said, when you decide to retake, keep a positive attitude and fully commit yourself. Self doubt has no place in the LSAT exam room.
When You Should Generally Not Retake The LSAT
Here are the situations where is usually best to stick with your score and focus on other aspects of the application process:
You Got A 170 Or Better
With rare exceptions, those who got a 170 on the LSAT shouldn’t take the test again. If you look at the charts, it’s just not likely you are going to do better enough to change your results. With anything over a 172 initial score, more people do worse on a retake than better.
A 170+ LSAT should make you competitive at just about any of the top schools right now, so the returns on a better score may diminish at some point. A retake also typically delays when you hand in your application. At the very top schools, getting your app in early may still give you boost. You are probably better off taking advantage of that rather than retaking. Just focus on making your application tight.
That said, there might be exceptions. If your hit all 178s and 179s on practice test and got a 170 on the actual test, I think you might be justified retaking. Just a funny side-story: the year I went to law school, there was a guy who got a 179 and retook. They managed to get a 180. Some people just have to be perfect I guess.
You Just Sort Of “Feel” Like You Can Do Better
Remember that the odds of improving significantly on a retake are always against you. For a huge chunk of retakers, retaking the exam will either hurt them or leave them no better off. Using 163 as an example, nearly 45% of those who scored a 163 on a previous LSAT in 2009-2010 earned a score equal to or below 163 when they retook the exam.
I wager that most of the group is made of people who just “think” they can do better, but don’t do much to effect a real change. Generally, if you are going to retake, you should have concrete reasons to think you can do better. The exception is for lower 150s and below scorers. We discuss that in the next section.
You Already Put Your All Into This Test And Successfully Hit Your Practice Average The First Time
It’s often the people that really put their all into the test the first time around who feel they want a retake. However, the odds are really against this group and they usually shouldn’t retake. Say you studied your butt off and did every available LSAT practice question. Then your score on test day was exactly what you expected. It can be really hard to improve on a retake from this position, especially because you might not have many fresh LSAT prep tests to practice with remaining. Impossible? Probably not? Unlikely? Yes. Generally, at this point, the better idea is to put more of that same hard work into the application and get it in earlier rather than later.
Again, those who scored in the low 150s and lower might be an exception to this, let’s talk about that:
Should You Retake The LSAT if You Scored In The 150s Or Lower?
This is for those whose LSAT practice test average was in the 150’s or lower going into the exam. Should you put in the large amount of effort required to retake and try for a score boost?
Should You Retake? – Low 150s LSAT Score
For non-URM applicants, low 150s scores represent the bottom end of scores that will get you into a tier 2 school (the bottom half of the top 100 law schools). It’s a middling to low score even in many of the schools ranked below the top 100. While you’ll typically be in the range of scores these lower schools accept, you are in a weak position to draw scholarship money.
Because of that, the overwhelming majority of law school applicants should try at least once to boost a score in the low 150s.
I’m confident that almost anyone capable of a low 150s score, can, with effort, get their score in to the high 150s or higher. LSAT prep courses are excellent for getting people with around average LSAT scores (~150) into a higher range. Tell us what you have tried so far for LSAT prep in the comments below and we are happy to point you in the direction of some great LSAT prep.
The reality of the weak legal economy is that applicants are almost always better off not going to law school than going with a score in the low 150s. While good outcomes do happen, it’s a serious gamble. You are most often taking on big debt for a worse than 50% shot at getting a job that requires a J.D.
We realize that if everyone followed our advice a lot of law schools would have to close. We are okay with that. It’s still sound advice. Now, if you still want to go to law school, get down to business and redouble your LSAT prep efforts. For a shot in the arm, see our post on 5 harsh truths that will make you a better LSAT taker.
Again, I know that the repeater data indicates that a lot of people don’t improve significantly the second time around on the LSAT. That doesn’t matter. You should still try. Focus on doing your best and only apply when you are sure you have got yourself in the best position possible. Remember that the repeater data looks at every LSAT taker. Most people don’t put a lot of effort into LSAT prep. Your odds of improving are good if you put serious work into in.
Should You Retake? – High 150s LSAT score.
For high 150s scorers, the path forward is a little less clear. Say your average practice scores were in the high 150s after you truly applied yourself, used great LSAT teaching materials, and stuck to a rigorous prep schedule for 3 months or more. In this situation, a retake is less likely to improve matters. You might be best off simply applying to a wide range of schools and going with your cheapest good option.
However, we think most high 150 scorers, especially if it was their first time, owe themselves a retake to see if they can improve. This is an opinion but it has a solid basis. Efforts to improve by retaking the LSAT are in most cases overwhelmingly cost-justified. The upshot– way more scholarship money– is so great in proportion to the time and expense of trying once more that you don’t need very good odds of improving to justify trying it.
Think of a poker game where you have only a 1 in 10 shot of hitting a card to win the hand. You have to put in 10 dollars to play on, but the pot is paying out $500 dollars. It’s worth seeing that last card. In fact it would be worth it if the pot was only $101 dollars.
Retaking the LSAT is like being in this $500 dollar pot situation. There might be long odds against you, but it’s worth it to try because the payout is so huge. As people realize this, more and more are retaking the LSAT (considerably more now retake it at least once than not). That’s sensible. Remember, the downside is gone because lower scores hardly count anymore. That’s especially true at tier 2 schools. Yes, retaking is a long and annoying process, but, if you scored in the 150s the first time, it’s what generally what you should do. If you are going to get in this game, play it to win.
If you scored in the 150s it’s very hard to be sure you can’t improve without at least one retake. A 150s score indicates that you still have significant difficulties with speed or accuracy or both. There are just so many things you can try to improve. Again, let us know what you have done and we’ll see if we can point you in a good direction.
Retaking And Applications Timing?
If you take the June LSAT, the decision to retake the exam is a little easier. The next opportunity to take the LSAT after June, 2014 is October, 2014, which means that you will now receive your new LSAT score at the end of October. Most top law schools begin accepting applications on or about mid- to late- September, but do not really begin reviewing applications until November. As such you are no worse off applying when you get your retake score at the end of October instead of at the very beginning of the application period. See our admission timeline for October LSAT takers for more info on this.
If however you take your first LSAT in October, then the decision to retake in December is a little harder because your applications won’t go out until the end of December (30-45 days after schools begin sending out acceptances.) In this situation, then, the important question becomes: Does the potential advantage of a higher LSAT score outweigh the disadvantage of turning in your applications later?
In years past applying later, even just as late as December, put you in a significantly weaker position. Currently however, applications to law school are so far down that it does not prejudice you to very much to apply in December. There should be plenty of spots open in December. Make sure however that your applications are ready to go as soon as you get your LSAT. That will make sure that you aren’t getting evaluated behind a pile of other December LSAT takers.
Retaking in February, on the other hand, is likely to put you at a disadvantage. Most law schools (especially highly-ranked law schools) review applications in the order in which they are received. Further, most of these schools will make admissions offers on a rolling basis. Even in the current cycle, by the time February rolls around applicants are likely to be competing over significantly fewer admission spots, which lowers your chances of a good result. See a longer discussion of applying in spring with a February LSAT here.
Since turning in your law school application in December rather than February should increase your chances of receiving an offer of admission, your decision to retake the LSAT in February hinges on whether or not you will be able to earn a high enough increase in your LSAT score to justify delaying you application submissions. You should have really strong reasons to believe you can do at least 3 points better.
Bear in mind that so long as you have an LSAT score you are free to submit your application even if it is highly likely to be rejected with your current score. However, if you inform the law school to which you are applying that you are retaking, they will probably delay action on your application until after you have done your retake. This is effectively the same as not turning in the application until you got your new score, because they certainly won’t hold a place for you while you retake.
If you don’t tell them you are retaking, you run the risk that they will make a decision on your application before you have received a new score. School’s policy on reconsidering a closed application might vary school to school, so it would be good to consult the office of admissions when you are considering retaking.
For a significant portion of those who take the LSAT in December and are considering a retake in February, the disadvantage associated with delaying the submission of your applications will not be offset by the small expected score increase. Many retakers will score lower on their second attempt and many more will earn the same score or a score only 1-3 points higher. These applicants would likely have been better off had they chosen to apply earlier rather than retaking the LSAT.
Deciding Close Calls
Despite everything we’ve covered here, I know there are going to be times when it’s still very tough to decide whether you should retake. In this case, trust your instincts, but also ask us:
If you are struggling over whether to retake the LSAT, we are here to help. Ask us any retake related questions in the comments to this post and we’ll get back to you quickly.
There’s one last factor at work that I want to talk about. A lot of schools have a pretty tight line as far as LSAT scores that get you in. If you are on the right side of that line, you are often getting in even with a pretty low GPA. On the wrong side of that line, you might need a really high GPA to get in.
Let me take UCLA as an example. Last year, a 168 was like THE magic bullet number that you needed to have almost certain chances of getting into UCLA law. Applicants with a 168 got in nearly all the time, even with GPAs as low as a 3.0. However, drop to a 167 and all of a sudden no one got a straight up acceptance unless they had a GPA of 3.7 or better. I hate that law schools do this, but, at lot of them, that’s just how it is.
If you are 1 or 2 points off the mark from your dream school, it might be best to just forget about other factors and go for the retake. That’s especially true if the average boost (refer to the chart above) will get you over that line.
If You Do Retake…
When you do decide to retake, start here: How to Improve on A Retake. Remember that the very next LSAT is often too soon to make major improvements. The only people who are always okay signing up for the retake really soon are those just trying to actually hit their practice average this time around. If you want to boost your practice average, that’s going to usually mean a later retake. If that means waiting a year to apply, then so be it. 99 times out of 100 that’s better than going in with a score you know isn’t your best.
The exception is if your first LSAT is in June. With a June LSAT, you have plenty of time to study for a retake before October (this is one of the reasons we HIGHLY recommend taking your first LSAT in June).
Final Thoughts On Retaking:
I know this is a lot to process. Take time with the decision and deliberate carefully.
If you decide you hate the LSAT and never want to think about the LSAT or law school again, that’s fully okay. After getting their LSAT score back, plenty of people decide, sensibly, that law school isn’t the path for them.
Keep in touch as you make these decisions and let us know if you are stuck in your LSAT prep. We are here to help.