The LSAT Change

lsat1a.jpgTo get into law school, people must take a fun test called the LSAT. Sometimes people have a bad day and want to take the test over again. But there used to be a problem. A student’s LSAT scores would be averaged, so even if the student aced the test the next time, her score would still be dragged down by the one bad testing day. Since LSAT scores are such a critical component of law school admissions, this would affect the student’s abilty to get into law school.

As Paul Caron reports, the ABA is now changing the rule that law schools must report the average LSAT score for each student. Now, law schools can report the highest LSAT score for each student. Since people can’t take more than three LSATs in a two-year period, this limits people from trying to take the LSAT zillions of times in the hopes of striking it lucky.

I think that this is a terrific policy change. I never understood the rationale for using the average score except to prevent people from taking the test too many times. But that’s solved by the limit in the number of tests people can take. What this means is that students who have a bad day at the LSAT aren’t forever held back by it in their careers. This is a welcome change.

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21 Responses

  1. Dylan says:

    I find it very hard to believe that reporting rules have a material effect on actual admissions. Admissions officers were always free to consider either the higher or average in determining the “true” number for evaluating an applicant. Would they really take a 166 over a 160/170 for the sole reason it would make them look better on USN&WR or ABA stats?

    As someone with a 2.24 UGPA and a ten point difference between my first and second LSAT (I was sick on the higher one, strangely), I doubt I would have been admitted if they were looking at my average LSAT or if I’d taken it once and scored that average.

  2. Dylan,

    I assume that the numbers reported go into the US News rankings calculations. As a result, there was a disincentive for schools to admit students with a low average LSAT even though one of the scores may be very high.

  3. P.S. You express skepticism about the extent to which US News drives a law school’s decisions. The US News rankings affect law school decisions with a tyranny that is only paralleled by the world’s worst dictatorships.

  4. Nick says:

    Do you think this would have any impact on a transfer application?

  5. AnonProf says:

    I love the way you take off the gloves, Dan, in criticizing the tyranny of the US News rankings. You put it exactly right. Care to lead the uprising?

  6. Ivan Ludmer says:

    Is this really a good change, though? The LSAT makes it very easy to cancel your exam, since you can do so any time during the exam or up to something like a week afterward. (There is the downside of having to pay for it regardless, but you’d still have to pay for a second exam to retake it). So doesn’t this really mainly help people who can afford to take the exam three times in the hope of striking it lucky once rather than people who simply have a bad day, since the latter can cancel their scores anyway?

  7. RCinProv says:

    Count me as cynical, but this seems like an ideal way for them to double or triple their business. I certainly encounter lots of students who have held off taking it a second time because it was unlikely to be worth it, given the averaging (not to mention the possibility that the second score might be lower). Now there’s no downside risk on what matters the most to students: the score itself. Sure, they have to spend more time and money. But they have time — and now the Law School Admission Council will have much mroe income.

    So, I am not convinced that this is good. In my circles, this will create a lot of pressure for students to spend even more of their time on this stupid test. Time they should be spending on my classes!

  8. I just took the LSAT for the first time this past Monday. Quite honestly, I think that the old format is more fair than one in which you can take the highest of three scores. If it is truly a test that is supposed to measure your ability to perform in a do-or-die situation that is timed, then it should really count. I feel like the test has been formulated around the idea that in the real world, you may be given a tough task in a time constrained situation where you have one opportunity to perform well or you are out of a job. Honestly, I think that making it tough to increase your score after the first test by mandating an average of the scores really provides legitimacy to the LSAT over a test such as the SAT.

  9. Dylan says:

    Dan, for this rule change to matter at all to the rankings one must imagine a large number of two time takers with a very large gap between their scores. Ten percent of a potential class with a two point difference between their high and average score will make no material difference to the reported LSAT. At best you’ll see a one point shift. Maybe. And will that alone cost you a single position on the rankings? Maybe.

  10. David says:


    Limiting the number of times an applicant took the LSAT was not likely a factor in the original “averaging rule” used by the ABA.

    The ABA reporting policy was based on the former LSAC cautionary policy on the use of LSAT scores.

    That original LSAC policy was influenced by psychometric research that suggests that , in most cases, use of the average score provides of the greatest predictive value of first-year law school performance. The executive summary on the that research can be found here:

    (The link at the top of the page opens a PDF of the full report.)

    The new LSAC Cautionary Policy on the use of LSAT scores is now silent on the averaging issue, which has led to the ABA reacting to that silence by now allowing schools to report the higher score.

    The limits on taking the LSAT are the *exact* *same* limits that existed before this change (3 times maximum in 2 years)

  11. Luke Weiger says:

    “If it is truly a test that is supposed to measure your ability to perform in a do-or-die situation that is timed, then it should really count.”

    The LSAT is purportedly solely a measure of your capacity to reason–not your ability to deftly navigate around nerves. (In fact, although LSAC suggests that retaking is generally a waste of time, they do state that retaking might be a good idea if anxiety inhibited your performance.)

  12. Brett Johnson says:

    While I agree that the LSAT’s primary purpose is to measure one’s capacity for reasoning as it relates to first year law school performance, the marked loss of “do-or-die” in the test will hurt many aspiring law students by giving even more of an advantage to financially privileged test takers, as well as those not working full-time.

    Upon finishing the LSAT the first and only time I would be able to take it, I knew that I hadn’t performed up to the standards I had set for myself due to unforeseen circumstances. However, I also knew that I simply couldn’t afford to take the test a second time. I was going to be starting a second job soon to make ends meet and wouldn’t have the time neccessary to keep my test prep up to par.

    I know several students who were in my situation. I also know several students who would have treated their first LSAT as a practice had this new standard been in effect, if they didn’t make the score they wanted of course. They merely would have their parents send them to another pricey prep course or get another tutor for their “real” attempt. I’d like to think that even with more bought prep it wouldn’t make a difference, but even a point higher in such a situation is undeserved.

    This change just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  13. Love this thread. Of course, I’m highly biased (disclosure: I authored an LSAT prep book), but each time you’re exposed to the LSAT, real or simulated, you have a better chance of scoring higher. But I never though it was a good idea to take the test more than once before or after the change, especially when there are a lot of good prep companies, courses, books, pre-law advisors and released tests out there. Take as many released tests as possible and do the actual test once.

  14. barron says:


    Who are you kidding? In all honesty. I came across this site… I’m at Harvard Law and took the test 3x… my two initial scores were canceled as I did not feel they were worth discovering the outcome for. I’m nearly at the top of my class here and most likely bombed the first two. People have bad days… people don’t prepare for things… that’s life. If I mess up a case someday, fine. There’s always tomorrow and there’s always a new case. Everybody should be able to have that chance regarding the LSAT. You’re a student yourself. Why would you be opposed to something that is to your advantage?

  15. barron says:

    Excuse me, Darren… NOT Dan. My mistake. Even a top student at Harvard Law make them.

  16. ADERUS MILAN says:

    Everyone here is missing one important point. There’s no guarantee that the ABA’s new directive will translate into any new admissions policy/policies. Surely, it would and should make the powers that be think twice before mechanically averaging an applicant’s scores. For example, I would average the scores of any applicant whose scores are downward in trend, no matter what. Any applicant whose scores improve over a certain point range (say 7-10 pts) deserves the benefit of counting the higher/highest score(s). But many committees were already doing this. Moreover, the three-five year expiration rule has been in effect at almost all schools, so all some applicants had to do was wait, travel, explore, work for two years or so, prepare, and take the test again. Overall, however, the change is a good one. Schools have been forced to take the mechanical approach to admissions and the directive will encourage schools to avoid it in their own ways…that is all! But this does not mean that schools will automatically match their admissions policies with the reporting directives.

  17. ADERUS MILAN says:

    One more point…I believe that if the new directive translates into widespread changes in admissions policies it will benefit less financially able students as much as wealthy ones. Think of it this way, students who are financially strapped are less likely to take prep courses (reputable or not) or have ample prep time (40 hours/week for 10 weeks minimum, for a total of 400 hours!) A wholesale change will level the playing field for ethnic minorities and disadvantaged whites, most of whom work during and throughout their undergraduate years. The ABA, as well as many law professors have become concerned over the increasing lack of diversity in the classrooms. This is a way to level the playing field while still ensuring that those who gain admission actually deserve to be admitted. Besides, a high LSAT score doesn’t happen by accident. If it is acheived, we should feel confident that guesswork wasn’t involved, so why not give the improved scores the benefit of the doubt?

  18. Peter Rome says:

    Lets not keep sight of the fact that the ABA wants to continue its current Arian power structure. There were to many blacks and latinos entering the field so they came to the Arian Nations rescue and threatened all law schools who were admitting these students under the threat of suspendin ABA acreditation. The ABA and the LSAC need to get a grip.

  19. Angela Baena says:

    Beyond this insignificant change as many of you would agree, I still think that the LSAC should focus on analyzing how the test is discriminating minority groups that under very special circumstances will be able to match the american’s average score range considered as acceptable for most Law schools.

    The need for studies on how the LSAT could serve as a tool for discrimination in Law Schools is paramount. Let’s be fair with immigrants, they need representation in the Law field and they

    are being discriminated based on this very well developed timed test. If it is a hard test for americans, now imagine how hard it is for people that are developing a new language.

    For Immigrants, nothing has really changed.

  20. Anthony Wang says:

    Oh so Angela, the ability to speak and read English fluenty is an unimportant skill that should not be assessed by law schools in determining who to accept? Because after all, being lawyer hardly requires the ability to write and read English well, hell, why not put the US Code onto the Internet and have Google translate it for those of us who aren’t native English speakers?

    While we’re at it, I say those of us who are immigrants and learned English as a second language should demand that College Admissions Tests be administered in Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and French. That will even the playing field.

    If using English on a standardized test is discrimination (for entry into law school in the US), then it’s GOOD DISCRIMINATION.

  21. sandra says:

    I cancelled the lsat twice and now on my third try, I received a 178. I have a 4.0 GPA from a public college. What are my chanes at yale or harvard? Thanks