Retaking the LSAT
LSAT test-takers were formerly limited to no more than three test attempts in any continuous two-year period. In September of 2017, LSAC did away with this policy, and there are now no official restrictions on the number of times a given student is allowed to take the exam. Competition with the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which has a flexible retake policy and is increasingly accepted for law school admission, had to have been one factor motivating this change. Furthermore, test-optional policies are becoming popular in other types of graduate school admission (many business schools, for example, are doing away with Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) requirements). The LSAT nonetheless remains the most widely taken standardized test for U.S. law school admission by far, and LSAC obviously hopes to maintain this situation for as long as possible by offering test-takers more convenience and accommodation.
According to published LSAC statistics, the LSAT was taken 123,041 times during the 2018-19 testing year. About 57% of those test attempts (70,547) were completed by first-time test-takers. An LSAC report covering 2010-11 through 2017-18 indicates that the average annual percentage of first-time test-takers was 68%; the average annual percentage was 26% for second-timers and 5% for third-timers. In the period covered by this report, second-time test-takers received an average score of 151.9, compared to 150.7 for both first-timers and third-timers. Second-timers increased their scores by an average of 2.6 points. An earlier study using data from 2006-07 through 2012-13 produced similar results, showing that this is a long-term trend. Although the majority of prospective law students take the LSAT only once, test retakes are common, as is improved performance the second time around.
LSAT score reports presently include all test attempts (up to 12), counting cancellations and absences, taken since June 1, 2013. Students do not have the option of "editing" their reports to show only selected scores. The score for each completed test attempt is listed separately, and the average for all test attempts is also provided. Scores from LSATs taken before June 1, 2013 are not available to either institutions or test-takers.
Individual law schools have different policies on the consideration of LSAT scores with respect to applicants who have sat for the exam multiple times. Some programs use the student's highest score only, while others regard the average score as the most relevant measure of applicant ability. Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law is an example of the former; only a candidate's highest scores are factored into admissions decisions. Columbia University Law School, on the other hand, "considers the entire LSAT testing history when evaluating applicants for admission." Harvard Law School represents something of a middle ground between these two approaches: While admissions officials consider all LSAT scores on the applicant's score report, they also review any explanation the student offers for poor performance on a given test attempt.
To make an informed decision on LSAT retakes, the student should consider several factors. First, was the initial score above the median for his or her favored programs? If so, then the additional benefit of a few more points may not be worth the effort of extra test prep. Second, was there a good reason for a disappointing score? Was the test-taker ill, stressed, or just having a bad day? If so, a retake is probably worth serious consideration. Finally, do application deadlines and other logistical issues allow enough time for a retake? A student's best choice might be to simply accept his or her original score, but if he or she has good reasons to believe the benefits outweigh the costs and risks, then an LSAT retake is probably worth serious consideration.