LSAT Scores: How low should you go?

When your LSAT score is not great, its time to decide whether to try again, give up or accept the offers that do come your way.    

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You want to be a lawyer, and nothing is going to stop you, except, maybe, you know, that little test called the LSAT.

So you buy the books, watch the online tutorials and trade your social life for test prep. Then the results come in, and your score is low. Really low. So low that just a handful of law schools would consider accepting you. You take the LSAT again and get similar results. Frustrated and exhausted, do you throw in the towel and pursue another career? Take the exam again? Or do you enroll in any school that is willing to take your score?

As with any question you will encounter in law school, the answer is: “It depends.”

“I understand the desire for a bright-line metric to simplify a decision to attend law school,” said Chris Chapman, president at AccessLex Institute. “Unfortunately, the decision requires a more complex analysis.”

The LSAT is the leading indicator of first-year academic success, and an applicant’s score is one of the major factors schools consider during the admissions process, Chapman said.  The lowest score, which is practically impossible to get because you would have to flop every question, is 120. The highest,  which is nearly impossible to get because of the test’s difficulty, is 180. The national median is 150.

The LSAT has between 98 and 104 questions, which measure your critical thinking and verbal reasoning. 

But, as Chapman notes, the LSAT — while a critical measuring stick — is but one piece of the puzzle when it comes to one’s law school potential. “This information is just a single data point in a dynamic, multi-variable analysis that any aspiring law student must conduct to effectively make a choice among law schools, or the choice to attend law school at all,” he said.

An LSAT in the mid-140s, while not great, may be accepted by a number of law schools, said Jeff Thomas, executive director for pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep. But even if you can get into one of these schools, enrolling may not be a good idea.

“Students who are struggling to get to that 150 to 155 mark on the LSAT, those are the students, historically speaking, who have the most trouble when it comes time to prepare for and pass the bar exam,” Thomas said.

Thomas advises applicants falling below the national median LSAT score to be cautious and examine the academic support services available at the law schools they are applying to. Applicants should also take a hard look at each school’s graduate employment rates and bar passage rates, he said.

“When looking at a law school, you want to ask yourself, ‘Do people from that law school pass the bar, and do they get jobs as lawyers?’” said Ann Levine, author and founder of Law School Expert.

Take Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, for instance. In 2012, the entering class had a median LSAT score of 145. Three years later, only 51.9 percent of those students passed the bar exam, and only 31 percent were employed in full-time jobs requiring bar passage. Arizona Summit Law School has a similar story. According to the school’s admissions profile, the 2012 entering class had a median of 145. In 2015, the bar passage rate was only 41.6 percent, and just 38.5 percent of graduates had full-time legal jobs.

 


 "If you have a 2.3 GPA and a 138 LSAT, you — unfortunately — are very unlikely to be able to make it through law school and pass the bar exam after graduation. So making the decision now, before investing three years and $150,000, could be the smartest thing you do.”


 

Critics of legal education note that LSAT scores have been dropping at some schools because of the steep decline in law school applicants. Fewer high-quality students are applying. To remain in business, a number of law schools have had to lower their admissions standards. So, some students are getting into law school who would have been unable to do so a decade ago, critics claim. And they simply don’t belong there, many critics argue.

“In general, it’s unwise to attend law school with an LSAT score below 160,” said Keith Syska, LSAT curriculum designer at Magoosh. “Surely there are exceptions, but scoring below 160 will foreclose many attractive opportunities. An LSAT score below 160 is not competitive for admission to the top law schools, and it’s not competitive for scholarships to law schools with decent employment prospects.”

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “One number does not define me.” And you’re right. Every year, thousands of students scoring at or below the national median get into great law schools based on strong personal statements and excellent undergraduate GPAs.

“Not every potential law student does well on a standardized test, but that does not mean they cannot excel in law school and realize their dream of becoming a lawyer,” a representative from the Law School Admission Council wrote. “It is important for potential law students to take a holistic approach when they are choosing a law school, and we recommend to our member schools that they also take a holistic approach to admitting students.”

So, why does the LSAT matter so much?

According to LSAT validity studies, there is a high correlation between LSAT scores and first-year grades, especially when paired with an applicant’s undergraduate GPA. That’s why law schools rely on it so heavily. However, results of the validity studies varied from school to school. At some schools, students with high LSAT scores did not perform as predicted their first year. Conversely, some students with low scores performed surprisingly well.

“The LSAT is not at all a perfect science,” Kaplan’s Thomas said. “One should not take their test score alone to determine whether or not law school is right for them.”

When an applicant receives a low LSAT score, there are three options, Levine wrote in her new book, “The Law School Admission Game: Play Like and Expert.”

First, an applicant can retake the LSAT and improve their score, but only if they are ready to invest the time and effort necessary. While a jump from the 140s to the 170s is unlikely, Levine said, it is not uncommon for applicants to work their way into the 150s and 160s with time and persistence.

The second option is to consider applying to law schools that will take lower scores. Levine advises students with low LSAT scores to look at the 25th-percentile scores of the law schools they want to attend. If the numbers are 10 points higher than the applicant’s LSAT, then there is a very good chance that he or she will not be accepted.

And the third option?

“Rethink your plans to attend law school,” Levine wrote. “After all, if you have a 2.3 GPA and a 138 LSAT, you — unfortunately — are very unlikely to be able to make it through law school and pass the bar exam after graduation. So making the decision now, before investing three years and $150,000, could be the smartest thing you do.”

If you take the LSAT again and again yet come up short of your desired score, law school may still be the right decision for you. Your competitiveness, motivation and ability to overcome adversity may not be measured on a scale between 120 and 180, but it may be demonstrated by your GPA and personal statement, Levine explained.

Deciding to go to law school “is very individual in nature and requires a comprehensive approach, lest the decision to invest the substantial time, money and psychological resources is reduced to a single test score,” Chapman said. “The best admissions offices endeavor to review applicants holistically. We would be remiss in our duties if we encouraged any less from the aspiring lawyers we seek to serve.”

Find more LSAT tips in the preLaw Fall 2017 issue.  

 


Tyler Roberts is an editor for The National Jurist