50% of July LSAT test-takers cancel their score

By Mike Stetz 

Approximately half of those who took the July Law School Admission Test (LSAT) decided to kill their scores.


Well, because they could.

For the first — and only — time, test-takers could see their scores and choose whether to keep them. Normally, you can’t see them. If you think you did poorly and want to cancel, you do so blindly.

The test was going digital, with one half taking it in the new manner and the other half doing so by paper and pencil, the traditional way. So this option was offered, given that test-takers didn’t know which mode they would get.

That no-lose proposition enticed a big crowd. Twenty-three thousand took it. And about 11,500 of them said, um, never mind. The only explanation is that they didn't think they did good enough - and the definition of good enough varies dramatically among test-takers. 

They had until September 4 to decide, so they had time to mull it over.

To put it in context, test-takers who cancel their scores under normal conditions are usually a tiny minority. Last year, only 3.6% did so. That’s within the normal range of between 3 and 4%, according to Josiah Evans, director of assessment sciences for the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which runs the test.

He was not surprised by the number of those opting to erase their scores this time around.

“We expected a fairly high number of cancellations due to the unique nature of the July test,” he said.

A slightly higher number of those taking it by paper and pencil opted to kill their scores. 

One other benefit of the July test is that test-takers get to take the $200 test again for free. They have until April to do so.

LSAT prep experts such as Mike Spivey, founder of the Spivey Consulting Group, noted how the novelty of this test made it hard to gauge outcomes.

“It was indeed unique, so it was almost impossible to predict,” he said.

Still, the number of those erasing their scores caught him off-guard.

“Personally I am a bit surprised by the 50% — that was higher than I think anyone I know expected, certainly among my business partners, the law schools we talk to, and the LSAT prep companies we speak with,” he said.

But the benefits of the July test likely outweighed any negatives, such as not doing adequate prep.

“Many people likely took it before they were ready, but knew there was no real downside since they could cancel.”

Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs for Kaplan Test Prep, also thought the tally was high. “Half is a lot, no doubt.”

However, in context, the number wasn’t entirely shocking, he said. Again, that’s because this particular test had no drawbacks.

“People flocked to it,” he said. “Students did not want to waste this opportunity.”

Dave Hall, founder of Velocity Test Prep, had a slightly different take:

"The only thing surprising to me about the number of score cancellations is that it isn’t higher. A penalty-free do-over on the single most important aspect of the admission process? SIGN ME UP."

Another factor that led to the large turnout is that many prep companies endorsed giving the July test a shot. Spivey’s firm authored a blog post, “The July 2019 LSAT: A Steal of a Deal,” noting how rare of an opportunity it was.

“We pretty aggressively lobbied for people to take July regardless of prep, to say the least,” Spivey said. “I even thought about taking it for fun. Then I realized it wasn't very fun.”

LSAT scores range from 120 to 180, with the average being 151. It’s a hard test. Only about 0.1% get a perfect 180 on the test, which is comprised of four sections: logic reasoning, analytical reasoning, reading comprehension and an unscored writing sample. It takes three and one-half hours to complete. Experts suggest you should spend as many as 300 hours of prep time.

Many law schools rely heavily on the test when it comes to admissions. Look at Harvard Law School. The median LSAT for this year’s entering class is 173. Higher LSAT scores can help students land scholarships too.

“Applicants are savvier than ever; they know the high score is most often what matters,” Spivey said.

Of late, more students are taking the test multiple times in hopes of raising their scores, Thomas said, which is something that Kaplan does not advise. One should do the proper prep work and put all of your effort into a single test. It’s cheaper, and it won’t send red flags to law schools. (They get all LSAT results, as well as whether you canceled a score.)

Thomas would not even guess as to what level of scores students were killing. Much of it depends on which law schools they are targeting.

“Student goals are vastly different,” he said.

Spivey agreed:  “Totally unique to each person’s goals,” he said of target scores. “A 155 for some folks is everything they need; for others it's 10 points off. I've seen applicants retake a 174 before (really bad idea) and I even once knew an applicant who never knew her score. She refused to look and just applied without knowing. The LSAT sometimes causes a bit of irrationality, even post test.”

Hall had to convince one of his students to keep her July test score — a 164. "This reflects the highly idiosyncratic nature of success on this test: The score that Person A worked so hard to achieve as his 'reach' goal may be the same score that Person B considers too low to keep on her record."

Some people may be perfectly satisfied with a score that simply gets them into law school, he added.

"Some students are really, truly happy with a 150 (imagine, for instance, that your dad owns a successful law firm, and all you’ve got to do is graduate from somewhere and pass the bar to ensure a lucrative career). Others—like another of my students for the July test — would have been truly distressed with a 170 (she got a 174, and was satisfied but not thrilled with her performance)."

Thomas’ advice is simple. If you hit the median LSAT score of the schools you are targeting, stop.

“If you hit that, it’s the end of the game. There’s no reason to do anymore.”

Apparently, half of July’s test-takers didn’t hit that mark.