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How Many Times Can You Take the LSAT? Does Retaking Hurt You?

March scores just came out and like flowers in Spring, I always know I’ll get an influx of questions about retaking the LSAT: how many times can you take the LSAT, is it worth taking the LSAT twice, does retaking the LSAT hurt you, or what happens if you retake the LSAT and get a lower score?

But what these questions leave out is the question about whether it is strategic for you to take the LSAT again.

The answer is going to be different for everyone. 

I’ll pick the low hanging fruit and answer the basic question first: how many times can you take the LSAT.

  • You can only take the exam five times within the past five years (since 2018).
  • You are limited to a total of seven exams over your lifetime.
  • You can take the LSAT three times in a single testing year, with LSAC’s “year” being August to June.
  • If you score a perfect 180, you are not permitted to take the test again (masochists?!) 

But what people really want to know when they ask how many times can you take the LSAT, is whether they should retake the exam.

To understand the answer to this question, as always, I want you to think like an admissions officer.

Since around 2005, law schools are only required to report an applicant’s highest LSAT score to US News. If you have a 154, a 158, and a 175, law schools only have to report that 175. So even though your first two scores may be significantly lower than that school’s median, an admissions officer could give a rat’s ass—when it comes to LSAT scores—if they’re comparing you to an applicant who scored a 168 on their first try.  

So your highest score is really all law schools care about.

Meaning, a lower score on a LSAT retake should not hurt you.

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Now admissions officers are still humans, and there is most certainly some psychological negative impact of having multiple lower LSAT scores and then a high LSAT score when compared to someone who just scored high the first time. But I emphasize the “some” because there is no data set for me to analyze, so this is truly just anecdotal experience, and because ultimately any negative impact is far outweighed by getting a higher score.

Let me give a concrete example. I had a client whose top law school was the University of Pennsylvania, that has a median LSAT score of 171. This client, who I’ll call Kit, scored 155, 165, and then 166. If U-Penn were to admit her, they would have to report her 166, which is below even their 25th percentile. While this is certainly not impossible—I’ve in fact worked with many clients who do get into law schools despite having stats significantly below the school’s medians-it’s still an uphill battle you don’t want to have to climb.

Kit had been scoring well within the 170s consistently on her practice exams, yet just couldn’t get her real score to match. So I knew it was possible for Kit to do better. I encouraged her to take it again, because she had nothing to lose

Let me emphasize that point again. Even if Kit were to get below her highest official LSAT score of 166, it wouldn’t matter much for her goal school, because she likely wasn’t getting in with her 166 as it stood. And realistically, for schools where her 166 was competitive, she would only risk the small chance of the negative psychological impact of having another lower score, since the schools would only have to report her 166.  

Compared to the possible benefits of getting a higher score—i.e., getting admitted to Penn—coupled with the fact that Kit’s goal score of 171+ wasn’t pie-in-the-sky thinking, but something she already had consistently proven she could do, it was absolutely worth it for Kit to take the LSAT a fourth time.  

And guess who scored a 171?!

Not Kit…

Because she scored a 172!!! (did I get you for even a second?) 

Now for Kit, was it worth taking the LSAT twice, three times, and even four? Yes! Because without that final score, she would not have been as competitive for her dream school.

Now, not every story ends this well. Sometimes I have clients who take it over and over again, and just don’t do any better.

Like a client I’ll call Andrew, who just couldn’t give up on the exam. He really wanted to go to a T-10 law school, but just couldn’t get his LSAT score above a 160. He tried the maximum of five times and canceled his score a bunch more. Every score was within just a few points of each other.

His LSAT transcript, candidly, looked like a mess. And reflected an applicant who was a bitter ball of anxiety, not something that you want admissions officers to see. 

The reason Andrew probably shouldn’t have kept trying, despite knowing that he needed a higher score, was because he never had shown that he would actually get that higher score. His highest practice test was never more than a 162 (and this wasn’t being consistently hit), and the 162 was still within just a few points of his highest actual test score.

At some point, you have to accept what your LSAT aptitude is, and not waste time that you could instead be spending putting forth your best possible application.

The litmus test I like to use with my clients is: if you think you studied as best you could, and your official LSAT score is within two to three points of your average LSAT practice exams (an average that you were consistently hitting), you will probably not benefit much from retaking it.    

Why two to three points? Because LSAC’s standard error of measurement for the exam is about 2.6 scaled score points. 

Now that being said, the higher up in the rankings you go, the more each point matters. Meaning if your goal school requires 160 or lower, you don’t have to be as close to that school’s median. But if you’re trying to get into Harvard, those two extra points to get to their median may be worth retaking it. Again, just to get up to their median. If you scored a 176, and are retaking to get a 180, that just looks odd. And raises the question for a school of maybe they’re just your safety. At that point, perfection is not worth it. 

Here are some other things you might want to consider when asking whether you should retake the LSAT:

Will retaking the LSAT delay your applications to later in the admissions season?

Generally, this is not too big of a concern for me because getting a higher LSAT score can significantly outweigh any detriment to applying later in the cycle. But if retaking the LSAT pushes your applications submissions to past December, I typically suggest at least submitting some applications now where your current LSAT score is competitive. That way, you can at least get the ball rolling on some admissions decisions in case your score doesn’t improve. And if it does improve, those schools will be notified of the new score. 

Did you prepare as well as you could and can you realistically expect to prepare substantially differently before the next exam?

Be honest with yourself. We all have a maximum aptitude for the exam, and that includes how we perform on actual test day. If you know that you will always perform worse on actual test day, then factor that in to whether you can realistically do better. Let me tell you, almost now one is happy with their LSAT score, or thinks they couldn’t have done better. But at some point, you have to move on. 

But if you don’t think you adequately prepared, or if you think changing your studying strategy (such as going from self-study to a course/tutor, taking more practice tests and having a regimented study schedule), and you have adequate time to implement a new study strategy before the next exam, then by all means I encourage you to take the test again!

When to provide an explanation for retaking the LSAT: 

Additionally, if you take the LSAT more than three times, or if you have a significant difference in scores (typically more than five points), an admissions committee will want to see an addendum explaining why you kept taking the exam, or explaining the reason for the higher score—essentially, to explain why the high score wasn’t just a fluke. 

Possible explanations for taking the exam multiple times could be: serious unexpected test anxiety, event during test time that adversely affected your performance, getting accommodations after taking the exam, change of study strategy.

Possible explanations for a score increase might be: bad test day, change of study habits, more time to prepare for the exam, receiving accommodations that resulted in increased score.

Check out this blog post on how to write a law school addendum with real client examples.

Finally, please please remember that your LSAT score is not the be all end all for law school admissions.

Your application materials, and particularly your personal statement matter…A LOT.

I have worked with numerous clients who if you just looked at their LSAT scores, should not have gotten into the schools they’re at right now:

Key Takeaways: 

  1. You can take the LSAT up to three times within LSAC’s calendar year (August-June), five times within five years, and up to seven times total. 
  2. If you’re aiming for a certain school, and you’re not an exceptional candidate (i.e., maybe lower GPA, few extracurriculars to discuss, etc.), it may be worth retaking the LSAT until you’ve maxed out your potential or the number of tests you can take.
  3. If you score above your target schools’ medians, no need to take it again. The median is all schools care about. They don’t have to report 25th or 75th percentiles to USNWR.
  4. If you take the exam more than three times, or have a serious score discrepancy between exams (5+ points), then consider writing an addendum.

Next steps

There you have it! That’s how many times you can retake the LSAT. 

Want to get admitted to the top law school on your list?

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Hope you enjoy this blog post! Want to know how to use the power of your personal statement to get into your dream law school, even if you aren’t the “perfect” applicant?

Mara has helped countless law school applicants get into their dream law schools, even without a perfect GPA, the highest LSAT score, or most unique story. Mara used to be a litigator at one of the top law firms in the world and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School as a prestigious Toll Public Interest Scholar.

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