Retaking the LSAT? Maybe, but Better to Get LSAT Prep Right the First Time

LSAT testTakers of the June LSAT will soon be receiving their scores.  Many will be satisfied that they obtained their best LSAT score.  Congratulations!  Now your job will be to assemble a compelling law school application package (and enjoy your summer).

Others will be disappointed; many will ask themselves whether they should retake the exam.  In deciding whether you should take another shot, it’s important to ask yourself two questions:  What was wrong with my LSAT prep the first time?  Can I correct those mistakes if I repeat the LSAT?  If you can answer those questions clearly and specifically, it may be worth additional time and money to repeat the LSAT; if you can’t, then (our financial interest notwithstanding) you’re probably better off accepting the score you got.

As a rule, it is far better to take the LSAT just once.  Although law schools generally report only the highest LSAT scores of their entering classes (it improves their rankings to do so), that doesn’t mean that their admission and financial aid decisions are based only on the highest score.  Law school admissions committees can consider what they want and multiple takers may well be disadvantaged in comparison with those with the same best LSAT score who took the exam only once.  It depends on who’s reviewing applications but it’s easy to understand that admissions personnel might prefer someone who got their best LSAT score the first time—it’s an indication of professionalism and commitment to getting a task done the right way the first time.  There are no do-overs in law school and very few in the practice of law.

In addition, your first shot is generally your best to obtain your highest LSAT score, as distinct from a marginal improvement.  You’re less likely to be fearful of the LSAT (if at first you don’t succeed, it’s harder to believe you’ll do so when you try, try again) and you won’t have already used up a lot of the limited high-quality practice materials, as we’ve discussed before.

In view of the importance of the LSAT in determining admissions and financial aid decisions, the high cost of any law school and the significant payoff differential among law schools, it’s pound-foolish (and not even penny-wise) to scrimp on LSAT prep.  No less than law school itself, preparing for the LSAT is an investment.  If you don’t get your best score out of the gate, the money and time you spent will have been wasted, you’ve put yourself at a disadvantage relative to other applicants and you’ve decreased the chances that you’ll be able to get your highest LSAT score next time.

That said, LSAC’s report of the most recent LSAT repeater data shows that more retakers’ LSAT scores improved than declined and were unchanged.  Always remember that your LSAT score can decline as well as improve (no one thinks theirs will decline, including those whose scores did drop).  More important, the average improvement was quite small at virtually all points along the scale.  So, while many improve their scores, far fewer appear to make significant strides.

Generally, you only want to repeat a task if you’re confident that you can do substantially better the second time.  That implies that there was something materially wrong with how you did things originally.  The small margin of LSAT score average increase indicates that a lot more people think they can substantially improve than actually do.  Why is that?  One reason is that a lot of people simply repeat what they did the first time (LSAT prep companies’ “guarantees” of improvement, which allow you to retake exactly the same course that didn’t work the first time, are largely hollow for that reason).  But more is not better; if you wash your clothes in dirty water, it won’t get them cleaner to use the same water again.

To make it worth your while to retake the LSAT, you should think carefully about what you failed to do the first time around.  “Not enough time” isn’t that specific; “too little hard work” is even less so.  The question is what additional time and work would achieve; more time and sweat aren’t magic unless you can identify a specific failure that less created.  Pay attention to the data and avoid falling into the trap of thinking that you can improve significantly by just doing more of what didn’t work that well the first time.

In contrast, here are examples of specific problems: “I wasn’t prepared for the pressures of exam day”; “I didn’t understand the LSAT theory of argument”; “I didn’t understand how to diagram this type of analytical reasoning question”; “I made a series of errors in both sections of logical reasoning”; “I didn’t complete my reading comprehension section even though I’m generally a faster reader”; “I made silly mistakes on questions I should have answered correctly.”  All of these should be followed by: “That error (or group of errors) cost me x number of questions and had I answered those questions correctly, my score would have been y.”  Then you’ll need to figure out how you’re going to correct those errors, including by making sure that any LSAT instructor or LSAT tutor you hire has a clear strategy for overcoming your specific problems.

If you took the June LSAT and can’t identify significant specific failures in your LSAT prep, the chances aren’t great that your score will jump enough to justify the additional investment of time and money; you’re probably better off deciding that your score was your best LSAT score, being satisfied with it and living your life.  If you can specify what went wrong in June, consider retaking when you’ve developed a clear plan you’ll stick to for overcoming the problems you identified.

For those who haven’t yet taken the LSAT,  it’s best to avoid these questions entirely and get the best LSAT prep you can the first time—you’ll have invested wisely.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on June 25, 2010.

5 Responses to “Retaking the LSAT? Maybe, but Better to Get LSAT Prep Right the First Time”

  1. […]  They threw money and time away and, since almost all of this group took the LSAT previously, may have damaged their law school admission prospects.  They invested poorly whether they spent $750 or […]

  2. […] –be smart about your LSAT preparation (keep it simple, take the LSAT once (ideally), don’t over- or under-prepare and don’t try to save yourself a few dollars now that may cost […]

  3. […] in June, I said that the best way of approaching the LSAT was to get your LSAT prep right the first time, so you can avoid the issue of whether you should retake the LSAT.  That’s still true.  I’m […]

  4. […] axiomatic that it’s better to get your best LSAT score the first time around.  It’s better for your law school admission profile and it’s better for your life—why do you […]

  5. […] I reread that post recently. I stand by everything I said there; it is all still true and important for people thinking about retaking the test to consider. The fact that test retake success data has barely budged in the intervening years simply confirms what I said there. Here’s the link. […]

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