Retaking the LSAT? Analyze Why This Time Will be Different

Results of the February 2011 LSAT will soon be released.  It’s always unfortunate that some LSAT takers are so disappointed in their LSAT score that they consider repeating the LSAT.  If you’re considering retaking the LSAT, how should you make your decision?

It’s 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 want to spend double the time (or more) taking an exam that has one purpose only, strengthening your law school application?

Still, I get a lot of calls from people who took the LSAT and weren’t satisfied with their LSAT score and LSAT prep program.  In some of those cases, I think it makes sense for people to repeat the LSAT; in other cases, I don’t.  What are the factors that influence my recommendation?  Above all, it’s important that a prospective re-taker understand that there are risks.  Your score can go down as well as up (or remain virtually the same).  While most people do improve their LSAT score the second time around, most of those gains are very small, and all scores will appear on your report sent to law schools.  Although law schools generally only report the top score in their admissions data, that doesn’t mean that they don’t reflect on the number of times that someone has taken the LSAT in making their admission and financial aid decisions.  A flat or declining second LSAT can hurt you.  Many commercial LSAT programs and tutors don’t bother to point out that risk to their prospective customers.

The real question is whether there is a significant probability that you can substantially raise your LSAT score the second time around.  No one’s judgment about that is right 100% of the time but there are indicators that make the risk worth taking (or not).

First, you should be clear-eyed in your diagnosis of what went wrong the first time.  Sometimes, nothing significant was the matter.  In that case, you should probably accept your score as being pretty close to the best you can do and get on with your life.  A few years from now, neither you nor anyone else will care what your LSAT score was.  A lower-than-desired-or-expected LSAT score has nothing to do with your value as a human being and, for that matter, very little to do with your intelligence.

That’s related to a second point.  Get your ego out of the risk calculation.  If you just have a vague sense that you should have done better because you’re really smarter than your score showed, you’re heading down a path that’s likely to lead to a bad decision.  In fact, in order to make the LSAT worth taking again, you’ll end up acknowledging that you didn’t prepare well enough the first time, i.e., that you made a mistake.   

It’s harder if you know something was amiss but aren’t sure what it was.  Here are a few of the more common problems:   Was there a problem with understanding certain types of questions?  Did you get confused during the LSAT about how to approach a section or type of question?  Was there just too much to remember, too many LSAT study techniques, too much jargon?  Did you panic or tense up?  Get tired at certain points during the LSAT?  Did your neighbor, or the proctors, annoy you?  Did you have trouble getting started?  Finishing?  Too much going on in the rest of your life?  Were you insufficiently motivated to do the preparation you should have, and didn’t have an instructor or tutor who monitored what you were doing closely enough?

Some people do have ideas about what went wrong.  It’s usually a combination of things, including some of the items above.  And it’s seldom just a problem with content; usually, test-taking factors are involved.  If you’re in this category, then what you need to figure out is how the second time will be different.

If you’ve diagnosed the problems, what should you do?  It seldom (I’m tempted to say “never” but I rarely say “never”) makes sense to repeat the same LSAT prep strategy the second time around.  Whatever strategy you used, whatever company or tutor you paid, didn’t address the issues that led you to a suboptimal performance.  Why do you think it will be different next time?

What you need to find is an LSAT prep program and LSAT strategies that correct the specific problems that you had the first time.  But not only that, because of the danger of tunnel vision.  Often, you can correct your initial problems but at a price—namely, you don’t do well the second time what you did do well the first time.  To avoid that danger, it’s important that you not try to correct problems on a “spot” basis.  That’s a significant problem with per-hour tutors—their business model encourages the spot approach.  It’s better to have a concerted LSAT program, designed especially for you, that deals with the LSAT holistically rather than on a spot-problem basis.

Finally, your analysis should be very specific.  You and (if you have one) your pre-law advisor should do a careful analysis to determine what went wrong and how many errors and points each thing that went wrong was worth.  I do this analysis with prospective repeaters at no charge.  For some, it makes sense to take the risk of retaking the LSAT because there’s a good chance of a high upside and reaching their best LSAT score; for others, taking the extra time to retake the LSAT just doesn’t promise enough of a reward to make it worthwhile.   It’s an individual decision based on the complex of factors that identifiably contributed to your performance.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on February 23, 2011.

One Response to “Retaking the LSAT? Analyze Why This Time Will be Different”

  1. […] published several blog posts on retaking the LSAT, the most recent of which you can find here.  The video complements those blog posts with additional points and re-emphasizes some blog […]

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