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What is a Good LSAT Score?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions of pre-law advisors—maybe the most frequently asked. Ultimately, how good your score is depends on one thing: how good your prospective law school perceives it to be.

You can obtain recent statistics for the law schools regarding what their median LSAT score was for last year’s admitted students. (A median means that the same number of folks scored above and below that score.) You can also obtain ranges: what percentage of folks with my score were accepted to which law schools. The ABA/LSAC Official Guide to Law Schools, found on-line at www.lsac.org, has a search engine that allows you to sort law schools by different kinds of data. This information is also available in the book version of the Official Guide, in the form of the grids provided by the individual law schools.

The Scoring Scale

The current LSAT is scored on a scale of 120 to 180. What do those numbers mean? Generally, the scoring of an LSAT breaks down like this:

    • 10% of test takers score a 162 or above;
    • 20% of test takers score a 142 or below;
    • 70% of test takers are in the middle between a 142 and 162.

These percentages stay pretty much stable from LSAT to LSAT—it’s one way the LSAC ensures that one administration of the test is not appreciably easier or harder than another. Thus, you cannot “guess” the best date to take the test to get the easiest version, or be unlucky and take an exceptionally hard test. Scores are adjusted slightly if a test, on the whole, proves a bit easier or harder. On rare occasions, a question might even be thrown out. But these percentages remain stable.

So then, what is a good score on the LSAT? The higher the better, obviously. If you are looking to be admitted to a top ten school, then in essence you are looking for a way to break into that group of 10% of test takers who get the top scores (90 percentile or higher). A high LSAT score is no guarantee of admission, but it comes close.

Each law school has its own goals for the LSAT. Some schools weigh it more heavily than others, but all schools take it seriously. You should, too. As I tell students when I meet with them, the better your score, the better your chance for admission and free financial aid. NEVER TAKE THE LSAT UNTIL YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY READY.

Scoring Breakdown

If you score below 150, your chances of acceptance are poor. That is not to say that you will never succeed, but that the odds are against you. Other things can offset a poor LSAT score, including a second and improved LSAT score, desirable diversity characteristics in an applicant such as race or socioeconomic factors, and the like. Also, there are at least two accredited law schools in the nation that will take almost anyone, offering them the chance at law school, but nothing more. These schools tend to flunk out 75% of their students after the first year, taking their tuition and sending them off. But if you can hack it, you can stay.

If you score above a 160 or so, and particularly above a 165, you may be fought over by some schools. The best law schools look for numbers in the mid- to high-160s (or better), but even then you are not guaranteed admission. Ivy League schools have lots of great applicants for very few spaces in their classes, so sometimes even folks with high scores are unsuccessful at some schools. Schools like Yale and Stanford, with classes numbering under 200 students per year, are a real crap shoot unless your famous parents went there. But setting those few aside, there are plenty of law schools that would love to have you, and you should have good choices. If you apply in a timely manner, you will likely also see some free financial aid accompanying your admission letters.

If you are like most of us, you are in with the big 70% group that scores in the middle. In this group, the higher the score, the more options you will have. The way the LSAT is scored, there is very little difference, say, between a 153 and a 154—maybe two more correctly answered questions, tops. So on the one hand, you should not shy away from schools that have median LSAT scores just above yours. On the other hand, there is a difference, say, between a 151 and a 155, and you should take that into consideration when selecting schools. There are plenty of schools that would love to have someone who scores in the low 150s. And there are also plenty of law schools that would love to give some money to someone who scores in the high 150s. It all depends on where you want to go, and how flexible you are willing to be in the process.

Can a good GPA offset a poor LSAT?

To a certain extent, yes, but not that much. A good LSAT is much more likely to offset a low GPA. If you look at the Official Guide in book form (available on reserve), you will see on the various schools’ grids that, if you hold your GPA constant and raise your LSAT score, your chances of admission go up significantly at almost every school. The same is not so true if you hold your LSAT score constant and raise your GPA.

Of course, a good LSAT score does not make you a “shoe-in” anywhere. At the University of Minnesota, for example, Dean of Admissions Collins Byrd notes that every year nearly 10% of high scoring students are rejected, mostly because they have nothing else to show for themselves or because they come off badly on their applications.

If you are one of those folks in the middle (70% of test takers end up there, remember), the higher you score, the more you will distinguish yourself. The folks in the middle are the tough calls for law school admissions committees: instant accepts and instant rejects are relatively easy to identify, but the group of applicants in the middle is large, and after awhile it becomes hard to tell who is more deserving, or who stands out more. When this happens, the best thing you can do for yourself is have a compelling, readable personal statement. If your personal statement is undistinguished, your application will likely be undistinguished, too. You need a way to separate yourself from the pack of white, middle-class political science majors who have “always wanted to go to law school.”

In Summary

A good LSAT score depends upon what you want in a law school, and where you are willing to go. But as a general rule, and I cannot say this often enough, the higher the score, the better your chances for admission and free financial aid. NEVER TAKE THE LSAT UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO DO YOUR BEST. NEVER GO INTO AN LSAT EXAM THINKING THAT YOU CAN “JUST TAKE IT AGAIN” if you don’t like your score. Although the LSAT is not the only factor in determining law school admissions, it’s a significant factor for every school, and you should take it very seriously.

 


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