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
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
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
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
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.”
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.