The number of times a student can sit for the Law School Admission Test has been in flux over the past few years. Before September of 2017, a student could take the test three times in any two-year period. In September 2017, however, rules changed to allow unlimited retakes for all students. But from June 14 of 2019, the LSAC (the organization which administers the LSAT) reported that it had changed its rules once again.
Starting with the September 2019 test administration, students are subject to new rules for re-taking the test:
- Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 3 times in a year
- Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 5 times in 5 years
- Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 7 times in a lifetime
- Students who score a perfect 180 are banned from ever retaking the test
Read on to discover how these rule changes may impact you and how LSAT retake strategies may need to be revised accordingly.
1. Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 3 times in a year
The LSAC considers a “year” to span from June 1 to May 31. Thus, a student’s retake counter resets every June 1, just in time for the month’s most popular test administration. Test registrations and withdrawals don’t count toward this yearly limit, but if you actually sit for the test, it’s counted. This means even score cancellations count as an “LSAT” for the purposes of the yearly limit.
What does this mean for you?
Previously, when retakes were unlimited, students could take the exam before they felt completely prepared just to see how they fared. Those days are now over.
Each precious test administration is now like a strike in a baseball game: three strikes and you’re out! Now, if a student makes three attempts starting in June, he or she will have to wait until the following June to try again. As a result, that student will be forced to postpone their law school application until the next year’s admission’s cycle.
Read More: How Hard Is the LSAT?
This retake policy change is like whiplash. Just a few months ago, the LSAC added six additional test administrations to the testing year. That is, instead of having the test available only four times a year, there are now ten LSAT tests each year. Students were, understandably, thrilled at the prospect of being able to take unlimited LSATs and only waiting one month between them as opposed to three months. Now, however, the extra six test administrations are no longer a boon since you can’t actually take advantage of them.
How should you change your LSAT plans in light of the recent policy change?
Strategically, this means that any student who anticipates needing several retakes should sit for their first LSAT in March as opposed to June, as was the accepted general standard.
Starting one’s first test administration in June leaves only June, July, and September as viable test dates before hitting the three-tests-per-year limit. One would have to wait eight months until June of the following year to try again, thereby missing most law school application deadlines.
Now, however, if you anticipate wanting to take the test multiple times, you should start in March. This means that, since your first attempt would be in March, you could retake in April, then your retake counter would reset on June 1 and you could take the test again in June, July, and September. That’s a total of five potential bites at the apple in time for law schools’ application deadlines.
It should be noted that this new retake policy is not retroactive. Thus, if you’ve already taken the LSAT one or even ten times, those previous test administrations will not count against your limit. Only tests taken from September 2019 and beyond will count toward the yearly maximums.
Also, there is an appeal process if “extenuating circumstances” warrant a retake. However, because this policy is brand new at the time of this writing, no one yet knows what would qualify as an “acceptable” extenuating circumstance. Chances are, the LSAC will be very strict with granting appeals.
2. Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 5 times in 5 years.
Once a student has sat for the test five times, he or she is no longer able to register for another LSAT until five years have passed after the first attempt. If, after that sixth test, a student is still unhappy, he or she would have to wait until five years after their second test was taken in order to try again.
What does this mean for you?
This is huge. So many things can happen in just five attempts (illnesses, injuries, life-altering events, or not realizing that you need/are eligible for accommodations). If you don’t hit your goal score in five attempts, you would have to wait such an inordinate amount of time (potentially 4.5 years) to take the test again that most people would simply give up on becoming a lawyer. So, a limit of five LSATs in five years could potentially have career-altering ramifications.
This is one among many reasons to do everything you can in your LSAT study to maximize your score.
Again, note that this rule is not retroactive. LSATs taken before September 2019 do not count toward the limit of five LSATs in five years.
3. Students may take the LSAT a maximum of 7 times in a lifetime.
After sitting for the LSAT a total of seven times, a student is barred from taking an LSAT test again. Ever.
What does this mean for you?
This is, admittedly, quite a draconian rule. But if you’re dead-set on becoming a lawyer, you are still able to. The LSAT is not a pass/fail test, so you’ll have up to seven scores on record (as long as you don’t cancel them all), and one of your scores will probably get you into certain law schools–though it may not be your first-choice school.
Moreover, many law school admission committees accept scores from the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, so an alternate route to law school is available. Beyond that, a handful of states allow you to become a lawyer without attending law school at all. By “reading the law” (working under the tutelage of a lawyer for four years), then passing the Bar Exam, aspiring lawyers can bypass law school (and the LSAT) completely. This is to say, if you’ve hit your seven LSAT limit, your dream of becoming a lawyer is not necessarily dead.
Note that this limit, too, is not retroactive. Only LSATs taken in or after September 2019 count toward the total maximum.
4. Students who score a perfect 180 are banned from ever retaking the test.
This rule is the only change that applies retroactively. If you have ever received a 180 on any LSAT you’ve ever taken, you are unable to take the LSAT again. This policy is likely intended to prevent LSAT tutors and instructors from padding their resumes.
What does this mean for you?
Not a thing. You can’t do any better than a perfect score. Pop some champagne and let it go, you overachiever!
Read More: Manhattan Prep Online LSAT Course Review
Why did the LSAC make these changes to the retake policy?
With each LSAT costing a test-taker nearly $200, these policy changes will cost the LSAC a good chunk of change. So why, then, are they instituting such strict limits on the number of times a student can give them money?
There are three potential reasons:
1. Too many retakes are messing up the curve
This year saw the greatest number of LSAT retakes since records have been kept. With more LSATs being offered per year, coupled with the previous lack of retake limit, many students were taking LSAT after LSAT in hopes of eking out one or two additional points.
This almost certainly impacts the curve when the LSAC determines the scaled score for each test. Poor test takers are more likely to give up after a terrible score, while above-average test takers are more likely to keep trying until they hit their goal. Of course, with unlimited retakes, the result was that each test administration saw exponentially more above-average test takers.
2. Creating LSATs is painstaking
Making an LSAT is hard work. Each question must be perfectly worded, each section must be perfectly balanced, and each test must be as uniform as possible. It can take a full year for a team to create a single LSAT. As such, the LSAC reuses tests they previously administered but did not disclose (publish). The LSAC may have instituted a retake limit in order to lessen the chances that a test-taker will encounter a test he or she has already seen.
3. Competing with the GRE
Because 40 law schools (and counting) now accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, the LSAC may be attempting to position itself as the exam that’s less lenient and, by extension, more predictive of a student’s law school success.
These recent policy changes are certainly disruptive to the traditional way that students planned their LSAT retake strategy. While previous advice about taking the exam multiple times was once sound, that advice is now terrible. There is no question that students should now delay sitting for the LSAT until they are consistently scoring within five points of their goal score.