The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is scored from a low of 120 to a high of 180, with an average score of 150.
However, LSAT scoring is not as simple as it appears. In reality, the test furnishes three metrics by which to measure success–a scaled score, a raw score, and a percentile rank–and each has its particular use.
In terms of scaled score, the LSAT is out of 180. This is the score most people are familiar with: a three-digit number between 120 and 180. A perfect score is 180, achieved by fewer than half of 1% of test takers.
If someone says they got a 156 on the LSAT, they mean they got 156 out of a possible 180. (By the way, 156 is a decent score, but for admission to the top law schools, you need to strive for at least a 160. For admission at the top 3 law schools in the country, a 170 or higher is almost a requirement.)
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This scaled number is not the actual number of questions you answered correctly. Because different test administrations are slightly different in degree of difficulty, the LSAC (the organization that administers the LSAT) converts the number of questions answered correctly to a more standardized calibration for easy comparison with other test takers. The scale they use to determine a scaled score differs with each test, and can sometimes differ wildly.
For example, on the test administered in September of 2018, you could miss 11 questions and still receive an extremely impressive 170 scaled score. In June of 2014, you could miss 13 questions and receive the same 170 scaled score. And in December of 1995, you could miss a whopping 15 questions (!!) and still get a scaled 170.
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So, the scaled score represents how well you did on what would be considered the “perfect LSAT”. It adjusts for the fact that the tests are constructed by humans and aren’t 100% identical over different test administrations. Because one test could be slightly harder than another, the scaled score manipulates actual results to ensure that the majority of test takers are scoring right in the middle at the average 150.
Use this number to assess your chances of admission to a particular law school. Every accredited U.S. law school publishes its 25-50-75 statistics. These numbers reveal, respectively, the LSAT score for a student at the bottom 25% of a law school’s current student body, the average LSAT score of their student body, and the LSAT score for a student at the top 75% of their student body.
If your scaled score falls at or near a law school’s 75% number, you have a great chance at admission to that school. If, however, your scaled score falls closer to its 25% number, you had better present an amazing personal statement and have a stellar grade point average to have a chance at admission.
In terms of raw score, the LSAT is out of approximately 101. This number, which you receive with your score report only if your test was a “disclosed” one, is the actual number of questions you got correct. There are generally 101 graded questions on the LSAT, although some test administrations can have 100, 102, or even 103 questions.
Your raw score tells you how many questions you actually got right versus wrong. This information is not especially useful after you’ve taken the test, but it’s an invaluable barometer to measure progress as you’re studying. As you do practice tests, you’ll use this metric to figure out which areas of the test have the most room for improvement.
For example, if you determine, from your own examination of practice tests, that you’re missing four questions in Reading Comprehension but 12 in Logic Games, you’ll know that you need to shift focus to practicing Games more intensively.
Mercifully, the LSAT does not deduct points for wrong answers. If you get a question wrong, your score doesn’t go down; rather you simply forgo an increase. This means that you should never, ever, ever leave a question unanswered on the LSAT. That bears repeating: Do Not Ever Leave Any Question Unanswered.
If you don’t know the answer–guess! Your raw score won’t decrease if you are wrong, but there’s a 20% chance (each question has 5 possible answer choices) that you might be right and your score will increase!
Moreover, harder questions are not worth more than easy questions. Every question is worth one raw score point. It is thus in your best interest to simply guess on questions that are too difficult or are taking too much time to complete. The LSAT definitely favors those who know and take advantage of these peculiarities of scoring.
In terms of percentile rank, the LSAT is out of 99.9%. Your percentile rank compares you to other test takers over the past three years. The percentile rank represents the percentage of people you scored higher than. For example, if you scored in the “99th percentile,” that means you scored at or higher than 99% of other test takers in the prior three years. In other words, only 1% of test takers scored higher than you did. Note, though, that there is no such thing as a 100th percentile, even if you score a perfect 180–it only goes up to 99.9%.
Because the scaled score is designed to clump most students at or near 150, it is very difficult to break free from this thickest part of the bell curve. That is, as your scaled score increases, you see diminishing returns in your percentile rank.
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Let’s break that down: Using the November 2018 LSAT as a reference, if you scored a 155 you’d be at the 63rd percentile. However, if you scored five points more for a 160, you’d be at the 80th percentile–a percentage rank increase of 17.
But if you started with that scaled score of 160 (80th percentile) and increased the same five points, you’d be at a 165 which is the 92nd percentile. That would be a percentage rank increase of 12.
And if you started at that 165 (92nd percentile) and increased the same five points to a 170, you’d be at the 97th percentile–a percentage rank increase of only 5. As you progress toward the higher LSAT scores in your scaled score, your percentile rank increases in a more stunted manner.
Your percentile rank is an even broader perspective on how you compare to other test takers–it compares you to every person who has taken any LSAT in the prior three years. Law schools don’t particularly use this metric for admission, nor does it help you in your studies, so your percentile rank is really for your own peace of mind to know how you stack up against the broadest swath of people.
In sum, the LSAT is out of 180. That 180 is your scaled score, and although that is the number most people care about, it is most certainly not the only number used for LSAT comparisons. Your raw score compares you to yourself, your scaled score compares you to other people who took your same test, and your percentile rank compares you to every person who has taken the LSAT in the prior three years. All have their place in determining just how well you have mastered the LSAT.