First, let’s consider when the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) is offered. After all, in order to determine when to take the LSAT, you must first know when you can.
Before June 2017, the LSAT was offered only four times per year. However, the test is now offered 8 or 9 times per year. The available dates for 2020-2021 are as follows:
January 12, 2020 – Monday 12:30 pm. Nondisclosed Test.*
February 22, 2020 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
March 30, 2020 – Monday 12:30 pm. Nondisclosed Test.
April 25, 2020 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
June 8, 2020 – Monday 12:30 pm. Disclosed Test.*
July 13, 2020 – Monday 12:30 pm. Nondisclosed Test.
August 29, 2020 – Saturday 8:30 am. Disclosed Test.
October 3, 2020 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
November 14, 2020 – Saturday 8:30 am. Disclosed Test.
January 16, 2021 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
February 20, 2021 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
April 10, 2021 – Saturday 8:30 am. Nondisclosed Test.
*Nondisclosed test administrations return to the test-taker only his or her 3 digit LSAT score, percentile, and score band. Disclosed tests return the above, plus a copy of all scored sections of the test and an account of which questions were answered correctly and incorrectly.
When Do Most Students Take the LSAT?
Most students apply to law school in fall during a law school’s regular admissions cycle. As such, most students take the LSAT between June and October of the preceding year. Since the majority of students taking the LSAT are college seniors planning to go straight to law school, this means that they take their LSAT in the summer after their junior year or in the fall at the start of their senior year.
What Is the Best LSAT Administration to Take?
There are many considerations to keep in mind when determining when to take the LSAT, but most students pick a date either in the early summer or in the late fall of the calendar year before they plan to apply to law school. There are pros and cons of each choice:
Taking the LSAT in early summer of the year before applying to law school:
One huge advantage of taking the test early in the summer is that you’ll have time to take the test again if need be. Students may take the LSAT up to 3 times in the span between June and the subsequent year’s May. Though you should always prepare with the intent to take the test only once, things happen. You may feel under the weather on test day or you may succumb to nerves and anxiety. There are many situations that could cause underperformance, and registering for your LSAT in early summer gives you a cushion to retake the exam and still get your applications to law schools with plenty of time.
Even if you perform wonderfully on your first sitting of the LSAT, there are advantages to having completed the LSAT early. You’ll be able to leisurely compile the remainder of your application–writing your personal statement, securing great letters of recommendation, and thinking about writing addenda or diversity statements. Your law school application needs to reflect the best version of yourself, and nothing causes subpar results like running out of time and rushing.
Although there are huge advantages to sitting for an earlier LSAT, there is one glaring detriment. Sitting for the LSAT in the summer between your junior and senior year of college means that you’ll be preparing for the LSAT concurrently with final exams of your junior year. Ideally, you should go into the LAT with the confidence that you’ve done everything in your power to prepare sufficiently. If LSAT preparation takes a back seat to other responsibilities, you won’t have the confidence you need to conquer the test.
Taking the LSAT in the fall of the year before applying to law school:
Sitting for an LSAT in the fall as you begin your senior year of college has some important advantages. The largest is that you’d be preparing for the LSAT over the summer when most students have the free time to commit to the rigorous study schedule the LSAT demands. Most students spend 3-4 months preparing for the LSAT. With the ability to study for 5-8 hours a day and treat test preparation like a job, you’ll be in a great position to achieve an LSAT score at the top of your capability.
These summer months of free time to devote to LSAT preparation also mean you are more likely able to take a live LSAT preparation class. These classes offered by the larger names in the test prep industry can be excellent ways of breaking the solitude and drudgery of LSAT prep, and can provide the opportunity to work with–and commiserate with–other test-takers. For many students who learn best in a collaborative environment, taking the test later in fall allows them the free time to attend these classes which generally meet for 3-4 hours twice a week.
Taking the LSAT in the fall means that a student may get one, or at most two shots at taking the test before it becomes dangerously close to law schools’ application deadlines. By late winter, it is too late to apply to nearly every accredited U.S. law school for admission later in that same year. This pressure of performing well with no backup test opportunity can be overwhelming for many students.
Even if you perform well on the LSAT and only take it once, you will still be applying later in a law school’s admissions cycle. Law schools practice “rolling admissions,” which means that they consider applicants as they receive applications. Later in the cycle, they have fewer spots remaining in the class and become more strict with acceptances. They also have less scholarship money to offer to later applicants. A later LSAT can impact your chances for admission in a very real way. It is better to submit a completed application to law schools as early in their process as possible.
Of course, some students take an alternate route. Those who aren’t currently in college can take any LSAT administration they desire without the stress of simultaneous final exams, so long as their law school applications are received with plenty of time before the deadline.
Other students opt for a gap year after college during which they travel or get valuable work experience. Those students can study at their leisure and take the LSAT just before applying to law schools; alternately, they can take their LSAT immediately after college while they are in the academic mindset and use the score, which is good for five years, to apply to law schools at some point in the future.
Other Considerations When Deciding When to Take the LSAT
You may also want to consider the time of day for each test. In some months, the test is administered at 8:30 am, while in other months it starts just after noon. Some people perform best in the morning; some peoples’ brains don’t fully kick in until noon. Thus, the time of day may sway one’s test date decision.
Also, some tests are disclosed while others are not. If you are the type of person who will want to dig in with a fine-toothed comb and examine every answer you got wrong, then you may want to opt for a disclosed test so that you get your actual test back with your score.
When to Take the LSAT: Summary
In sum, your desire to have opportunities to retake the test, along with your ability to multitask LSAT studies with schoolwork will be the biggest considerations when deciding when to take the LSAT. Carefully consider your circumstances and personality before coming to a decision. For help preparing for the LSAT, check out our lists of the best prep books and courses.