A lot of our students have wondered whether it makes sense to take the December LSAT. Students typically prefer taking the October LSAT since LSAC will send you your score in plenty of time to make a decision about applying to law schools.
Also, the rolling admissions that most schools use tends to favor students who apply early in the process. If this is the case, why would anyone want to take the December LSAT?
To answer this question, we have to resort to first principles. The LSAT score is the single most factor in the law school admissions process. Even students who perform very well as undergraduates can find themselves in a world of disappointment come admissions time if they do not have a satisfactory LSAT score. In addition, for all but the most naturally-gifted test-takers, adequate preparation is a virtual prerequisite to a satisfactory performance on the LSAT.
Accordingly, weighing the importance of achieving a good score and the need to prepare for the LSAT against the benefit of applying early yields the following proposition:
Although taking the October LSAT and applying early is preferable if all else is equal, it is better to take the December LSAT if, because of being unprepared for the October LSAT, you can score noticeably better in December (than you would have in October) due to having more time to study.
An Analysis of Law School Admissions Data
To flesh out this proposition, let’s look at a student aiming for the top of the heap: Harvard Law School.
As reported to the ABA, the 75/25 percentile GPAs for the class entering in 2013 were 3.95/3.77 and the 75/25 percentile LSATs were 175/170. This means that of all those entering Harvard Law School as 1Ls in 2013, a full 25% of the class scored 175 or higher on the LSAT–which equates to a quarter of the class scoring in the top 99.5th percentile on the exam!
Similarly, 25% of the incoming class had undergraduates GPAs that were 3.95 or higher; in other words, every fourth HLS 1L probably never received a grade below an A- while in college.
The Law School Applicant
Now let’s assume our hypothetical student has a 3.82 GPA from a respectable, but not exceptionally prestigious, state school. (The GPA figures can be a little misleading if you are a graduate of Harvard-, Yale-, and Princeton-type schools because HLS considers those schools to carry more weight and thus accepts students with a wider range of GPAs from those schools). Although a 3.82 GPA is generally fantastic, at Harvard Law School, that would place you in the bottom 50% of the incoming class.
Let’s also assume that you are a run-of-the-mill applicant, that you have no special connections to the school (i.e., your father is not an alum), and you have not won a Rhodes Scholarship or an Olympic gold medal. In other words, your application will likely be judged primarily on your “numbers,” and you will not get any preferential treatment in admissions, be it affirmative action or otherwise.
Given that your GPA is slightly below average for Harvard, the LSAT is hugely important, if not completely determinative of, your admissions chances.
October LSAT or December LSAT?
Let’s now examine the two choices:
(1) You take the October LSAT, you are unprepared, and you score a 165; OR
(2) You pass on the October exam, take an LSAT prep course and study religiously, take the December LSAT and score a 172.
In choice (1), your LSAT score is below the 25th percentile of the incoming class. Given your modest GPA (for Harvard standards), it is unlikely you will be admitted irrespective of when you apply.
With choice (2), however, your LSAT score of 172 puts you squarely in the heart of the incoming class, and perhaps even in the top 1/2 half of the incoming class. You are presenting a competitive application: you attained really good grades at a solid, if unspectacular, school, and now your LSAT score of 172 has confirmed that you are Harvard material.
The Verdict: Take the December LSAT If It Will Help You Perform Better
Although rolling admissions means an identical candidate applying in October/November would have a slightly better chance at gaining admission, the fact is that, in this example, all things are not equal; by taking the time to study for the December LSAT, our hypothetical applicant scored noticeably better than he/she would have in October and, thus, has a good chance of getting that elusive seat at Harvard Law School.
The bottom line: Taking the December LSAT is the right choice if that gives you a better chance to do well on the LSAT.
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