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Do Law Schools Average LSAT Scores?


Note: We wrote an updated post on multiple LSAT scores and how they can affect you. Find it here.

I wanted to write about why the couple that crashed the President’s first state dinner should be strung up and publicly flogged for days on end. But editorial rejected it because they wanted to me write something about the LSAT.

So then I offered to write an analysis of why our failure to punish a couple who crash a President’s state dinner in hopes of landing a Bravo reality show indicates that the post WWII American empire is dead, dead, dead. That was rejected by editorial on grounds that it was the same as the first story (which it kind of was, but still), and because they wanted something about the LSAT.

Instead, I’ve been ”asked” to write a piece far more complicated, which will inevitably be rife with speculation and controversy. Thus, I wade into the sordid issue of averaging LSAT scores.

Once upon a time, law schools used the average of your LSAT scores in the admissions process, and none of us even bothered to ask why.

Many thought it was unrelated when, in June of 2006, the ABA replaced their longstanding requirement that schools report their students’ average scores with a new requirement that schools report only their students’ highest scores. Mind you, strictly speaking, this change had nothing to do with law school admissions, but rather with the particular data that law schools reported to the ABA. Law schools were still free to consider your average or highest LSAT for admissions.

But the all-important US News law school rankings treat the LSAT scores of admitted students as one of the most important factors in rankings. In fact, US News simply uses the ABA data when calculating their rankings.

It’s all very confusing, but imagine that law schools are considering two people: Ali and Behar.

Ali has taken the LSAT twice and initially scored a 150 and then a 170.
Behar took the LSAT only once and scored a 164.

Were the old ABA requirements in effect, where the schools report accepted students’ average LSATs, Behar is obviously the more attractive student (all things equal) because she has an average of 164, whereas Ali’s two scores average to 160. Because US News weighs LSAT scores so heavily, an incoming class with low LSAT scores literally lowers the law schools’ ranking. So, on the old ABA requirements the schools have a strong motive to take Behar.

With the new ABA requirement in effect, however, schools now have a strong motive to take Ali. After all, the LSAT they now report for Ali is a 170, which is higher than Behar’s 164.

It’s a bit ironic. Schools rank you according to your LSAT score, and it turns out that they themselves are also ranked according to your score. Because the ABA, and more importantly, US News, now cares about your highest score, schools have a very strong motive to do the same.

Accordingly, soon after the ABA decision, rumors circulated that schools would now rely only on your highest LSAT score in admissions. The problem is that there isn’t a great deal of clarity over which schools average and which schools don’t.

So, we at MSS thought that we’d help out by researching which law schools average and which ones don’t. We (that is, our tireless Sarah) asked the top 20 law schools and threw in a couple others for good measure. We got information by checking schools’ websites and (when possible) speaking with their representatives.

Based on the factors described above, we expected almost all schools to rely on your highest LSAT score, not your average. We anticipated that only the most selective schools would consider your average (e.g. Yale) because they can afford to be selective. Well, we were wrong. Quite surprisingly so.

Without any further ado, the results:

Schools that claim to consider the highest score:
University of Chicago

Schools that claim to average:
University of Virginia

Schools that won’t commit either way:
University of Pennsylvania
University of Michigan
UT Austin

No clear answer
It turns out only about 1/3 of the schools we surveyed take your highest score, another third average, and the last (and most annoying) third won’t say one way or the other. Members of this last, most annoying group often don’t want to go on record. Some claimed that they look at a candidate’s entire LSAT history but didn’t explain how they evaluated the information.

One point of agreement
Schools were, however, unequivocal about their treatment of canceled scores. Just about every school we contacted said that one cancelled LSAT score had essentially no effect on an application. Some recommended, however, that if you have two or more cancelled scores, you include an addendum to your application explaining why (assuming you have a good explanation).

So what’s the deal?
The deal is that the ABA change had some effect on how law schools view LSAT scores, but not the extreme effect some have claimed. Now schools have a motive to consider your highest score, but some are sticking to their guns on principled grounds. The University of Michigan, for example, adheres to the ABA requirement of going with the highest score but “consider the average score… because data provided by the Law School Admissions Council suggests that it has the greatest predictive utility.”

The takeaway
While confusion still exists, the moral of this story is clear. When in doubt, students should cancel an LSAT score instead of taking a low score, since a significant number of schools still average. But if you don’t feel ready on test day, it’s definitely better to have a no-show than either a cancelled or a low score, since law schools (at least those we talked with) don’t care at all about the first of these.

Article by Trent Teti of Blueprint LSAT Preparation