When Should I Take the LSAT?
- Oct 25, 2019
As a tutor, one of the questions I’m asked at least a few times a month is, “How many times should I take the LSAT?” It’s usually accompanied by pleading eyes or, perhaps, a grounded sort of resignation that says, “I will do this as many times as I have to because I will not be beaten by some standardized test written by a bunch of nerds in suburban Philadelphia.” I applaud the spirit of the latter student, because I, too, spend much of my time doing things to spite nerds. But whether asked in desperation or from between squared shoulders, it’s a fair question. The answer, unfortunately, is “it depends.”
Depends on what?
Why, thanks for asking, rhetorical device! It depends on a number of things, but the one I’d like to focus on for now is: how far along are you in your college career. Before asking, “How many times should I take the LSAT?,” you must first ask, “When should I first take the LSAT?”
While starting as early as possible might seem proactive, according to new regulations, there are restrictions on how many times someone can take the LSAT (I know, I know, try to hold back your tears). Between the lifetime cap (seven) and the year-based restrictions (no more than thrice* in a year, or five times in five years), deciding on how early to take the exam can be a bit trickier than it used to be. With that in mind, let’s talk about how far along are you into your college career you should make it until you start thinking about taking the LSAT.
Freshmen and Sophomores
It takes impressive initiative to start looking at grad school admissions exams this early in your undergrad career. But with only a year or so between you and the SAT or ACT, are you really that eager to jump back into the standardized test grind? Let yourself breathe a bit, get into the rhythms of college. Besides, at this stage in the game, you’re probably going to be better served by focusing on honing your GPA. Keeping a solid baseline of good grades for your first two years is going to act as a significant cushion in case you get to some upper-level seminar and have a small crisis of “oh my god, what was I thinking, why would I take advanced organic chemistry, this was a huge mistake!!**”
If you’re hungering for some law-adjacent action, you can always look to see if there’s a mock trial or pre-law group at your university. You can be sure that a whole bunch of the upperclassmen will be studying for the LSAT, so you can get a taste for what that next-level test prep looks like without having to dive in yourself.
Okay, now we’re getting into serious cost/benefit territory. On the one hand, third year is when you typically get to start getting to the interesting, difficult upper-level classes in your major. You may find that you’re spending more time than you used to focusing on readings because, finally, you’re done with gen-eds and into things you care about. There’s a lot to be said for continuing to keep your focus on your studies and your GPA.
On the other hand, researching law schools becomes a much more manageable task once you have an idea as to what your LSAT score might be. A reasonable compromise appears: Perhaps, rather than jumping all the way in, it might be a good idea to take a full LSAT practice exam and see where you score without doing any prep. Depending on how you do, you can make a more educated choice about whether or not to start heavy test prep before your senior year.
And here’s game-time. If you don’t want to take a gap year between undergrad and law school, this is when you’re going to need to lock your LSAT score down. The summer before your senior year is an excellent time to start seriously approaching the LSAT. Aiming for an early test date — September or October — will let you get the exam out of the way so you can put your focus where it belongs:
law school applications getting the most out of your senior year.
And the Rest of Us
There’s no age limit on applying to law school. No time is truly “too late” to apply. In the spirit of Halloween, I mean this in only a moderately creepy way: the LSAT will always be there, waiting for you.
* I would like to apologize to everyone for using the word “thrice” as if I were a character in a period novel. I got carried away. This is what happens when you spend too long with the LSAT — you forget how normal, contemporary people communicate. Don’t be like me; take the exam and fulfill your law school dreams. Go on, get outta here!
** A tip: If you withdraw from a class before the withdrawal deadline, it does not appear on your transcript. Free advice for whomever needs it.
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