The LSAT is now being administered six times a year rather than four. In part, this is to try to head off the inroads that the GRE is making into the Law School Admission Council’s territory. I’ve talked about the LSAT/GRE debate, which you can review here and here.
I haven’t talked about the impact of additional LSAT dates on law school admissions, partly because the expansion is new and no one really knows. But I have talked about LSAT timing for admissions in the past, and the same principle still holds: the earlier you can finalize your admission package (including the LSAT score), the better.
Still, the schedule from September forward has changed. There used to be a fall and winter test, and all else being equal, for next fall’s admission cycle, the fall test was better for admissions purposes—you were essentially in the first wave of applications that law schools reviewed (the June (and now July) test was marginally better, but it was a very small margin).
Now, instead of fall/winter, there are tests in September, November, January and March. My guess is that the January and March tests will function much like the former February test—by the time they get results, it will be late winter, and a lot of the seats and money for law schools are already committed (especially for the March test). If you’re taking those tests, you’re at a comparative disadvantage, less for the January cycle than for the March cycle. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t take the test then—a higher score is always better, so if those are the times you can get your best score, that’s what you should do. My clients and I talk about scheduling for success a lot, and it’s something a lot of people don’t think about nearly as much as they should. But you should be aware that you’re fitting into fewer slots and financial aid opportunities, and might consider taking the test but pushing applications back a year, particularly for the March test.
That leaves September and November. September will almost certainly land you in the same place as the former fall test, and that’s a good spot. But what about November? Since there is no data on this, because admissions committees have never had two tests in the fall to work with, anything I’ll say is necessarily speculative.
But here goes. My suspicion is that November will be treated more like the September test than January—maybe not as ideal as September but closer to it. Here’s why. First, a smaller proportion of people will take the September test than took the single fall test in the past. That will reduce the number of seats and the amount of money that is committed by early November.
Second, the admission process generally takes (it seems) longer every year, so even the strong preference that I used to have for the fall test over the former December test has declined a bit in the last few years.
Finally, there’s just the calendar. Because of finals and school breaks, less seems to get done on admissions decisions in December than in other months in the application cycle. So, if you get your admissions materials in by early December, you’re in essentially the same position as all those on whom decisions have not been made but who took earlier tests.
What I actually suspect will happen is that wait lists will get a little longer for many law schools, as they themselves wait a bit more to see what the November test results bring. Applicants themselves won’t see much change above the surface but decisions will be made a little differently at law schools.
A side benefit of the test expansion may be that that lengthening of the process will lessen any disadvantage from taking the January test. I suspect there will still be some disadvantage, but again, that’s if all else is equal, not if you can get a measurably higher score in January that you could have previously. A strong January score, along with a strong application package otherwise, will likely be somewhat more competitive than the same application package submitted from the former February test.