Should I Take the LSAT a Third Time?

I took my first LSAT last year in Oct and got 157...which was disappointing.  I honestly didn't put much effort into studying, so I retook it this June and got 167. I'm still not happy with the score, because I got most of the questions wrong in the Reading Comp section, and I feel like I can improve a lot more, since I only got 1 or 2 wrong on the Games and Reasoning sections.  I want to take it one more time, but my concern is that it might not be viewed favorably by the schools. I have a 3.65 GPA and with the score of 167, it seems like I don't really have a good chance at the T14 schools. 

If I do set my mind on retaking, I know I can put in the time and effort to improve the score. 

How do schools view 3 LSAT scores? If I do end up taking it again, at least what score should I be shooting for to get into T14?  

In my case it's more difficult to decide because I already have a large discrepancy between my first and second scores...

I'm in desperate need for advice! Thank you.

Ten points is a big jump -- congratulations! Here's how I would approach the analysis:

Assume the lower score didn't exist. Would the higher one be enough to get you into your desired schools? If you're shooting for a T14 school with a 167 and a 3.65, the answer is: probably not. You can gauge your odds using the LSAT/GPA calculator on LSAC's site. That calculator lets you stack up your LSAT and GPA numbers (or any hypothetical numbers) against the previous year's admissions results for almost all ABA-approved law schools. If I plug in your 167 and 3.65 into that calculator and sort by likelihood, the results in the right column (on a scale of 0-100%) look like this:

Not all T14 schools participate in the calculator, as you can see above, but you can at least get a pretty good sense of your general competitiveness for the T14.

What that chart tells me is that you shouldn't be worrying about how three scores would look to law schools. The more important question is: Is your second score high enough to make you competitive if you don't take the test again? Because if it's not, then there's no real point in appyling with the high score you currently have.

Based on that chart, it appears that unless you have some extra special, atypical goodies besides numbers to offer the T14 (you are a minority whom law schools aggressively recruit, you have a close relationship to a big donor whom a particular law school can't afford to alienate, etc.), you'll need to take the test again and get a higher score.

How high does your score need to be? You can plug different hypothetical LSAT numbers into the calculator and see how the odds move up accordingly. If we plug in a 172, for example, the odds improve, but that new score might not be enough to make the difference, mostly likely because your GPA is on the low side for T14, and I assume that's not a variable you can change between now and the fall. This past application season, though, I saw some people with those kinds of numbers receive offers off of multiple T14 waitlists, so a 172 might open up some possibilities for you that you almost certainly wouldn't have with a 167. (Waitlists are where a lot of the real action happens for people whose odds are OK but not great, and for people whose numbers are mixed, e.g. high LSAT with so-so GPA.)

Bottom line: applying with a competitive third score is better than applying with two non-competitive scores. Or:

(157, 167, 172) > (157, 167)

So if you think you there is room for improvement and you can realistically squeeze out another 5 or so points (obviously, the more the better), go for it. Ironically, you're most likely to see another big jump if that second score was also not the result of your best effort. Ideally, you wouldn't have saved up your best effort until the second or even third test, but better late than not at all. 

If you end up with a great third score, explaining the jump is a nice problem to have. Whether you end up applying with two scores or three, check out my previous post about how to approach an addendum explaining LSAT score jumps.

And a reminder to people who haven't taken the LSAT yet: DO NOT take the LSAT without a lot of preparation, or "just to see how you do." DO NOT be complacent about this test, because this test is HARD. Don't believe me? Try doing this on the fly. Don't needlessly put yourself in a position where you have to explain a lower score, or even two lower scores. You'll make a better impression if you wait until you're in peak form,* and then apply with one great score that reflects the best you can do. With a test this hard, and an admissions process this competitive, if you're not giving it your best shot, why bother?

Good luck with the third test! Please let us know how it goes.

* And by "peak form," I mean peak form given whatever other demands there are on your time, especially ones that won't go away no matter how many times you take the LSAT (family obligations, school exams, long hours at work, a world that -- annoyingly but inevitably -- just won't bend to your ideal schedule). If you hold out for perfect conditions to prepare for the LSAT, you'll end up waiting forever.

Related postings from the archives:

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).