You're Disappointed With Your October LSAT Score. Should You Write an LSAT Addendum?

What a week it's been, so much wailing and gnashing of teeth about October LSAT scores.

Every year I talk to lots of people who are absolutely certain they'll score in the 170s until, boom, they get their scores back. That is, unfortunately, the norm. That's not to minimize how lousy it feels. It feels incredibly lousy, no question. The disappointment is real. And at the same time you have to be making some very important decisions very quickly, perhaps in a weepy or angry state. (As one person put it, "the LSAT has turned me all emo. :-/") That's hard.*

So the number one question I'm asked after October scores come out is: Should I write an addendum about my LSAT score?

After reading more LSAT addendum essays than I can shake a stick at, my answer has come around to a resounding no.

I know this advice goes against every instinct you have when you're in the moment, and unhappy with your score and in a rush to get applications out the door. That's exactly why I'm inspired to write this post, and to be very blunt.

Why is my answer a resounding no? Because most people who are disappointed with their LSAT scores genuinely believe that those scores don't represent their true capabilities, that something must have gone mysteriously wrong on test day. But notice how nobody ever thinks a high score is an outlier event, or that a high score fails to adequately "represent" them. For admissions officers who are bombarded with thousands of those disappointing-LSAT addendum essays, it's like spending Groundhog Day in Lake Wobegon.

The main problem with an LSAT addendum is that, in most cases, it's all talk. And they usually sound a bit whiny and self-rationalizing, which never helps your case. Nobody deserves a score in the 170s, not even people who have worked really hard at the test, and not even people who were superstars in college. As a post by Brian Galvin of Veritas Prep explained (in the context of the GMAT, but it holds for the LSAT as well, perhaps even more so), it's not a proficiency test; it's designed to be a sorting mechanism. And so it sorts. That's a painful reality for many — most? — test-takers when the scores come back, but it's actually the nature and purpose of the test. Yes, you'll hear admissions officers talk about how it's a holistic process, how the LSAT is just one factor among many, etc. That's certainly true, but only up to a point. At a school with a competitive admissions process, that's the kind of thing they say to make themselves — and you — feel warmer and fuzzier about the ruthless sorting, but it is what it is, and the LSAT plays a big part.

So what should you do if you really, truly believe that your October score was in fact some freak event? Simple: take the test again in December and prove it. Don't expect admissions officers just to take your word for it. Most application forms have a space where you can list both past and future LSAT dates, so you can signal to schools that you're going to be retaking it in December.

But what if you don't think October was a freak event? What if you believe that you're just not that good at the LSAT, but you have this amazing undergraduate record and those eye-popping honors and all this other evidence proving you have the academic and intellectual chops? Those other factors are great to have, and they are already on display in the required parts of your application. In that case, pointing them out in an addendum is redundant. When it comes to any kind of non-required submission — whether it's an addendum or an optional essay or an extra recommendation — redundancy is a no-no, because it wastes admissions officers' time. And they don't like that. (More on that here.)

Here's another scenario: Maybe English isn't your native language, and that's why the test undermeasures you. That's actually the strongest argument, but admissions officers already know that the test has some inherent trickiness for non-native speakers (most likely having to do with native vs. non-native reading speed on the test). In that case, write an addendum explaining that English is not your native language, but only if that's not already obvious from other parts of your application. The application form might ask directly, or maybe you've written about that in your essay, for example. It's back to the redundancy rule.

So that leaves very few situations when an addendum about your LSAT score is a good idea. I often find that an LSAT addendum is more about making the applicant feel better, and trying to ease that horrible, lingering LSAT anxiety, than it is about adding anything of value for the admissions officer. The two are not the same thing. So do write the addendum if it makes you feel better. But if it's not enhancing your application in an important way (vs. just retaking the test, which is the single most useful thing you can do if you think you can score better), leave it in your Drafts folder. More thoughts on this topic at Addendum Essays, Sweet-Talking, and Judgment, and on the topic of multiple LSAT scores at Addendum for Multiple LSAT Scores.

Feel free to use the comments section to vent — it's definitely a safer place to do so than in your applications. And I especially invite LSAT tutors and instructors to weigh in, because no doubt you have insights on this subject as well.

*That's also a reminder to future applicants not to wait until October to take the LSAT. Many, many people are unhappy with their first score when it comes back (and sometimes you really do just have an off day), so the smart thing to do is to build a second test into your timeline. Take it in June, with October as a back-up. Or better yet, take it in February, with June as a back-up. If you have to wait until the end of October/early November to get your final score, you are leaving yourself only a matter of weeks to meet Early Decision deadlines, and you may miss some entirely. And it's impossible even to put together a sensible list of schools until you have a score. If you're banking on October, you're taking a big gamble with timeline, and likely to create a mad rush for yourself. Not the best combination, right? So plan ahead, give yourself room to be disappointed or emotional, and then give yourself room to rock the test if need to retake it.

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and and a former lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can read more law school admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.