by Zack Baldwin
Your LSAT score is one of the most important qualifications for admissions to law school, and understanding your score will help you choose where to apply.
LSAT scores range from 120 to 180. In other words, 120 is the lowest possible score and 180 is the highest possible score, while 150 is roughly the average score, or 50th percentile. Only 2% of test takers score above a 170 and 2% below a 130, with the vast majority of test-takers – around 70% – scoring between a 140 and a 160.
How is the score calculated? Why is it out of 180?
Your score is calculated by converting a raw score into a composite score. The raw score is the number of scored questions that you answered correctly out of the 100 or 101 on the test. The “composite” score is curved to show how your raw score compares against everyone else who took the test.
To convert your raw score into a scaled score, look in the back of the LSAT practice test on the page just before the answer key and you’ll find a table to help you convert your score to the 120-180 scale.
You may notice that if you compare two tables from two different LSATs, the numbers are slightly different, and that’s exactly why the LSAT uses the composite score at all. Some LSATs are slightly harder or slightly easier than the norm – maybe they feature an especially difficult game, for example – and the scores are curved for schools to get a better sense of how each applicant compares to one another.
That said, the LSAT is generally very consistent in difficulty. You’ll find that the raw score-to-composite score tables never change by more than just a couple points.
What your score means for your application
A good LSAT score will help you immensely in gaining admission to a good law school, while a poor LSAT can rule you out of contention completely. Below, we’ll discuss the prospects for people in different score belts.
120-135: The LSAT can be a challenging and unforgiving test. Any number of factors can cause you to score in this bottom bracket, and you’ll want to assess what those are – are you easily distracted, or a slow reader? Are the basic question tasks unclear? Practice the fundamentals of reading and comprehension every day. Read all the time. Learn what the LSAT questions are asking and how to find it. Work through the problems slowly and get a grasp on what skills the LSAT requires of you, before you work through them under time constraints. If you cannot break into the mid-140s by test day, then going to law school is probably not the path for you.
135-145: This is an encouraging place to start from, because you have the potential for tremendous growth. Students in this range have been known to improve – with enough dedication and guided instruction – by 20 points. A student of mine who took the December 2016 test went from an initial 144 to a 163. Even increasing your score from a 139 on your initial diagnostic to a 152 on test day radically changes the type of schools that will accept you.
Generally, schools that accept scores in the low to mid 140s are called “Tier 4” schools, and they have the highest rate of bar examination failures. They generally pass as much as the mid-tier schools but without as much security in employment in the profession. We’re not trying to say these schools aren’t worthwhile, but law school can be very expensive and the job market in the law is exceptionally competitive. Going to a school in that range means you really want to be a lawyer and you’re willing to take some risks. If you’re in this range, a tutor can really help you identify how to reliably improve your score to achieve the numbers you need for acceptance to your state school.
146-153: To give you an idea of how key this range is, a 146 is about 30th percentile, while a 153 is 56th. A quarter of all the people who show up to the LSAT on test day fall in this belt. If your initial score is in this range, without any tutoring or other instruction, you’re off to a great start. A score in this range, combined with a strong GPA, can get you into some decent state schools, which in turn can lead to respectable jobs in local markets. But no one goes to USC – let alone Stanford or Berkeley – with a 152. If you’re in this range, you are at the height of the bell curve, right in the middle. Improving your score even 5 points will put some strong regional schools into your game plan. Working with guided instruction can be the key here, whether it’s with a friend or a study group or a tutor. Don’t give up.
154-159: With a good GPA, you should be all set for admission to a decent regional school. But the post-graduation employment rates and the bar passage rates of your regional school will be lower than those of the more prestigious universities. Reaching the 160s is a meaningful symbolic achievement, and a 163 (89-90th percentile) is generally considered the benchmark for application to the top schools. With a 163, you can begin to look at Berkeley or NYU or Northwestern. Score improvements of 10 points – from a 153 to a 163 – are entirely within the realm of possibility. You are on the cusp of some of more approachable great law schools if you find yourself in this range, and a good study plan and hard work can yield the difference.
160-164: You’re already competitive at a lot of good schools but if you’re starting in this range, your target is 170 (98th percentile). The points begin to get less important past that hurdle – 173-180 are all 99th percentile scores. You are in the range for some very good law schools, and getting into the mid-to-high 160s (90-95th percentile) puts you in the admissions zone for some of the best schools in the country. If you want to practice in a state outside of California,Texas, New York, Massachusetts, or Connecticut, you will at least be competitive at the best law school in that state with these scores. You are probably a very consistent performer on the exam if you’re in this zone, but getting those final points, that push into 170 comes with a good strategy. The LSAT is a game of inches, and it really shows in these high score margins. Where are you losing your points and is there anything you can do to increase your chances of getting just two more questions right?
165-169: Admission to some very strong schools is almost assured (provided the rest of your application is at least so-so), and you’re starting to look at decent financial aid for going to lower ranked schools. That said, you may still want to consider getting some help. A 5 point improvement from a 168 to a 173 makes admission to Harvard and Yale that much likelier.
170+: Have you ever considered being an LSAT tutor? Chances are you have some wisdom to pass on.
Your LSAT score is a large piece of your law school application. Knowing where you stand before the exam can really help you know how much prep you need. If you’re scoring in the mid-lower ranges, you should seriously consider an LSAT course or LSAT tutor.