The New Limits on How Many Times You Can Take the LSAT, Explained

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This morning, everyone who’s registered to take the LSAT got some news that could affect how they plan to take the LSAT and apply to law school. Those folks found in their inboxes an email from LSAC, titled “Test-Taking Limit Policy,” which announced, perhaps unsurprisingly, a new test-taking limit policy for the LSAC.

You’ve maybe received this email and learned about the new policy already, but just in case you haven’t, or if you’ve already forgotten it, or if you just want to hear it from us, for whatever reason, here’s the gist of the new policy:

•There’s going to be a limit on how many times you can take the LSAT. This wasn’t the case for the last couple years (more on this below). But this limit goes into effect on the September 2019 test. It’s not retroactive. So even if you’ve taken literally every LSAT over the past couple years, none of those exams are going to count against you, for the purposes of these limits. Only the September 2019 exam, and all exams thereafter, will count towards the numerical limits LSAC is imposing.

• The main limit — and the one that’s going to affect the most people, I assume — is that you can only take the test three times in a given year. And remember, LSAC lives in some alternate reality where the “year” goes from June 1 to May 31. So you can only take a test three times in that timespan. And whenever we refer to “years,” moving forward in this blog, remember that we’re talking about LSAC’s made-up year, from June 1 to May 31.

• You can also only take the test five times over a five-year period.

• Finally, now there’s a hard cap on how many times you can take the LSAT in your life. You can only take the LSAT seven times during your life. I believe this is the first time there’s ever been a lifetime cap on the number of LSATs anyone could take. From that perspective, this seems kind of draconian, but only until you remember that taking the LSAT seven times is a fate you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

• Finally, there’s a limit that really only affects the most show-offy of LSAT instructors: if you get a 180 you can’t take the LSAT again for five years. This is the only limitation that’s being applied retroactively.

• There’s also an appeals process, for test takers who believe their special circumstances warrant an exemption to the any of these limits.

For those of us that follow this test closely, this was a pretty surprising move. Pretty much everything LSAC has done in the last few years was to make the test more accessible — most notably increasing the number of test dates per year. In fact, when a Reddit user got wind of these limitations and posted them to the popular law school admissions subreddit, much confusion ensued (in fact, the email from LSAC today suggests that LSAC is sending because of ensuing the internet scuttlebutt).

But it’s important to remember that test-taking limits are the historical norm for the LSAT. A lack of limitations was the exception. For years, LSAC’s somewhat-confusing rule (because, of course, they make the LSAT, which knows no other kind of rule) was that you couldn’t take the LSAT more than three times in a two-year period. So if you had taken the December 2016 exam, then the February 2017 exam, and then June 2017 exam, you would have hit the three-test limit. Meaning you’d have to wait until 2018 to take the LSAT a fourth time.

Then, in May 2017, LSAC lifted that limit. From 2017 until September 2019, to quoth Cady Heron, the limit did not exist. So for two years, you could take the LSAT as many times as you wanted. Just be a real LSAT glutton, if that was your thing. In September 2019, that will no longer be the case. So the limitless LSAT will be just a two-year footnote in the long and storied history of this exam.

Why is LSAC imposing limits again? Well, we don’t know yet. It’s seems a bit counterintuitive, since more tests would mean more money in LSAC’s coffers. Maybe law schools weren’t quite sure what to do with applicants who had taken the LSAT five, or six, or seven, or eight times, and requested these limits. Maybe LSAC heard complaints that a lack of limits disadvantages lower-income test takers. The test takers who retake the exam earn scores that increase, on average, by one or two points; so, theoretically, a well-funded test taker could steadily creep their score up by retaking the LSAT a bunch of times, while a test taker who lacked the means to take a $200 test multiple times could not.* Maybe LSAC decided they have all the money they need. Who knows? It’s all conjecture at this point.

*If you’ll allow me to engage in a bit of editorializing on top of what is already pure speculation — it seems incredibly unlikely to me that many well-funded test takers can actually do this. While there is data that test takers average a score increase from their first test to their second, there isn’t any data — data LSAC made publicly available, at least — that a similar increase occurs from the second to third test, or from the third to fourth, or so on. But it was a theory posed on the aforementioned Reddit thread, which suggests that there is at least a perception of unfairness, which maybe incentivized LSAC to impose these limits.

There are a few other things we don’t know yet, and can only speculate on. For instance, in the old limit policy, tests in which you canceled your score didn’t count against the limit. We don’t know if that’s still going to be the case moving forward. We don’t know what the appeals process is going to look like. LSAC has promised clarification, so hopefully they’ll provide some answers soon.

But, in all, this shouldn’t change much about your plans regarding when to take the LSAT, and how to study for. For time immemorial, the best plan of attack is to treat the LSAT you signed up for like it’s the only LSAT you’ll ever take. Choose an LSAT that will allow you two-to-four months of intensive study, and then do your best on that test.

These limits should only be considered when you’re thinking about retaking the exam. If you decide to retake the test, that’s OK. But before, people would usually just choose to take the very next LSAT. Partially because if that one didn’t work out, they could take it again without worrying about a cap on the number of times they could retake. But now, with a limit of three LSATs per year, you may want to be more selective. You may want to think about how much time it’ll take you to get fully prepared. You may want to, depending on your circumstances, choose an LSAT that’s a few months down the line, to give you adequate time to prepare. So you can make that test the last LSAT you’ll ever take.

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