How to Understand Your LSAT Score
The term "LSAT score" is ambiguous. That means it has more than one definition. It has three definitions:
1. Raw Score
2. Scaled Score
3. Percentile Rank
Each of these three "scores" are very different from the others. Each serves a different purpose and is meaningful depending on what you're attempting to measure. It's crucial that you understand the difference.
This chart shows you approximate conversions between different score types. Descriptions of the score types are below the chart.
LSAT Score Table:
Raw Score → Scaled Score → Percentile
|Raw score*||Scaled Score||Est. Percentile**|
* Based on December 2012 LSAT. Varies slightly across test administrations.
** Based on the average of three LSAT administrations. The percentiles for 120, 179, and 180 were adjusted based on analysis of the data.
LSAT Raw Score
Of the 100 questions the LSAT contains, the raw score measures how many questions you got right. That's the sense in which it's "raw". A raw score of 84/100 means that you got 84 questions right. This is very useful information when you are studying for the test. It allows you to look at each section and determine where you are the weakest and apt to improve the most. A 25/25 on your Reading Comprehension paired with a 10/23 on Logic Games means that you should put away the latest issue of Scientific America and bring out the Sudoku. It helps you target your studies.
Note: There is no penalty for guessing on the LSAT. Wrong answers are NOT subtracted from your raw score. If you can't finish a section, guess!
LSAT Scaled Score
As helpful as the raw score is to you (and your LSAT tutor), it is just as irrelevant to anyone else. Nobody cares about your raw score. The law schools boast the scaled scores of their most recently incoming class. Harvard Law School boasts that its incoming students average a scaled score of 175. So, to gauge your chances at a law school, you should use the scaled score. If you want to go to X Law School, then you should get a scaled score that's the average for X Law School to have a good chance.
Scaled scores are normally distributed. Simply, that means that most students are clumped together in the middle (around a 152) it's hard to break away from the pack (both in the upward and downward direction). More than that, the farther you already are from the middle, the harder it becomes to gain more distance. The extra 15 (or so) questions that you'll need to improve from 160 to 170 will be harder than the extra 15 (or so) questions that you'll need to improve from 150 to 160.
See the chart above for an example of the conversion from raw score to scaled score. Please note that this is from the December 2012 LSAT. They vary from LSAT to LSAT, but not by too much. For those of you targeting the Top 5 schools, a good rule of thumb is to consider a raw score of 90 to convert to a scaled score of 170.
LSAT Percentile Rank
The third score is your percentile rank. Each scaled score is assigned a percentile rank. The percentile rank puts your scaled score in relation to all other LSAT test takers. In other words, it tells you roughly what percentage of LSAT test takers your scaled score beat. For example, 173 is a 99th percentile score. That means you are in the top 1% of all LSAT test takers. That means if you randomly selected a group of 100 students (of the 100,000 or so who take the LSAT every year), you did better than all but 1 of them. That's a damn good score.
The chart above combines information from several LSATs and tries to give meaningful data for the top and bottom scores. It will give you a good estimate of the conversion from scaled score to percentile rank. Like the conversion from raw to scaled scores, this conversion changes just slightly year to year.
So why does your percentile rank matter? It's a more truthful representation of performance. Let's consider scaled scores of 150, 160, 170, and 180. They are each separated by 10 points. So, you would think that improving from one scaled score to the next means roughly the same thing in terms of performance improvement and, by extension, odds of getting into a top law school. But, that's not right. They are way more different than the +10 points would suggest. The percentile rank reveals this.
A 150 is a 44th percentile score. You did better than 44% of the students taking this test.
A 160 is a 80th percentile score. +10 Scaled Score points bump you up to having done better than 80% of the students taking this test. That's +36% improvement.
A 170 is a 98th percentile score. This next +10 Scaled Score points only bump you up 18%. Now, you're doing better than 98% of the students taking this test.
A 180 is nearly a 100th percentile score. The last +10 Scaled Score points bumps you up by a mere +2%.
What this means is that the difference between a 150 to a 160 is huge compared to the difference between a 170 to a 180. At 150, your competition pool for entrance to a law school is roughly 56% of the application pool. Assuming 100,000 applicants, you're competing against 56,000 of them. But, if you bump it up to a 160, your competition pool all of a sudden drops to 20%, or 20,000 applicants. You've just out paced 36,000 applicants with that +10 scaled score improvements.
In contrast, if you're at 170, your competition pool is already around 2% of the applicants or 2,000 students. Improving that to a 180 won't help you all that much. You'll likely reap higher marginal returns by focusing on things like your personal statement and letters of recommendation.
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