Weigh Taking the October, December LSAT Exams

Shawn P. O'Connor
August 26, 2013

With the October LSAT less than six weeks away, now is the time for prospective law students to decide when they will take the exam so that they can prepare a structured study plan and best use the time they have available.

As a law admissions and LSAT expert, I am often asked whether it is better to take the October or December LSAT. There is no right answer because each exam date has benefits and drawbacks.

Taking the exam in October allows students to then turn their focus from studying to writing essays and coordinating with recommenders. Students who take the October exam are also more likely to submit their applications earlier because they will receive their scores sooner than those who take the December exam.

[Understand how the October LSAT affects law school applications.]

However, aiming for the December LSAT test date is beneficial to those who need more prep time to reach their full potential. Taking the LSAT in December to give yourself adequate time to prepare will not jeopardize your law school applications, provided that you also ensure you have the capability to work diligently on the other components of your applications concurrently.

Applying earlier can promise a slight advantage, but an application with an LSAT score that accurately reflects your abilities will be far more effective than an early submission with a potentially lower score. I have worked with countless students at Stratus Prep who were admitted to top law schools with December LSAT scores.

To help you weigh your options when considering the October and December exams, I have laid out the following three possible tracks that many of my students have taken for test success.

1. Smooth out your weaknesses and take the October exam: If you are considering taking the October LSAT, you should use the next six weeks to tweak the areas that cost you substantial points and to improve your timing, if necessary. If you have not cracked a book yet, be warned that you will need far more than six weeks to adequately prepare.

Many students take up to six months in order to obtain satisfying results. To really fine-tune your performance, consider seeking help from an expert LSAT tutor who can pinpoint and rectify your weaknesses over the next six weeks.

[Learn where law students have the highest median LSAT scores.]

2. Aim for October, but use December as backup: If you have dedicated significant time to studying and feel you are close to being ready, you should continue to prepare as if you will take the test in October. After a couple of weeks, if you find that you are not quite there, simply do not show up for the exam.

You will lose any LSAT registration fees if you do so -- the basic registration fee for the October and December test dates is $165 -- and it will be recorded as an absence.

Alternatively, you may feel prepared initially but during the test realize you did not perform to the best of your abilities. In that case, you may cancel your score within six days of your exam date and try again in December. Schools generally perceive an absence differently than when scores are canceled, since cancellation typically means a student knows that he or she did not do well.

It is fine to use December as a backup, but only sit for the LSAT if you truly feel prepared; though one low score will not botch your applications, where possible, low scores should be avoided. Also, keep in mind that you can only take the LSAT three times in two years.

[Don't let other commitments get in the way of studying for the LSAT.]

3. Structure a plan for the next 15 weeks and take the December exam: If you are beginning to prepare for the LSAT or you have been preparing for some time but have not reached your target score yet, you should set the October exam aside and focus on creating a plan for the next 15 weeks until the December exam.

The caveat with this option is that if you wish to cancel your score or it is lower than anticipated, your only other options will be to retake the exam in February or hold off on applications until next year. Not all law schools accept the February LSAT, so be sure to check beforehand so there are no surprises down the road.

Overall, your most advantageous test date depends on the status of your studies and your proximity to your target score. The options above have held true for countless students in the past who deliberated over taking the October or December LSAT.

Are you taking the October or December LSAT? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.