Crowded lecture hall Photo: Shutterstock

The number of people taking the Law School Admission Test increased for the fourth straight year during the 2018-19 cycle—good news for law schools hoping for larger applicant pools and evidence that the so-called “Trump Bump” is more than a fleeting phenomenon. But that 7.3% growth fell short of the previous years’ 18% surge in LSAT takers.

Altogether, 138,957 people sat for the exam between June 2018 and March 2019, marking the first time since 2010 that LSAT takers topped 130,000. (2009 was a high mark, when 171,514 took the entrance exam, before law school admissions headed into an eight-year slump.)

The increase in LSAT takers also is translating into more applicants. Thus far, the number of applicants to American Bar Association-accredited law schools for fall is up 3.7%. As with LSAT takers, that’s more modest growth than the previous year, when applicants increased 7.6%. By this time last year, 95% of applications had been submitted, according to the Law School Admission Council.

While the number of LSATs administered increased this cycle, a larger percentage were repeat test-takers, according to Susan Krinsky, vice president and chief of staff and director of enrollment management at the council, which develops the test. Just 57% of those who took the LSAT this cycle were first-time takers, down from 61% the previous year. Even though the percentage of first-time test takers was smaller than the previous year, the actual number of those taking the test for the first time this cycle was several hundred higher, Krinsky noted.

One potential factor in the uptick of repeat test-takers is that the people now have more opportunities to sit for the exam. It was administered six times this cycle, up from the traditional four times annually. (It will soon expand to 10 administrations a year.) Moreover, the council in late 2017 did away with a rule limiting people from taking the test no more than three times over a two-year period.

“It’s not possible to know whether the increase in repeaters is due to more tests, or our lifting the limit on the number of times you can take it,” Krinsky said.

But the rise in repeat test-takers means that significant increases in the number of LSATs administered won’t necessarily result in a corresponding boost in the size of the national applicant pool. That was always the case, given that not everyone who takes the LSAT ultimately applies to law school, Krinsky said. But a rise in repeat test-takers makes it harder to predict applicant volumes based only on the number of times the LSAT is given.

Law schools also closely watch the LSAT score distribution of the applicant pool, and this year’s numbers indicate that those with the highest scores aren’t applying in the same numbers as the previous year. Thus far, the number of applicants with scores of 175 to 180 is down nearly 22%, while those with scores of 170 to 174 is down about 2%. (Those categories represent just a small slice of the overall applicant pool.) By contrast, every score category from 140 and below to 160 to 164 is up.

That’s worrisome news for elite law schools that compete fiercely for applicants with top LSAT scores, and indicates that last year’s spike in applicants with the highest LSAT scores may prove to be a temporary blip.