Most law schools provide optional space to explain your LSAT score and grades. While it can be tempting to explain away poor performance, consider these 5 things.
1. The facts speak for themselves. As they say in law school, bad facts make bad law. If your LSAT score is low, the best way to show that you can do better is to retake it and score higher. I rarely encourage applicants to address the LSAT in the personal statement.
2. Don’t say it. Do it. Law schools use grades and LSAT scores as proxies for an applicant’s ability to pass the bar exam – which in most states is a 2-to-3 day standardized test. You can’t explain why you didn’t pass the bar – you either do or don’t. Same with grades and LSAT. If you can do better, do it. You can also emphasize other academic achievements in you application to show your ability to tackle difficult work.
As a side note: If you have a documented disability and are entitled to extra time or other accommodations on the LSAT, take it. Under new rules, this information is not reported to schools, so all the admissions committees will see is your (higher) score.
3. Be concise. Law schools differ on how they will consider multiple LSAT scores. Some look to the highest score; others will unofficially average your scores. If you bombed your first LSAT (and hopefully it only happened once), you should explain why — if there was a concrete reason, e.g. you were ill, you filled out the answer sheet incorrectly, or you had a personal tragedy. Explain the situation in the most concrete way possible, and be brief. Whatever you do, don’t make excuses or try to justify your performance in a lengthy diatribe.
4. Be accurate. If you were on academic probation, you should say so and provide context. Don’t try to conceal problems. Law schools value honesty and integrity above all qualities. Also, needless to say, any addendum should be grammatically correct and clear.
5. Upward and onward. You should emphasize upward trends. For the LSAT, the scores speak for themselves (see #1). For your grades, if your grades improved over time, you should point that out to the admissions committee as it may not be that obvious.
It’s tempting to use the addendum space to justify your scores or performance. But, admissions committees really read these sections just to get a grip on the facts. If you have extenuating circumstances, say so, but don’t belabor the point.
Jessica Pishko graduated with a J.D. from Harvard Law School and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. She spent two years guiding students through the medical school application process at Columbia’s PostBac Program and teaches writing at all levels.