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Take the LSAT as early as possible
Nearly half of all LSAT takers register for the test twice. About 20% register, decide they’re not ready, and take it later instead. About 5% take it unprepared, panic, and cancel their score and retake later. Another 18% take it, get a bad score, and take it again. Are you positive you’ll be in the half that does it right the first time? So leave yourself time for a retake. All other things being equal, you should try to prepare for the June LSAT.
The students who are best at standardized tests often take the June LSAT. They feel prepared earlier, and don’t procrastinate because they don’t fear the test. The groups in October and December are the most typical test-takers; and the February group tends to be composed of the poorest test-takers. Law Services takes this into account in grading the test. They “normalize” the June LSAT to a 154, the October LSAT to a 152, December to 151, and February to 149. So if you can be ready in June, take the test then. But if you attend a college on the quarter system, you’ll be in finals the week before (and perhaps even the week of) the LSAT. You’ll just have to live with the October test.
How Do I Register?
To register for the LSAT, you’ll need the Law Services LSAT Information Bulletin. If you don’t already have this book, you can pick one up at any local college or law school, or by calling Law Services at (215) 968-1001. The book is free, and contains all the information you’ll need to register for the LSAT and the LSDAS (Law School Data Assembly Service — your official transcript analysis). It includes a practice test and information on ordering released LSATs to use as extra practice materials. AS of 2005, it no longer contains paper forms for registering for the LSAT All registrations should be done by phone or online, or you can call them and get them to mail you a set of paper forms. To register by phone or on-line, you must have a credit card handy. If you want to pay by check or money order, or if you are requesting a fee waiver, you need paper forms.
When should I register?
Generally you must register thirty days before you plan to take the exam. I always ask my students to register early, since last-minute registrants are often closed out of the center they request. In the last several years, some of my students were forced to take the exam as far as eighty miles away! You can register closer to the test date, but you will pay a late fee in addition to the regular fee.
Requests for fee waivers, special accommodations or private test centers must be made in advance. There may be extra forms to complete for these services, so get an early start if you need any special accommodations.
If you have any type of disability you may be entitled to special testing conditions. People with reading disabilities are often entitled to readers or transcribers; in addition, you may be given extra time. People with any physical disability may be entitled to extra time, either for the test itself or for breaks. People in wheelchairs are often accommodated in private rooms, and extra break time is given to allow the test-taker to use rest rooms and soda machines.
If you take the test under special circumstances, Law Services will notify the law schools receiving your score. They will not provide the reason why this was done unless you authorize them to do so. In general, I believe that it helps to include a statement outlining the reason you needed special circumstances and what accommodations were made. It helps the admissions committee evaluate your score, and (should they accept you) gives them time to begin planning to meet your needs once you enroll.
We’ve received a number of calls from people with learning disabilities who had Law Services deny their requests for testing accommodation — extra time, special materials, etc. — because the applicant didn’t include sufficient documentation. Then, when the applicant gets the documentation to them, the deadline has passed, and Law Services denies the request.
Law Services is the most rigid bureaucracy I’ve ever seen. Exceptions happen once in a blue moon. So if you’re expecting to get accommodations of any sort for your LSAT start way, way in advance to find out what documentation and testing they require.
How Much Does It Cost?
The fee for the LSAT is over $100 in 2005. There is no extra charge for handicap accommodations, while private test centers cost an extra $200 or more, depending on where you are requesting to take the exam.
Fee waivers are available for the LSAT as well as for application fees. You can get a fee waiver from a law school, not from your undergraduate institution. If there is a law school locally, make an appointment with the admissions officer, bring them the letter in support of your request, and ask them for a waiver letter. If there is no local law school, you can get a fee waiver from Law Services. Fee waiver information is also available on-line.
On Test Day
The most important rule for test day is the motto: be prepared. Bring everything you might possibly need. The test center may not have a pencil sharpener, a clock in the test room, a working soda machine or dollar changer. Remember not to park at a parking meter, since you won’t be able to add money as needed. If you live a distance from the test center you might want to arrange backup transportation, especially if you have a finicky car. Bring aspirin, Band-Aids (for paper cuts), and food to eat at break. DO NOT eat chocolate during the test; aside from the potential damage to your answer sheet, it often metabolizes too quickly in a high adrenaline situation, leaving you more tired than before you ate it.
The test itself is about four hours long, but you may be at the test center as long as six hours. Initial processing includes taking your thumb print, having you write out a handwriting sample, and reading detailed instructions aloud. Don’t arrive any earlier than you must; if your registration ticket says to arrive between 8:00 and 8:30, arrive at 8:25, to avoid the extra half-hour of stress.
Keep or Cancel?
You have 5 working days after the test to decide whether to keep your score or cancel it. Try not to make this decision based on emotions. Your good or bad feelings may not match your actual performance. Instead, look at objective indicators of your score.
You’ll get a form in the test room for canceling on the spot. Never cancel on test day unless you become too ill to finish the exam. You can at least wait until you’ve had time to see how other folks felt about the test. A good place to get feedback about the exam is from Princeton Review’s web site. Within 48 hours of the exam they post a pretty thorough analysis of the overall difficulty and how people felt.
“But the Games Were So Hard!”
So many people ask me so many questions about how the LSAT is scored that I feel compelled to try once again to explain that which I do not actually understand.
Each LSAT is equated and normalized. (These words come to you direct from Law Services.) What that means is that the difficulty of each section is rated by comparing your performance on a graded section to your performance on a non-graded section of the same type. I think this is the part called normalizing. Then the raw score to scaled score conversion is adjusted for the overall difficulty of the test.
Most people have a sense of whether the games were easier or harder than usual, and think you can predict the way the scores will move based on this. But the difficulty of the arguments and reading sections are much harder to sense. So a slightly harder games section might be balanced by a slightly easier set of arguments. In the end, there’s no way to predict the curve. Of course, if the games are VERY easy or VERY hard, they may carry the curve in one direction or the other, but I had no sense that Saturday’s games were near either extreme.
Should I Retake?
Good News! Law Services has officially changed their policy on averaging multiple LSAT scores. On Feb. 14, LSAC announced that their Board of Trustees had approved a change in their “Cautionary Policies Concerning LSAT Scores and Related Services.” LSAC used to encourage the use of the average of multiple scores. The revised Cautionary Policies are silent on this topic. This change is intended to advise law schools that there is no need to always average multiple LSAT scores, and that they should use their best judgment in deciding which LSAT score best reflects the applicant’s potential.
In a quick follow-up to the change in policy, the ABA has scheduled a discussion of whether to require law schools to report averaged LSAT scores of applicants who took the test more than once.
What this means to you is that, come June of 2006 and later, law schools might look for people with a high second LSAT score to pull from their wait list. So if you have two scores five or more points apart, and you sent most of your apps to schools that take your averaged LSAT scores, you might want to send a few more apps to schools that you’re dying to attend and where your higher score is above the median.
If you scored 5 or more points lower than you normally do, retaking is a good idea. If you scored within 4 points of your usual score, you shouldn’t bother UNLESS you plan to prepare more thoroughly. Your score normally drops a few points on test day because of nerves. Unless you prepare better, you’re likely to get the same score again.
On the other hand, if you know you were sick, nervous, or unprepared, plan to retake. But use those extra months to study. Don’t rely on May’s preparation for October’s exam. After all, how much of May’s history final do you remember in October?
“I’m Just Not Good at This”
Some people think they “can’t” take standardized tests. My question always is “Why not?”
Bad and Good Advice
A good prelaw advisor should, first of all, be available to advise you about taking the LSAT. If your prelaw advisor tells you not to take an accommodated test despite documented learning disabilities, you’re getting bad advice. If your advisor tells you that you don’t need a prep course, you’re getting bad advice. If (s)he tells you not to bother retaking even if you think you did miserably, you’re getting bad advice.
Even when clients don’t take my LSAT prep course, I try to make sure they get the best LSAT score possible; after all, applicants with higher scores are easier to place. That usually means preparing as fully as possible, and taking a prep course if you can afford one. Whether or not you take a course, you should take at least a half dozen practice tests.
If you’re eligible to take an accommodated test, we work together to find out whether it’s worth your doing so by having you take tests under regular and accommodated conditions. If your score improves by 4 or more points, it’s worth the risk that schools will slightly discount the accommodated score. And if you’re worried about the interpretation of a score at a particular school, I call and try to find out if it’s not already in my data base.
Should the question of retaking arise, I help you decide whether there’s any reason for you to retake — a bad case of nerves on test day, poor testing conditions that panicked you, illness or inadequate preparation. We make the decision whether to retake based on the likelihood of improvement the next time