I received a call a few weeks ago from a mother looking to enroll her son in one of our LSAT courses. As we progressed through the phone call, she said something that made me cringe: "My son is looking to score much higher on his next LSAT attempt--he didn't score very well the first time, since he didn't study for it at all. He just took it cold."
Cringe. Cringe, cringe, cringe. Why do students do this? I asked myself. And so, I asked the mother: "Why did your son decide to take the LSAT without any preparation?"
"He wanted to get the feel of a 'real' LSAT," she said. Cringe. "He didn't really think he needed to prepare." Cringe.
In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a big fan of taking an official, LSAC-administered LSAT "cold"--i.e., without any preparation whatsoever.
Now, in the case of this particular student, there wasn't much we could do to blot out that one botched LSAT attempt. He basically just needed to prep, take it again, and hope for a significantly higher score. After speaking to the mother further, she decided on one of our full-length LSAT courses, enrolled her son, and promised to be in touch if they needed any further guidance with LSAT prep or law school admissions.
Although there was nothing I could do for that student, if you're considering taking the LSAT cold there is still time for me to pull you off the edge of the precipice and plead that you don't do it. Please. Don't. Taking the LSAT cold is akin to walking into the final of your French class without ever having opened one book, attended one class, or tried to conjure a single French verb. Unless you're a complete and undiscovered verbal phenom (and the vast majority of us are not), you're going to bomb.
Here are some of the reasons (and my rebuttals) for why students decide to take the LSAT cold:
"I want to get a real testing experience."
There are many ways of getting a real LSAT testing experience that don't involve shelling out the LSAT registration fee, using up one of your three-LSATs-in-two-years and potentially adding a low score to your LSAT Score Report. Aside from simply taking a prep test on your own and timing yourself (or using an online timer like our Free Virtual LSAT Proctor), many undergraduate and graduate institutions around the country sponsor and hold "official" practice tests that you can sign up for and attend. In addition, if you choose to prep with a course, any prep course worth its salt will have multiple practice LSATs built in (our full-length course, for example, has four). You don't need to take an official, LSAC-administered LSAT to get a real testing experience. There's too much at stake for you to just go in and wing it for the sake of an experience.
"I got straight As in college, I don't need to prep."
Your academic performance in college doesn't necessarily correlate to your performance on the LSAT. Many a straight-A student has gotten a sub-par LSAT score when taking the test without preparation. How can this be? Simply put, the LSAT does not test things that are typically taught in college classes. It doesn't test academic subjects, legal subjects, political science, or the law (sure, you may see passages or questions relating to these topics on the LSAT, but they aren't asking you specifically about those topics. They're just the vehicles for the questions). You don't study the LSAT in school, so why would you assume that doing well in your English/math/sociology class would mean you can ace it? The LSAT doesn't measure how well you know school subjects. The LSAT measures how well you know the LSAT. And to know the LSAT, you need to study it.
"How hard can it be? It's just reading carefully and knowing how to diagram."
Underestimating the LSAT is the worst mistake you can make. If it were all about just reading carefully and knowing how to draw lines and arrows, then getting a 170 or above wouldn't be quite so elusive. This doesn't mean that the LSAT is going to be the hardest test you'll ever take. In fact, many law students say the tests they take in law school, or the Bar Exam, are much harder. However, this also doesn't mean that you can wing it and come out unscathed. The LSAT is a beast, and it will try to hunt you down if you're not prepared. Come with heavy ammo, and you won't have a problem. Show up with a slingshot (or just your bare hands), and you may end up running for your life.
"I don't have time to prepare."
Here's what I think about this excuse: If you don't have time to prepare for the LSAT, what makes you think you'll have time to put together solid law school applications? And, for that matter, what makes you think you'll have time for law school? Anything worth doing is worth making time for and, if law school is what you want to do, then making time for the LSAT is what you need to do. I can definitely understand that some students don't have the specific times available for a prep class--that I can certainly see. But that's why classes aren't the only forms of preparation out there. Books are out there, too. And practice tests. And study groups. And study plans. Make time for what's important. We've seen that LSAT performance is directly correlated to future earnings potential. Don't mess yours up because of scheduling conflicts.
"I've heard of people that have taken the LSAT cold and gotten a [insert your idea of an awesome LSAT score here]."
This LSAT urban legend inevitably pops up around every test date: "My cousin knows this guy whose girlfriend went into the LSAT without opening a single book, and she got a 175 on the first try." Now, don't get me wrong; I'm sure there are a few people out there who could pull this off. Statistically speaking, though, the odds are definitely infinitesimal. Again, if it were that easy to rock the LSAT, getting that 99th percentile score wouldn't be quite the feat it is. It may be comforting to think that you could be one of the chosen few that can thump the LSAT without a single day's prep--but why take the chance, when history proves otherwise?
Study. Prep. Learn. Kick the LSAT in the face.
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