With less than two weeks to go until the February LSAT, it's time for everyone about to take the test to slow down for a moment and realistically assess their current performance and their chances of achieving a certain score on test day. This post addresses how to make that assessment and what to do with its results.
Ideally, you will have been keeping detailed records of your practice test results, so you'll already have much of the information you need to assess your performance. If not, never fear. Review your last three practice tests (assuming that you took them very recently and under strictly timed conditions) and really crunch the data. If you are enrolled in one of our courses, then you have access to the Online Student Center, including its Score Analyzer. If not, you can extract the same information, but with more effort.
For each practice test, identify which types of questions you answered correctly and incorrectly. Break this list down by question type and reasoning type (e.g., causality, conditionality, formal logic). Identify how many questions you answered within the 35 minutes permitted for each section. As you go through your tests, you may identify other patterns of interest to you. Capture any information you think may be useful to you. Next, average your scores for the three tests to get an idea of what your score on test day might be.
For some of you, this assessment will be a pleasure. For others it will be painful. We all start with hopes and expectations. Some of them are realistic, while other are not. If you had an arbitrary goal in mind for your LSAT score, made without any real experience with the test or basis for the number, then that number was likely too low or too high.
Your Target Score was Set Too Low?
If the target score you fixed in your mind prior to actually studying for the test was too low, then this assessment is a joyful time for you. Congratulations on your performance! Your first priority is to take your new target score and reassess the schools in your pool. You may find that your undergrad GPA and LSAT score combination makes you competitive for a school that you never would have considered before. Or, you may find that your grade/score combination makes you more competitive for the financial incentives that schools offer to exceptional candidates.
In either event, you may wish to consider taking the test now but pushing off your application to the 2016 cycle. I know that 2016 sounds like forever away. But you need to take the long view. If you graduate from law school at 25 years of age, then you will likely spend 40 to 50 years in the legal profession. Waiting one year to apply earlier in the cycle to a significantly higher-ranked school makes a great deal of sense.
Ten years from your law school graduation you will be much more likely to regret having gone to a lesser-ranked school than you would be likely to regret taking an extra year between undergrad and law school. It is true that application numbers remain significantly down from prior years and that this is a great time to apply to law school. However, although there is a chance that the application figures will turn around sharply next year, there is no indication at the moment that such a swing will occur. So, I would recommend at least considering all of your options before pushing your application into a lesser school late in this year's cycle.
Your Target Score was Set Too High?
If your current score is significantly lower than what you initially hoped it would be, then you are in a less happy place. You may even be crushed and reconsidering whether or not you should attend law school. I am never one to tell people that they definitely should not go to law school based on low LSAT scores. I know many lawyers who scored quite low on the LSAT who are fine practitioners and have helped many people improve their lives, which is no small thing.
What you should do, however, is reassess how your target schools match up to your current scores. If you are not anywhere near being competitive for your target school, then you've got the wrong target. Reassess your list. You may find that there are several schools that you would be quite happy to attend and for which you will be competitive.
A major problem with stubbornly sticking to the target school you initially identified on the basis of hopes rather than data is that your strategic focus is skewed. You'll wind up pushing, perhaps unrealistically, for a score that you are unlikely to achieve. On test day, you'll force yourself into substantively attempting more questions than you can productively attempt.
Consider this. Let's say that your target score is a 160. On average, you'll need to answer 75 questions correctly in order to achieve that score, meaning that you can miss about 25 questions, or approximately six questions per section. If a 160 is your new target score, then it might make sense to skip an entire game or an entire passage, reallocating that time to the other games and passages. In the Logical Reasoning section, you would effectively have a skip bank of six questions per section for which you'll give yourself permission to guess on without substantively attempting them.
First, to be clear, I'm not saying that you leave the answers blank. You just spend less time attempting to determine the correct answer choice. And you shouldn't guess randomly, either. Rather, you can use both our basic and advanced guessing strategies to guide your choice. Also, remember that at the very least you can expect to get 20% of randomly guessed questions correct.
Next, consider the benefits of resetting your strategy in conformance with your realistic target score. One is simply having more time to set up a game, read a passage, or work through the more difficult logical reasoning questions that you actually attempt. Another benefit, however, is mental.
We all know that timing is a huge issue on the test. The test's "speededness" is set so that most people can't complete the section on time having attempted all of the questions. This time pressure is akin to a blitz in football, a full-court press in basketball, or a player rushing the net in tennis -- it is designed to produce "unforced" errors. By giving yourself more time to attempt a subset of the questions, you are relieving some of that pressure and making yourself more likely to avoid unforced errors. This can have the effect of giving you greater accuracy with the questions you attempt and increasing your overall score, despite the fact that you attempted fewer questions.
Whether your new target score is lower or higher than what you hoped for at the beginning of your study, it's time to take stock of reality and retool your strategy to reflect your new reality. It may be an exciting adjustment or it may be painful, but it's one you've got to make. Being a lawyer is often about facing hard facts, defining "victory" in relation to the reality of your situation, and devising a strategy based on fact, not fantasy. Regardless of your situation, you will ultimately be happier and better prepared using realistic factors as your the basis for your test day strategy.
Image: "Owl" by Mark A. Coleman.