Why Does the February LSAT Even Exist?

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    Screen_Shot_2014-10-27_at_11.52.13_AMIf you ever wonder what philosophical questions keep your LSAT instructors awake at night, this one is high up on their list. Why do we even have a February LSAT? There seems to be no point to it. Many consider it the least favorable test administration, a “last resort” for many students applying for admission in the fall of the same year. Clearly, there are a lot of downsides to taking the test in February, which is why you should absolutely, positively try to get ready for December (you have roughly 4 weeks left, so... chop chop!). The downsides to taking the test in February include, but are not limited to:

    • Very few top law schools take the results of the February LSAT. Although many schools accept the results of the February LSAT, they often recommend you take an earlier administration in order to maximize your admissions chances. 
    • Scores typically aren't available until early March, which means you're submitting your applications very late in the cycle (which harms not only your admissions chances, but also--and most importantly--your financial aid chances).
    • The test is nondisclosed.
    • The weather might suck. Testing centers regularly get snowed out, especially if you live on the East Coast.

    So, why don't we all just boycott the February test and have a giant snowball fight instead? It sure sounds more fun. But... here's why:

    From the perspective of test-takers (that is you), a February test is (or should be):

    • A chance to take the test when you're ready. As a general rule, it’s almost always advisable to not take the LSAT until you’re consistently scoring in a range with which you are satisfied. Law school admission is incredibly competitive, so you need to give yourself the best possible chance of attending the best possible school. Which, of course, means that you need to aim for the highest possible score on the LSAT. And if that means waiting until February to take the test, then for most people that’s the right decision.
    • One last chance to get the score you need. If you've been waitlisted, a significantly higher score in February than in December (4+ points higher) can drastically improve your chances of admission. Even if you don't know of your impending waitlist status at the time you decide to take the February test, merely suspecting that you could be waitlisted can prove a sufficiently strong motivator. For many students who cannot wait another year to apply to law school, February is their last chance to obtain the score they need, and have it ready for the admissions committee to review it in the nick of time. A June score does not come out until July, which is way too late for the vast majority of schools (yes, some people do get off the waitlist in August, but this is uncommon).
    • Not too late (for some schools). For some lower-ranked schools, a February score is not too late: they are perfectly happy to consider it, given the less competitive nature of their admission cycles. Every school is a little different—some schools won’t accept February scores for admission that calendar year, some schools accept it but penalize you in their rolling admissions process, and some accept it without penalty. If you're considering February, your best bet is to do some research, and potentially contact schools directly and ask.
    • Perfectly timed for winter break. Unlike the June or the December administrations, which tend to coincide with the end-of-semester finals at many colleges and universities, a February test is unlikely to compete for your attention with schoolwork. Many students take the opportunity to study during Winter Recess between their Fall and Spring semesters, which usually lasts from Christmas until late January.

    The February test doesn't merely exist to serve your needs, as a test-taker. It's arguably even more important to those who make the test (aka the Evil Empire "the test makers"). For them, the February administration is...

    • An opportunity to use you as a guinea pig. As you know, the February test is nondisclosed. You will never receive a copy of test booklet, and the questions on it will still be considered "live" after the test is over. From LSAC's perspective, such an administration is an invaluable opportunity to test the logical validity and difficulty level of questions that they might add to certain future tests, such as those being administered abroad, make-up tests for weather cancellations, or tests given to Sabbath observers.
    • A chance to take the load off other administrations. Without the February test, the LSAT would be given only three times a year. This would not be enough to meet the demands of the applicant pool world-wide. Granted, the pool has shrunk in recent years, but still... there are over 100,000 people who take the LSAT every year. About 20% of them take it in February: not a small number, when you think about it. 
    • Somewhat evenly timed between December and June. Given the need to administer the LSAT four times during the year with evenly spaced, 2-to-3-month intervals between any two administrations, a February test makes logical sense. After all, the timing of the remaining three administrations is non-negotiable.

    All of these reasons aside, nobody is really a fan of the February administration. But... you gotta do what you gotta do.

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