What to Do When You Don’t Feel Ready for a Fast-Approaching LSAT

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At some point, somewhere in the two to four months before the date of an LSAT administration, you made a decision: you are going to take the LSAT. You create an LSAC account, part with 200 hard-earned US dollars, select a nearby test center, and reserve your spot to take the LSAT. You probably signed up for an LSAT prep class or online course. And thus your studies began.

The beginning of this process was filled with promise. You laid out a meticulous and exacting study plan. You scheduled practice exams. You made goals for exactly how much your initial diagnostic score would improve on a week-by-week basis. Perhaps you even organized biweekly meetings with a study group. Best of all, in these early stages you had time — you were positively lousy with time. Time you would utilize to learn, to grow, to improve, and, ultimately, to vanquish the LSAT exam for which you registered.

But time, of course, has the stubborn habit of evaporating. As your studies progressed, and the test date neared, the fleeting nature of time became all too apparent. Certain life responsibilities — school, work, the wants of relatives and significant others who did not share with you an understanding of how important the LSAT is to law school admissions — cut into the time that previously seemed so bountiful. And as the days wilted away, you started to miss some of the benchmarks you meted out in your study plan. You fell behind. You missed a few practice exams and, worse still, your score did not improve at the linear rate you initially planned. Your biweekly study group dissolved, as no one knew whether “biweekly” meant every other week or twice a week (Ed. Note: it can refer to either).

As a consequence, you experience an entirely new feeling, one that you’ve never felt in your heretofore sterling academic career: the feeling of being completely, woefully unprepared. You feel it in your bones — you are not ready to take the LSAT. And you are mere weeks, perhaps even days, away from that LSAT. You are well passed the deadline to reschedule your LSAT (which would, incidentally, require you to pay LSAC another $125 — those thieves of both time and money!). So, with the LSAT date fast approaching what can you do?

1. First, try to calm your nerves; then stick to your study plan

The very first thing you should do is reassure yourself — feeling unprepared is an entirely normal feeling. Studying for the LSAT can be a stressful process, no matter how meticulous or thoughtful your initial study plan was. Most people don’t feel prepared to take the LSAT, even in the last few weeks before the exam. What you’re experiencing is the same thing a proud lineage of previous test takers have also experienced, many of whom went on to crush the exam they felt so unprepared to take.

The prevalence of this unprepared feeling stems from the nature of the LSAT. Because LSAT is a skills-based, and not a knowledge-based, exam — and because so many of those skills are not ones test takers already possess — it takes quite a bit of time to acquire these skills. It takes even more time to refine these skills so you can utilize them under the immense time pressure the exam places upon you. This process takes time. And it won’t feel like the development is linear. For most, the LSAT has the annoying habit of not making much sense at all, until it suddenly makes all the sense in the world. And for many, that abrupt shift doesn’t occur until the last few weeks before the test.

So the fact that you feel unprepared a few weeks before the test isn’t a cause for concern, or a reason to abandon your study plan or withdraw from the LSAT. The fact your score hasn’t improved a linear rate isn’t a red flag. Man plans, and God laughs, as the old Yiddish saying goes; test taker plans a steady score increase, and the LSAT gods howl with laughter, as the decidedly less old or catchy LSAT saying goes. Keep to your study plan. Focus on learning the concepts and developing the relevant skills. Try your best to understand and explain why certain answer choices are correct and others are incorrect. Review your practice exams thoroughly, and try to identify and review which questions and concepts give you the most trouble. Use practice exams and timed sections as a means to experiment with test strategies that will enable you to answer more questions. Stick to the plan, and see if you can make that leap to your target score. Rest assured that many people do make this leap in the last few weeks. Some even make the leap in between their final practice exam and the real exam. So keep your hopes up and your study plan in place.

2. If you’re in dire straits, make a back-up plan (but take the LSAT you signed up for, anyway)

Now, some don’t have the luxury of calming their nerves and sticking to the initial plan. If your practice exam scores are very far off from your target score in the last week before the exam — more than ten points off, for example — it’s probably not realistic to expect to make that score jump before the test date. And that will probably necessitate a back-up plan.

The bad news is that you’ll have to sign up for another LSAT; the good news is the new schedule of LSATs gives you many options to choose from. Up until a few years ago, test takers who wanted to retake the LSAT would have to wait up to four months before they could take the exam again. With more LSATs now given each year, you’ll only have to wait a month or two before you can take the exam again.

But you should be strategic with which LSAT you sign up for. You shouldn’t sign up for the next LSAT offered simply because it’s the next LSAT offered. Base your decision instead on how your initial studies went and how far away you are from your goal score. It’s reasonable to make a five-point score increase in a month; it’s less reasonable (though not impossible) to make a fifteen-point increase in the same period. Generally speaking, the more you need to boost your score, the longer you should wait before retaking the LSAT. Also, try to appraise how your studies went the first time. If you dedicated two months to your studies, but weren’t able to develop a deep understanding of the concepts, you may want to wait a few more months and a few more LSAT administrations before retaking.

Also, you may have noticed that we’re using the word “retake” here. Even if you decide that you’ll have to sign up for another LSAT, you should still probably show up and take the first test you signed up for. LSAC gives test takers the option to withdraw from the test — you can do up until 11:59 pm Eastern Time the night before the test.* But if you withdraw from the test, you won’t get a cent of your registration fee back. You won’t get automatically registered for another LSAT or anything. You basically surrender $200 and receive nothing in return.

*(Just to be clear: you shouldn’t just no-show a test you signed up for. That no-show shows up as an “absence” on your LSAT score history that gets sent to law schools. One absence is not necessarily a huge deal, but it can make you look like a bit of a flake, unless you have a really good explanation for the absence in an addendum to your application. If you don’t want to take an LSAT you’re registered for, make sure to withdraw using your LSAC account.)

You may as well put that money to use and take the LSAT you signed up for, even if you don’t feel ready. Even if you plan on canceling your score, taking a real exam has several benefits. You’ll go through the whole process of checking in and getting assigned to a test room, which will make the process seem more familiar and less nerve-wracking when you take the test a second time. You’ll get some experience taking a test under real testing conditions, and that experience may help quell your test anxiety when you retake it. You’ll get first-hand interaction with the digital format of the exam. And, if you take a disclosed test and don’t cancel your score, you’ll get a copy of the test and your answer sheet back, which can help guide your studies before you retake the exam.

There is one caveat to whole you-should-take-the-LSATs-you-register-for recommendation, however: if you’ve already taken the LSAT anytime since the most recent June, then you should just probably just withdraw from an LSAT you’re not ready to take. It’s all a bit complicated and explained in greater detail in this post, but here’s the gist: you can only take the LSAT three times in the period between any June and the following May (which is the testing “year,” according to LSAC).

So, for example, let’s say you took a July LSAT on a lark. You subsequently signed up to take the following September LSAT “for real,” but realized you still wouldn’t be ready in time for that September LSAT. In that case, you’d probably want to just withdraw from that September exam. If you were to take that September exam, you’d only have one more chance to take the LSAT in that testing “year.” Meaning, if you then signed up for the next test in October, that October test would be the last exam you could take until the following June. That would put a lot of pressure on that October test. It’s probably wise to withdraw from September, sign up for a later test, and allow yourself the option to take the LSAT once again that “year,” if necessary.

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Above all else, remember that not feeling ready to take the test is not the same thing as not being ready to take the test. Before withdrawing from your test or signing up for another, try to interrogate whether you are merely nervous about the upcoming test, or if you genuinely need more time to adequately grasp the concepts on this exam. Either way, there are ways to get prepared for the exam, whenever you eventually take it. Schedule a free consultation with an Academic Manager to find the best one that works for you!

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