Taking The LSAT Cold: Our Intrepid Reporter Does It

by Maya Itah on

WHY ZIPLOCS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND

I was supposed to take the the test at the University of San Francisco (USF), a private Jesuit school. I tried to walk and eat at the same time; my turkey sandwich felt slimy, and I started worrying it was going to make me sick. When I got to campus, I realized I had no idea where the test would actually take place. All around me, students sat serenely on the lawn and painted. I kind of hated them for it.

Finally, I gave up and called USF’s main number. “I’m here and I have no idea where to take the LSAT,” I told the man on the phone.

“Oh,” he said, “you need to go to the Lone Mountain campus.”

I felt like I was going to combust. “There are two campuses and I’m on the wrong one?!”

“It’s just a few blocks away from here on a huge hill,” he replied calmly, humoring me. “You can’t miss it.”

I really couldn’t: The building was beautiful. Walking up the hill felt like making an otherworldly pilgrimage. With sore calves, I finally reached the testing zone. It was noon, and I was there 30 minutes early. Phew.

This is the part where LSAC’s note about ziploc bags started to make sense. The other test-takers, my comrades, began filing in, each carrying a large ziploc bag full of LSAC-approved test-taking necessities. I saw everything from bananas to miniature bottles of hand sanitizer. My plan—walking in with some pencils, an eraser, and a Lemon Zest Luna Bar—seemed pretty meager in comparison. Even the woman who checked me in gave me some side-eye.

I SAT IN A SEA OF WHITE WALLS AND GREY DESKS WHERE TENSION HUNG THICK IN THE AIR

I also realized I’d assumed, foolishly, that I’d have somewhere to put my backpack, which contained my laptop and my phone (i.e. two of the most expensive things I own). A different woman took pity on me. “I can’t technically tell you this, but if you leave your backpack by the table, there’ll be people watching it,” she said. I gave her what I hoped was an intensely grateful look and walked into the testing room.

White walls and grey desks, all connected in rows—pretty typical. Two other test-takers were already there, and tension hung thick in the air. One of the two women administering the test (why was everyone working that day female?) gave me a strained smile. I tried to sit somewhere in the middle, but the woman quickly told me I had an assigned seat and placed me next to a window. The beautiful view served as a nice reminder that on a breezy, sunny day, I’d be filling in bubbles on a scantron. Cool.

More people filed in. Eventually, there were about 9 of us: two men and seven women. It was a pretty ethnically diverse group (diversity! Yay!). Keeping Anna’s comment in mind, I tried to meditate until the test began, but I eventually got so nervous and bored that I started eating the Luna Bar I was supposed to save for our 15-minute break. It was almost a relief when the test actually began.

SECTION ONE: LOGICAL REASONING

At first, I felt good about this part. The questions mostly involved dissecting other peoples’ arguments. What statement would support Argument X? Where’s the biggest flaw in Argument Y? What assumption does Argument Z make? Some parts seemed like gibberish, but they were few and far in between.

The positive feelings didn’t last long, though. Suddenly, one of the proctors said we had five minutes left. I thought I’d only have to rush through a page… until I realized there were two more left. Uh oh. That’s when it hit me that LSAT classes were probably less about understanding the material and more about being familiar enough with these kinds of questions to get through them quickly. (Everyone who has ever taken an LSAT class: “Duh.”)  

SECTION TWO; READING COMPREHENSION

The next section involved boring chunks of information followed by multiple boring questions. It was worse than the SAT; I struggled to pay attention. I decided to skim, not think too hard about any of the details, and concentrate on speed. I did manage to answer a few more questions than I did in the last section, but I still had a few left when the proctor told us to put our pencils down. Overall, this was probably my second-worst section.

SECTION THREE: LOGICAL REASONING

I saw the same types of questions as in section one. I did get faster, but I still didn’t manage to finish. I wondered if I ever would.

The test-takers quickly left the room, eager to escape everyone else’s anxiety. I rushed to my backpack, which was thankfully still next to the table outside, and took a much-needed sip of water. (My strategy was to drink as little as possible so I wouldn’t need to use the bathroom during the test. For the record, it worked well.)

Looking back, it would’ve been easy to cheat by hiding a note in the backpack. It’s a good thing I have A) a moral compass and B) zero intention of actually doing well.

SECTION FOUR: ANALYTICAL REASONING (LOGIC GAMES)

When I saw this section, I knew everything was over for me. I probably could’ve gotten a reasonable score on this part if I’d had unlimited time, but since I’d never learned any shortcuts or patterns, I tanked. It was like trying to build an Ikea bed with no instructions.

SECTION FIVE: LOGICAL REASONING

This was my last chance to finish all the questions. I got close, but I failed. Oh well. Sorry to be such a disappointment, Harvard Law. Guess I’ll never grace your halls.

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  • I took my first LSAT with pretty limited prep and also got a 157. Studied for ~3 months, 2 full days a week, which resulted in a 166 (+22 percentile points). It seemed like an entirely learnable test, and I felt like with more time I could have done even better.

  • sam

    Thanks for the article. However, I have taken the test and have met multiple people who have taken it also and taking the test cold with little prep will not get you a 157. Just wanted to let others out there know that this is a mere exceptional case. There is no way to get even five points right without understanding how logic games work. Also, the test requires test takers to be knowledgeable in formal logic and existential quantifiers which are not part of a basic university student’s education, aside from the philosophy major that too logic courses.
    Do not be deceived, remember to study hard for that 157! Good luck

    • EPOC

      That is not true. Many people are born test takers and they tend to keep friends of the like. Probably a majority is not good at tests, but the fact is that most people in my social circles would in fact be able to score in the 75th percentile on any of these tests cold. These are also people who scored in the top 2% of MCATs or GMATs or LSATs (myself included) with a bit of prep. Fact is, there is the haves and the have nots.

  • RAGA

    Can anyone recommend some books for the preparation of LSAT.

    • vienna

      LSAT Logical Reasoning Bible & the other 2 in the series – better than all other guides out there….

  • Denise Nicolet

    I am curious as to the background of the LSAT takers that have done well. I took the LSAT once and scored terribly. I took it with no preparation and a bundle of nerves. I also found the atmosphere to be difficult. I took the LSAT at Cal Northridge and the lighting was poor and the print was small on the test and scantron. Has this changed at all?

  • Patty Furzer Tanji

    Makes me want to take the test. I think I’m getting smarter with age!

  • ljwdhfj

    yeah, you have to realize that the author has to be relatively intelligent to begin with, she graduated from usc – a good school, magna cum laude, and in 3 years. so this is not the ‘average’ person on the street taking the test cold.

  • Suicidal_JD

    Law school ruined my life! I have no job and I have student loan debt that will follow me to my grave. Now is a horrible time to go to law school. Save yourself; DON’T GO TO LAW SCHOOL!

  • Ann

    I realize this article is old but it’s super interesting. I just took the test cold yesterday (although my prep consisted of reading this article and the Wikipedia page about the lsat). I’m really excited to see how I end up scoring as I found taking the test a bit of an adrenaline rush. I did have an awkward moment where someone asked what type of law I wanted to practice and I couldn’t really articulate that I just wanted to take the test. I honestly have no idea how I did but am excited to see how different my score is from the author’s — at the very least, I did manage to finish each section.

    • Ann

      Scores just posted. Ended up getting a 152 and found myself disappointed even though it literally doesn’t matter at all since I’m not going to law school or have any intention of using the score. I started off pretty strong but my sections got progressively worse as the test went on. Everything I’ve read since taking it says it’s a learnable test and I can see how taking practice tests would give someone a more reasonable idea of what to expect.

      • Thanks for telling us how it went, Ann! Test fatigue is no joke – especially with the LSAT. And you’re right, it is a learnable test and a 152 with no prep bodes well for you if you ever would want to take it seriously and go to law school.

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