Taking The LSAT Cold: Our Intrepid Reporter Does It

taking an exam

When I announced on Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter that I’d be taking the LSAT completely cold, I got two types of responses: “I’m praying for you” and “that’s really dumb.”

“You are an idiot,” one Redditor said.

“People have done it,” another Redditor wrote. “It is generally a very bad idea.”

“Hope you don’t mind PTSD,” my friend commented on Facebook.

Obviously, if you’re set on going to law school, taking the LSAT cold is not a wise move. But since there’s a 0.01% chance I’ll go down that path, I was more than happy to play guinea pig. My goal was to get an unbiased impression of the LSAT and answer a simple question: How gameable is it really? In the spirit of having as few expectations as possible, I skipped the prep books.

Depending on how much stock you put into research carried out by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), it’s been more-or-less proven that LSAT scores help predict law school grades. Still, is the test itself about logic and reasoning, or is it about memorizing shortcuts and formulas? Following that line of thinking, is success in law school more about innate ability or preparation and hard work?

I wanted to know for myself.  


A week before the LSAT, I spoke with admissions consultant Anna Ivey. I asked if she had any advice for succeeding (or, more realistically, avoiding epic failure) with zero preparation. “If you haven’t prepped for it, my top advice would be to pace yourself to make sure you stay on track with timing, and also to clear you head before you start a new section,” she said. “I see a lot of people continuing to freak out about the previous section, and that anxiety causes them to lose focus on the subsequent sections. Focus and calm are half the battle. Take a Buddhist approach—be in the moment, focusing on the task at hand, not wigging out about the previous question or the next one.”

The Buddhist approach. I could get down with that.

In spite of being called an idiot, I wasn’t nervous until the morning before the LSAT. I woke up at six, and an alarming possibility popped into my head: What if I froze? It’s one thing to get answers wrong, but what if I wound up sitting there for hours, staring blankly at the scantron? I slept restlessly for a few more hours.


When I woke up again and checked Twitter, I discovered that the LSAT had a writing portion. Woops—missed that part entirely. If nothing else, the test was at 12:30 p.m.; I figured I’d have time to mentally prepare and maybe grab a nice breakfast. I’d just need to bring a ticket and an ID, right?

Yeah, no. When I actually got around to checking LSAC’s list of required materials, I realized that list included a passport photo and pencils. I’d been under the impression that pencils were provided during standardized tests, but then again, the last time I had taken one, George Bush was still president. The LSAC website also said something about a ziploc bag. I thought that part sounded weird and decided to ignore it.

Everything on LSAC’s list could’ve been purchased at Walgreens or CVS, but I was in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, which mostly contains drug paraphernalia and thrift stores. Thanks to Yelp and a few tips, I managed to find a printing shop and get my passport photo. The guy running the shop told me about an art supply store nearby where I could find pencils. Jackpot. On the way there, I picked up a bland-looking turkey sandwich. It was getting late, and I was starting to panic.

At the art store, the only pre-sharpened pencils I could find were meant for children. I was definitely going to be the coolest kid at the testing center.

  • 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.

      • jim jones

        Perhaps you should re-read Sam’s comments. It seems as though your logical thinking missed a few qualifiers and main point issues in Sam’s comments. 🙂

  • 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.

    • Carla

      What was your score?