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.

‘TAKE A BUDDHIST APPROACH’

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.

THE LAST TIME I TOOK A STANDARDIZED TEST, GEORGE BUSH WAS PRESIDENT

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.