With the December LSAT around the corner, this is the time that prospective law students often question whether they will be ready for this critical exam in six weeks and wonder if the February exam may be a better option.
No matter how long you have been prepping for the LSAT, it is natural to feel nervous. When students are uncertain if they should take the upcoming exam or push to the subsequent test date, it is a simple matter of if they are ready or not. However, the December and February exams differ significantly, meaning the decision warrants a closer look.
[Find out how your LSAT score can affect your applications.]
If you are definitely looking to enroll in 2014, you need to double check with each law school you are applying to and ensure that your February score will be accepted.
If this is your first time taking the LSAT, you may give law school admissions committees the wrong impression by taking the test in February. Since that is the last date accepted for fall enrollment at some schools, it may appear that you left your studies to the last minute.
Furthermore, you cannot submit your applications until you have your score – in March, at the earliest. While a March submission is within some deadlines, a large number of students will already have applied and been admitted by the time the admissions committee gets your materials, meaning fewer spots will be available.
[Learn how to manage LSAT test anxiety.]
While you want to wait until you are fully prepared to take the real LSAT, everyone has bad days, no matter how hard they have worked. Maintain a positive attitude going into the LSAT, but keep in mind that several factors could affect your performance on test day.
It is reassuring to know that you can retake the exam, if necessary. But if you are determined to start law school next fall, taking the LSAT for the first time in February will not give you the option to retake it during the same year's application cycle.
Do these circumstances mean that no one should take the February LSAT? Not necessarily. However, you should factor them into your decision when choosing between December and February.
If you are consistently reaching your target score on practice tests, then you should take the test in December, even if you feel nervous.
[Get tips for last-minute LSAT prep.]
If you are around five points below your target score, I recommend enlisting a private tutor to help you get you where you need to be in the next six weeks, and you should also take several proctored practice tests per week. Students whose December LSAT scores do not accurately represent their abilities can then retake the test in February.
Last year, my Stratus Prep student Justin was scoring in the 165-170 range on his practice tests and decided to take the real one in December. He had come down with a cold the day before the test, and despite giving it his all on the big day, scored a 161. He continued prepping through the winter, and scored a 169 on the February LSAT.
If you are more than 10 points short of your target score, I recommend continuing your studies until the February exam. Despite the February LSAT's drawbacks, it is better to use the prep time you need than to take the LSAT before you are adequately prepared.
If you will absolutely not be ready for the December exam, it is not a good idea to wing it, given that you can only take the LSAT three times in two years. In this case you should hit the books, take as many practice tests under real testing conditions as possible and seek help from a class or private tutor between now and February.
If you choose this route, be aware that you will not have the opportunity to retake the exam before the current cycle's deadlines. Should your results not meet your expectations, you may need to consider holding off your applications until the following application year.