Ah, the LSAT. If you’ve thought about going to law school, you know what I’m talking about. Just like the SAT for high school students, the MCAT for medical students or the GRE for students wanting to go to grad school, these tests are the biggest bridge between you and your higher education. So, what happens when you don’t do well on your test? I’ll tell you my story.
Hi, my name is Amber, and I scored a 150 on my first LSAT.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the test, you might think “wow, a 150, that’s not terrible,” but my friends familiar with the LSAT know the truth. LSATs get scored from a 120 to a 180, with a 150 as an average type of score most people get, but you wouldn’t rely on that score to get you into good schools. For reference, the schools I wanted to get into had median scores around a 158 or so, which I wanted to get in order to apply. I bet you want to know what happened.
So, before taking my test, I did everything right. I took practice LSATs to familiarize myself with the test, in fact, on my first practice test I scored a 154. I did all the prepping I could — I signed myself up on Khan Academy (a free online prep course) and I attended a four month live prep course called TestMasters. I studied every single day for my LSAT, and I felt my understanding of the test go up each and every day. So, what happened?
A few months before my test I had an emergency in my family that hit pretty hard. In addition to that, while I was taking my test, my watch I used to keep track of how much time I had left in the section stopped. As a result, I didn’t get to answer all of the questions in that section. With the combination of nerves, my watch stopping and the external things going on in my life, I just didn’t do well on my test. I felt terribly about it once I finished, but I always feel that way with tests, so I brushed it off. When my results came back in, I felt crushed. To me, I just watched my life’s dream go away. Sure, I could probably get into a law school with the score I had, but probably not one I wanted to go to.
I signed myself up for the next available date (I took my first LSAT in June and my second in September) but to tell you the truth I didn’t feel very confident about it. The drop in my score left me doubting whether or not I’d even do well on the next one. When the scores for the test get released, the questions and answers also get released, so I got to see what I did wrong and right. I got questions I knew I could do correctly wrong. After I finished moping about my LSAT, I decided I owed it to myself to try again, because I couldn’t let my dream die so easily.
I bought new study material, this time using Powerscore books I got online, and I put myself to work. With only a few months until my next date I knew I needed to change things. While Khan Academy and TestMasters helped give me a foundational knowledge of the test, I realized I’d been cheating myself. Before taking my LSAT I had one way I studied. I threw myself into the gauntlet and did problem after problem. If I got the problem wrong, I would continue doing problems like that until I got it right. For normal testing situations this worked, but I realized for the LSAT this method just wouldn’t work. The LSAT tests skills, not knowledge, so if I didn’t stop and figure out why I got a question wrong, why my thinking caused me to choose the wrong answer, I wouldn’t start getting questions right.
I restructured the way I studied by slowing down and realizing I needed to really focus on what the test asked of me rather than blowing through it and just trying to answer as many questions as possible made the difference. Saying it like that makes it seem like I realized that easily, but I didn’t. It took a lot of stress, frustration and internet searching for me to realize why I couldn’t get everything to click right. Sure, I learned how to take the LSAT by doing these things, but later I realized I didn’t only learn that. I learned about myself and how I deal with frustration (not well, at the outset). I learned that one method of attack wouldn’t always get everything done. I learned to slow down and try to find a solution to the actual problem (the way I studied) and not the perceived problem (me thinking I couldn’t do well on the test).
After all of this soul searching, I sat for my next LSAT and I scored a 161. Obviously, I got a pretty good test score out of it, but I learned more than just how to take the LSAT from my studying. I learned to trust myself, to look at things from a different angle, to ask for help (I’ll take this space here to thank my friends and family for listening to me stress cry, helping me study, listening to me complain and listening to me explain things to them they really didn’t care about). Learning that setbacks shouldn’t stop you from accomplishing goals ended up as my biggest takeaway from this experience. If you really want something for yourself, you owe yourself a second chance.
So, take it from me. To all of you juniors and seniors scared of the future, scared of looking for jobs or scared of your grad school tests, I promise you’ll make it through. Maybe you’ll fail, or maybe you’ll go on a path you didn’t think you would, but whatever happens, don’t let your fear or stress get in the way from doing what you truly want. Apply for that job. Take that test. Even if you don’t get it the first time, it will set you on the right path.