My life behind standardized testing: LSAT

Ban Ibrahim (Steven Goetz/Ryersonian staff)

Ban Ibrahim (Steven Goetz/Ryersonian staff)

“There are five minutes remaining in this section.” Nothing is more stressful than hearing those eight words during the Law School Admission Test, commonly known as the LSAT. You automatically look at your watch, look back at the page you’re on, and quickly try to figure out your next move. While of course, having an anxiety attack in your seat and sweating profusely.

I took the LSAT in October and was hoping that it would be the only one I’d have to take. Because who really wants to take a three-and-a-half-hour multiple choice exam more than once? I should have known going into it though that this wouldn’t be the case.

In late June, I started a two-month prep course, while a few of my friends also taking the test opted for self-study. Although I would have much rather done that, I knew I needed some structure to work off of, at least for the beginning.

Those two months consisted of me scrambling between work and school every day with a three-hour study session in-between. It started off well. We began by learning the basics and then moved on to the harder question types, while also learning about pacing.

I went up 11 points from my first to second test. At that point, I thought that this was going to be a breeze. The slap in the face that I got when that wasn’t the case was much deserved though. I plateaued after a few small improvements and no matter how much I practised and looked over my questions after the tests, I didn’t improve.

By the end of the course, I was still a few points shy of where I wanted to be. I went to the library and took out prep books from a company different than the one I had done my course with. A few pages in, I realized that there’s crucial information to the testing approach that was never presented to me in my course.

I started using those speed-reading skills that I was blessed with and, after reading and practising in two books, I took a practice test and implemened the approaches I had just learned.
My score shot up four points. It was kind of like the opening scene in The Simpsons where the clouds opened up and my score was revealed with the heavenly music playing in the background.

At this point, I had about a week and a half left to drill and practise everything. I became confident in all three sections: logical reasoning, analytical
reasoning, and reading comprehension. Come test day, I convinced myself that I was on top of everything, even bathroom strategy.

My mom drove me over to McMaster University for my test and I got there around 7:45 a.m. I was happy that I had plenty of time to go to the washroom, have a light snack and breathe before the 8:30 a.m. start.

“Be sure to go before the test, you can’t leave once you’re in the test room!” I entered the building, and a guy is standing there telling us to sign in and that the washrooms are across the room.
Of course, as my luck would have it, I interpreted it as I could sign in and then go to the washroom, since we weren’t in the testing room. I was wrong.

To make matters worse, we had a delayed start. This meant that I would need to force myself to not think about my bladder or upset stomach for the next four hours. After they went through protocol and we filled out all the information in our booklets, it was time to start. I’m obviously internally screaming at this point. “You may open your books to Section 1.” I always have to remind myself to breathe whever I’m doing anything that needs my full focus because I get too worked up that I forget that I need to.

Courtesy Kate Williams/Unsplash

(Courtesy Kate Williams/Unsplash)

Section 1 was logical reasoning, which was usually daunting for me during my prep course but felt natural after I reworked my approach. My timing was a little off but I was confident in all of my answers and even a few guesses. The second section was the same. I paced myself better and ended it even more confident.Then it happened. We turned to Section 3 and you could hear
scattered “ughs” around the room. There are usually five ways in which the LSAT sections are organized and I wouldn’t doubt that those “ughs” came from the people that got the same section I just did: Reading Comprehension (RC).

Active reading is crucial to acing the RC section and requires full focus. All of a sudden, I thought back to the trouble I was having with it in the course and my confidence dropped. My focus was gone and I began to panic. I looked up at the clock and realized I’d already lost a minute and
a half.

Although that might seem like nothing, it’s everything in the LSAT world. To succeed, you have to organize your approach to the second.
I was confident about my answers in two and a half of the passages but due to how long it took me to do them, I had to guess for the rest of that one and all of the next one. The last two sections after the break were easy but I couldn’t stop thinking about the RC.

“How did you do?” Such a simple question, such a confused answer. I left the test confused about how I felt, but knew that I was disappointed in myself. I’d come into contact with RC so many times and knew what I had to do, yet somehow I froze.

After talking to some friends and a lawyer who has gone through the process, I made the decision to cancel my score. I wasn’t willing to put myself at a disadvantage and I knew that I needed this test score to be exceptional. I was broken at first, realizing that I had failed at something I had put so much into.

But then it hit me, I don’t really know how I did on the test. The real kicker is that I never will. When you cancel your score, law schools don’t see it, but neither do you.
I’ve reflected on it all and my take-away is to trust my gut. If I had left that test confident, I’d have received an actual score three weeks after I had taken it. I now know exactly what my strengths and weaknesses are and am much more informed about how to approach the test.

It’s safe to say I’m going to welcome the test in December and make it my bitch.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 18, 2015.

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