Cancelling the LSAT vs. Taking an Absence

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Cancelling the LSAT vs. Taking an Absence
You’ve got a little under 3 months to study for the June LSAT; plenty of time, right? Then, you realize that college isn’t going to last forever. Despite prolonging real life through the clever enrollment in law school, you still want to get in as much time with your friends as possible before you enter the world of 1L and The Paper Chase. So you’ll start studying next week.

That was 3 months ago, and now it’s the eve of the examination. You’re about as prepared for the LSAT as my drunken friend for the Boston Marathon, boldly proclaiming on its eve that he would wake up the next day and take on the beast.

You can imagine how well that worked out for him.

And so you’re now left with two options (well, three really). First, you can just not show up to the LSAT. Second, you can show up, sit through the exam to get some ‘real experience’, and then cancel afterwards. (You could also just sit for it and take your score, but that’s a terrible idea.)

Which course of action should you take?

Absence
Not showing up for the exam is never a great reflection on your level of responsibility, but there are a million reasons that you might have missed the date. Car trouble. A medical emergency. Rescuing a beached whale from certain doom (which would be great – just imagine writing an essay about holding the hose on a gasping whale, crying as your neighbors struggled against its impossible weight).

While not as good as showing up and rocking the LSAT, an absence will be easily explainable and most likely won’t be regarded in a negative light, provided you explain it. Additionally, an absence won’t count towards your 3 LSATs in 2 years limit; if you plan on taking the LSAT multiple times (and, really, who wouldn’t want to sit for it that often?…), then an absence is the way to go.

Benefits – Doesn’t count towards your LSAT limit. Easily explainable. Won’t cast a negative light on your application.

Detriments – Multiple absences might look irresponsible. You lose out on the registration fee with nothing to show for it.

Mitigated by – An explanatory essay detailing why you missed the test date. Bonus points if it’s on saving a beached whale.

Cancellation
When you consider cancellation, you can either do it before you take the exam or after taking the exam.

If you cancel before you take the exam, that’s a straight up admission that you blew studying for the LSAT to such a degree that you believe you have no chance of doing well on it. You won’t receive your money back, and it will count against your 3 in 2 limit. While many things in life might have prevented you from being adequately prepared, you should definitely explain your reasons in an essay (which, as always, is a common theme; if there’s anything weird in your application, write an essay about it). You won’t gain any experience taking the exam, however.

Cancelling after taking the exam will afford you some practice taking an actual LSAT in real world conditions. That might be invaluable. You still won’t get your money back, and it will count against your limit. However, if you’re planning to show up to the test center that day and taking a cancellation, it’s a no-brainer to take the exam and cancel afterwards (unless there’s something you absolutely must do during that morning, like get in line for an American Idol audition or buy a Mega Millions ticket). It will be easier to explain than a pre-cancel (you can use any of those explanations plus test center anomalies, like a sniffly testmate or a construction site outside) and give you some experience sitting in a test center.

Benefits – Gain experience taking an actual exam. Easily explainable.

Detriments – Multiple cancellations can start to raise flags. Lose your fee. Counts against your LSAT limit.

Mitigated by – Again, an additional essay.

Between the two, however, which is the better way to go? That’s a tough call. Schools will probably regard an absence as less sketchy than a cancellation. After all, you could have something come up weeks before the LSAT but after the postponement deadline. This situation would result in an absence without reflecting poorly on you at all. However, there’s really not many situations that would result in a cancellation that doesn’t involve you making a bad decision (either by not prepping enough or not showing up if you’re ill). Plus, a cancellation looks like a test run, giving you an edge on other students who didn’t get to sit through an actual exam before receiving a score.

In the end, you have to balance the benefit you’d get from the test run against the slightly worse connotation of a cancellation. Will that test run sufficiently settle your nerves for the next exam, allowing you to score a few points higher? If that’s the case, then the improved score is definitely worth the small hit you’ll take from the C. If you don’t think it will have any effect on you, head to the beach on LSAT day. Or better yet, stop procrastinating and start studying.

Article by Matt Shinners, Blueprint Application Consultant and LSAT instructor in Philadelphia.

3 Responses

  1. Discouraged Legal Asst. says:

    After reading this article, I feel even more discouraged by the fact that I first took the 2009 LSAT too soon (under the pressure of my family) and got a 142.

    I tried again naively thinking I could work miracles in 2 months, but ended up cancelling on the day of.

    Is there still hope? I have once chance left in the 3x/2yrs, and have the determination, but maybe not the right attitude. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hank says:

      Well, a lot of time has passed since then. If you were to get a score on a future LSAT high enough to catch the attention of the schools you really want to go to, they would probably be understanding that you studied your butt off in the time between. Don’t be mistaken, though. There are, unfortunately, some schools that will see a 142 and not look any further. But not all of them. So it’ll just depend on which schools you want to attend.

    • To add to what Hank said, there’s definitely still hope. A high enough score will strongly mitigate that 142. If you study your butt off and end up in the 160s, the schools will think the first score is a fluke (after all, a bad day can explain a very low score, but even a great day won’t add 10 points to your score).

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