7 hours for the LSAT? Really?

Question from a student taking tomorrow's LSAT:

I have a procedural question. The LSAC instructions say to allow up to 7 hours for the test. I'm trying to figure out when (and how) to have snacks to keep my energy up”¦should I reasonably expect it to last that long, or is that more of a cover-your-ass worst-case-scenario advisory than an assessment of how long the test typically takes?

Short answer:  Yeah, really.

Longer answer: Seven hours sounds like a very reasonable estimate to me, and I've definitely heard worse. You better bring a snack.

Let's use my own personal test day as an example, and I'll tell a couple horror stories along the way. I took the test at the University of San Francisco. The test was at 8:30 a.m., so I arrived before 8 to be safe. The USF location was perfect because I was able to park my car nearby. This allowed me to leave my phone and my snacks in the car. I was sure to obey all of the LSAC's crazy rules and restrictions... if you haven't already reviewed that page, you better get on it NOW to avoid any test-day surprises. The door to the testing room was open on my arrival, so I cruised on in, well before 8 a.m. That turned out to be a huge mistake.

The reason it was a mistake is that you're allowed NO iPhone in the room. No reading materials of any kind. No iPod. No coffee, no breakfast burrito. No nothing! When 8:30 rolled around, I had already been sitting there, with no entertainment of any kind, for over 30 minutes. That's a long time with no Angry Birds. And I hadn't even begun to wait, because at 8:30 there was still a line out the door of people waiting to get registered and seated. As I recall, the line didn't deplete until at least 9, maybe 9:30. So I sat there, unnecessarily, for between 60 and 90 minutes. Lesson One about test day: Arrive early, but don't go straight into the room. Instead, hang out within eyeballing distance of the door, and read your newspaper and drink your coffee. When the line starts depleting, THEN go inside. You could save yourself an hour or more of boredom.

Anyway, once everyone is registered and seated, then you have to go through the whole Scantron bullshit that I'm sure you're used to from the SAT and other exams. The proctor has to read all the instructions to you, and you have to bubble in your name, your Social Security number, and whatever other identifying information is required. This takes much longer than it reasonably should... let's say 15 minutes minimum, but probably longer.

So it says the test starts at 8:30, but now it's more like 10 and we haven't even started the test yet. The test itself is 35 minutes times six sections (four scored sections, an experimental section, and a writing sample). That's 3.5 hours of solid testing. PLUS there's the 10-minute break between sections 3 and 4 that got extended to 15 minutes to accommodate the girl who broke down crying (she had misbubbled her answer sheet and the proctor took pity on her), PLUS there's the break between the multiple choice sections and the writing sample, when they collect materials, hand out new materials, and read you even more instructions. Everything will take longer than it should. Registration, distributing materials, reading instructions, collecting materials... the part where you have to handwrite "I swear to God I didn't cheat on this exam"... it all takes FOREVER.

So from the beginning of section one to the end of the writing sample, you're probably looking at 4.5 hours, minimum. My test started at 8:30, and I left at approximately 3:00. But I've heard longer:

  • The time that the lights went out in the middle of someone's test and they had to relocate the entire test to another building on campus.
  • The time that there was jackhammering construction next door and they had to pause the test for an hour to try (unfruitfully) to get the jackhammering to stop, then try (unfruitfully) to find another testing room, before resuming the test WITH jackhammering the entire time.
  • The time that there was some sort of protest outside, so some folks' arrival was delayed, so the start of the test was delayed two hours.
  • Etcetera.
All that adds up to a FULL day on test day. So snacking is strongly advised. Like I said above, I left mine in my car and ate it during the break. I think I had a banana. But I've also heard of some testing centers that don't allow you to leave the building during the test, so that might not work for you. Bring your snack in your Ziplock bag, and eat it at the break. The regulations clearly state that you can't take your snack out of your bag in the testing room (why? I have no clue) so you better obey in case your proctor turns out to be a stickler.
Couple more horror stories:
  • The girl who was cooking dinner for all her college roommates at her house immediately after the test was over, who had a panic attack during the test because it took longer than expected. She tanked the test.
  • The guy who was planning to have his buddies pick him up from the test that they could all drive to Vegas immediately after it was over. This guy seriously asked me if I thought this was a good idea. Are you shitting me? No, that's not a good idea. That's an unnecessary distraction... if the test runs long, you're worried about your buddies. You're also worried if you packed correctly... just an apocalyptically bad idea. I'm not sure whether he did it or not, but I sure hope he didn't.
You should plan to do NOTHING after the test... plan on taking all day. Once it's over, by all means celebrate. Let me know how it goes... I can't wait to hear your results!