Longer answer: It depends ... but probably not.
If you just took the LSAT, congratulations! With any luck, in three weeks you'll get the score you've been dreaming of. But if you had a rough day, you're probably currently beating yourself up trying to decide whether or not to cancel your score. You have a couple days to decide. The LSAC's cancellation policy allows for a written cancelation request within six calendar days.
Students always ask me whether they should cancel or not. The emails sound like this:
I did very poorly on the games section. Fucked up the first game due to reading too fast: I tried to slow down and was able fix it, but not with certainty. second game went ok. Third game I couldn't even get past the first two questions, guessed on the rest. Last game couldn't understand it.... Feeling a 150-156 on this; definitely not enough to get admitted to any of the schools I'm looking at; maybe tier 4 and tier 5 schools. I cannot afford to go to law school and take out a huge loan ...
I: LG, 23 questions. Totally f'ed this up. II: LR, 25 questions. Was not my best, probably got 5 or so less than I would normally. III: LG, 23 questions. Did better, but didn't get to the 4th game. IV: RC, 27 questions. Not too bad, but didn't get to the last passage. V: LR, 26 questions. Best section, most similar to my performance in the last few weeks.
I don't think I did well. Likely below 160, should I cancel? How likely is the 2nd LG the scored section?
Can you feel the stress? I feel badly for both of these folks, but the situation is not nearly as dire as they might think.
Should they cancel? My answer to each of them is basically the same: "It depends, but probably not." Most people, in my opinion, should just keep their score and see what happens. Here are the factors to consider.
Reasons not to cancel (any one of these could be enough to keep your score):
1. You need an LSAT score on your record or else you cannot go to law school. The LSAT is a necessary condition. Without it, you're NOT going to law school. A bad score is better than no score at all. If you don't have any scores on your record, and if you want to go to law school next year, the fact that you must have a score is something you have to consider. Law schools use rolling admissions, so the earlier you apply in any given cycle, the better. This test might not have been your best, but it's the best you're going to have for at least a couple months. Canceling might set you back an entire year in your law school process.
2. Many (if not most) schools only consider your highest LSAT score. U.S. News uses the LSAT to formulate part of its rankings each year. When it does so, it only considers the highest LSAT score from each member of a school's incoming class. If that's the way U.S. News is going to rank the schools, then most schools are going to use the exact same criteria when evaluating candidates for their incoming class. (Schools want your tuition dollars, so schools have to play the rankings game.) If you're applying to Harvard, this might not be the case. Harvard doesn't care about the rankings game. But if you're applying to UC Hastings, they definitely care about the rankings, and they definitely only care about your highest LSAT score. If you're only applying to schools like Hastings, then you should absolutely never cancel. Call the schools you're applying to, and ask them what their policies are! Here's a possibly inaccurate, but probably mostly correct, list of schools and LSAT policies.
3. You might have done better than you think. Some students always think they did horribly after a test, even when they actually did just fine. Are you certain you did poorly? Or is there a chance that you actually did okay? If you cancel, you'll never know. Some tests are harder than others, and the scoring scale will reflect that. On some tests, you can miss 20 and get a 160. On other tests, you can miss 25 and get the exact same score. Since your score is calculated relative to the difficulty of the test, you shouldn't just evaluate your own performance when you think about canceling. If you did okay on a difficult test, you might have gotten a much better score than you think. If you're not sure, then you should probably just wait and see.
Most students should keep their score because of one or more of the factors above. If none of those factors apply to you, then maybe you're a cancel.
Reasons to cancel (you need more than one of these in order to justify canceling):
1. You are certain that you did terribly. You froze up completely on the first logic game, had a panic attack, didn't answer any of the games questions with certainty, then let your poor performance on games bleed over into the rest of the test. Or you misbubbled your score sheet, realized it with one minute left, started crying, and half-erased all of your answers right before time was called. Or you pooped your pants in the middle of the test and had to excuse yourself for 25 minutes while the clock was ticking. These are the situations the cancelation policy was made for.
2. You already have a score (or scores) on your record. You took the test last year and you got a 160. You were retaking the test in hopes of scoring 170 so you could apply to Berkeley. You've done a million practice tests and you know you had a bad test day. You're sure that your old score is better than your previous score.
3. You don't care if you have to wait an additional year to go to law school. You had a bad test day, but you're in absolutely no hurry. You don't mind if you don't start law school next year ... you're okay starting two or three years from now. You're going to redouble your efforts and try again.
4. You're going to study more/harder/differently next time around. You rushed it last time--you are certain you're getting there, but it just hasn't quite clicked yet. You're going to redouble your efforts. You're going to tell your boss that you have to make your LSAT class your priority. You're going to pay your babysitter in advance so that you can commit to your LSAT studies three nights per week. You're not going to attempt to study for the LSAT while taking 18 credits in your final semester in college. You're going to find a better teacher, or take a better class -- or you're simply going to do the homework this time. What are you going to do differently, that's going to lead to a different score?
I've been teaching the LSAT for an awfully long time, and I'd estimate that after going through all of the factors above, something like 5 percent of all test-takers should cancel their score. Maybe less.
If you're still not sure, please don't hesitate to leave a comment, call me, or send me an email. I'm happy to help!
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