Bright Sunshine and Migraines ... Should I Cancel My LSAT Score?

stop-2-1197500-mAnother painful LSAT test-day story from a test-taker asking if she should cancel her LSAT score. I don't think this student should cancel her score. Explanation follows the letter.

Hi Nathan,

I am still trying to figure out how the June LSAT went... It started out well but after the 15 minute break the sunshine got really intense and the asshole proctors wouldn't close the shades. I've had 3 Lasik surgeries in the past 5 years and all the surgeries have made my eyes hypersensitive to sunlight. To make a long story short, My eyes started to go black and I started to get a migraine. 

So that was shitty but the worst part was definitely the logic games! I am not a logic game master by any means, but I ALWAYS kill the first 2 logic games and get through the first few questions in the third game. I have no idea what happened on the October 2012 test, but the first game was a bitch. I don't know if it was my eyes being fucked up or if I was just having a mental breakdown but I was blank. I was forced to be the idiot that skips the first game! The second game was fine and I feel okay about the third. After the 5 minute warning I went back to the first game and tried to make some educated guesses but God only knows how that went. 

I feel like I should cancel this score. I fucked up on sections that I usually feel great about. I don't want to risk having a super shitty score on my record. I've found that most law schools will take your higher school and ask for an addendum explaining the situation but USF Law is one of the very few schools that still average the scores. 

Ahhh I don't know what to do!!

Well, that sucks. No doubt. The migraine couldn't have helped anything, and stumbling on the games is also a point in favor of canceling... this student seems to KNOW, for sure, that she could have done better on the games. I'd be willing to be that her December score will be higher.

Still, I don't think she should cancel! Here's an in-depth post I wrote on the topic, explaining why my answer is almost always "don't cancel."

The student is specifically worried about USF law here... USF law, apparently, claims to average a candidate's LSAT scores when evaluating their applications. I am speculating here, and I could be entirely wrong, but I don't believe them.

Why don't I believe schools that claim to average their scores? Because it would be stupid for them to average. Here's my logic:

FACT: Students pay a lot of attention to the US News rankings. Far more attention than they should.

FACT: Schools want to move up in the rankings, because it means they will get more and better applicants.

CONCLUSION: Because students pay attention to the rankings, schools have no choice but to pay attention to the rankings as well.

FACT: US News uses LSAT scores as one component of their rankings... they ask schools to submit the highest LSAT score for each member of their incoming class.

CONCLUSION: A school that chooses students based on average LSAT scores, rather than highest LSAT scores, is making itself look bad on the US News Rankings.

Example:

Student A gets 150, 150, and 165 on three attempts at the LSAT. Average score, 155. Highest score, 165.

Student B gets 160 on a single attempt at the LSAT. Average score, 160. Highest score, 160.

Schools that only consider highest scores when evaluating applications will clearly prefer student A. Schools that consider average scores when evaluating applications will clearly prefer student B. So schools that consider highest scores will admit Student A, and get to report a 165 for that student to US News. Meanwhile, schools that considers average scores when evaluating applications admit Student B, and have to report a 160 for that student to US News.

Now if you were an admissions officer, with your career on the line each time the US News law school rankings were posted, which method would you choose?

If I wanted to keep my job, I would do what most schools are doing these days and use the high score. Anecdotally, from my experience and the experience of other LSAT teachers, it looks like this is what almost all schools are actually doing in practice, no matter what they say.

By the way, if a school asked for an addendum "explaining" a lower score from this student, what should she say? The truth, obviously. "I had a migraine headache, and did the best I could." The only way a school could possibly react to that would be to ignore the lower score. They'd be idiots not to.

Leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or otherwise. And thanks for the questions!

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UPDATE:  My buddy Larkin Robson, who teaches LSAT in NYC, mostly agrees but adds this:

Harvard, Yale, and Stanford each either averages or takes multiple scores into account.  I also think that if someone 100% knows they bombed, there is no reason not to cancel.  I mean if you don't answer two whole games and you're shooting for a 170+ type of bomb where its effectively impossible to get the score you are aiming for.   

Thanks Larkin. There are two great points here. 1) The schools at the very top of the rankings don't have to play the US News rankings game, or at least they don't have to play the game slavishly. These schools may discriminate against a candidate with a lower previous LSAT score, but only because they have an almost infinite field of candidates to choose from. But this only applies to the top handful of schools.  2) Yes, if you are thinking about Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and are shooting for a 170+, and you know, based on your Logic Games performance, that you couldn't have scored 170+, then maybe a cancel makes sense. But this only applies if you're looking at Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, and I do think there are still downsides to canceling, as laid out in my original post.

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