The LSAT is in three days and I don't think I'm ready... what do I do?

Sometimes students panic in the last few days leading up to the LSAT, fearing that they're not as ready as they wish they were.  Since it's too late to get a refund, students have to balance the money they've spent against the possibility of getting a bad score.  The options are 1)  Late withdrawal, with no refund, 2) Don't withdraw, but don't show up for the test, 3) Show up and take the test, with the intention of canceling your score, 4) Show up with the intention of keeping your score.  There's definitely no "right" answer, but I have some thoughts about each road you could take. 1)  Late withdrawal, no refund.   This option is worth considering if you know there is virtually zero chance you'll get an acceptable score on the day of the test.  For example, if you've been consistently scoring 135 on your practice tests, you've never cracked 145, and you know that you need at least a 155 to be considered by the schools you want to go to, then this might be your best bet.  I scored a few points higher on my actual test than I did on my practice tests, and I've had other students do the same.  But I've never heard of anyone scoring 20 points higher, or even 10 points higher, on their actual test.  So you have to acknowledge the reality of the situation:  You're already out the money and you're already going to have to retake the LSAT.  You might already have a cancelled score or two on your record, and you don't want another one.  If this is you, then you should consider withdrawing, and redouble your efforts for preparing for the next test.  (Downside:  If you've never taken the test before, you won't get to go through the real-life practice run of sitting for an actual LSAT.)  For the October 2011 LSAT, the deadline for late withdrawal is midnight ET on September 30.  (Taken literally, this means that the safe deadline is actually September 29 since "midnight" is the beginning of September 30.  But they might have meant 11:59 pm on September 30... you should call them and check if you're planning on cutting it close.)

2)  No-show.  A surprising number of students ask me about this option, and I think it's got to be the worst possible route you could take.  If you simply don't show up, your record will show that you were absent from the test.  Now, there are a lot of good reasons why this could have happened:  Sickness, sickness of a loved one, car trouble, etcetera.  Shit happens, and it's not going to kill your chances if something crazy happens on test day.  But a notation of "absent" could possibly be interpreted as irresponsible by an admissions committee somewhere, so I really don't see why there is any reason to plan on no-showing.  If you're not ready on September 29, you're not going to be ready on October 1.  So go ahead and withdraw if you're really not planning on showing up for the test.

3)  Take the test with the intention of canceling.  There are some plusses and minuses to this approach.  On the plus side, if you sit for the test you'll get a real-life practice run with very little downside.  You'll get to meet some proctors, see what the registration process is like, see what the other test-takers look like on test day, sit in an actual testing desk, and put your hands on an actual LSAT.  You'll also get to take a real test, which you should be doing lots and lots of if you're preparing for the LSAT.  You can then cancel your score on your scoresheet, or send a written cancelation request within the allowable deadline (currently six calendar days).  Of course if you intend to cancel your score going in, then you might not take it seriously and might not get everything out of the experience.  Furthermore, if you don't intend to keep your score then there is probably very little chance that you're going to accidentally get a great score and end up keeping it.  Still, the experience might help your test-day nerves the next time around to have been there and done it.

On the downside, this route will obviously lead to a "canceled score" on your record.  Obviously you'd rather have zero cancels on your record than 10 cancels on your record.  Ten cancels will look, to a lot of admissions folks, as if you purposely retook the test a zillion times trying to cherry-pick a lucky score.  But I really don't think a single cancel, or even a couple cancels, is going to crush your chances.  People DO get sick... car troubles DO happen... and people simply have bad days on the test.  Who cares?  The cancellation process is there for a reason.  If an admissions committee ever asks you why you have a cancelled score on your record, and you tell them you had stomach problems that day, do you think they'll ask you for more details?  Taking the test with the intention of canceling is the best bet if you've never taken a real LSAT before and think that the experience might help ward off some test-day jitters the next time around.

4)  Take the test with the intention of keeping your score.  This is what I would actually do, unless I knew I was 15 or 20 points away from a reasonable LSAT score.  If you're within 5 points of where you need to be, I think your best bet is just to show up and take the damn thing.  If you have a good day then you are done, forever, with the LSAT!  And if you don't have a good day then you have a mediocre score on your record, which I don't think kills your chances at most schools.  As I mentioned earlier this week, many (or most) schools only count your highest LSAT score, which means that taking the test more than once probably can't hurt you, and definitely might be advantageous.  (Please call the admissions offices if you want the latest and most reliable information.)  And if you tank the test completely (for example, if the logic games eat you up and you know there is no way you got a good score) then you could still always cancel.  But I think you need to intend to keep your score in order to give yourself the chance of doing well.  Commitment is important for strong results.  If you've been working hard up to this point, and you're close to where you need to be, then give it a shot and see what happens.  You might surprise yourself on test day.