LSAT Test Center Problems | How To Prepare For The Worst

Tip: Take practice LSATs at your LSAT test center.

How? Well, LSAT test centers are often within your local college, university, or law school. This means that they're often fairly easy to walk right inside, so many of you will be able to go there and take practice tests before your exam. I'd recommend doing this for at least a few Saturday mornings leading up to your test date, if you can.

Ideally, you'll be able to take it in the very room where you'll take the real thing. If not, at least try to get a look at the room so that you'll be able to take your practice tests in a similar environment.

Now going to the effort to take it in the same room seems like a lot of work (and a little weird).

Why would you want to go to all that effort?

Because rooms often have little quirks of their own. You'll hear noises in some when the heating turns on/off (especially for December / February test-takers living in parts of the world with seasons). Think about all the noises that boilers and pipes make (hissing, etc.). Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that you'll get extra time just because there's a disruption.

So do June and September test-takers have an advantage? Are you better off taking the LSAT in one of those months instead?

No, they don't get a free pass either. Some rooms might be over-air-conditioned and feel like walk-in refrigerators. Others might have no AC at all, feeling like an NYC subway platform in the summertime (trust me - it's like a furnace).

One test-taker recently wrote to me with the following:
I live in Cairo, Egypt, and I took the LSAT here in June...A woman randomly walked into the room while the exam was being administered and just started chatting with the proctor. They were whispering, but it was still audible and very distracting. Also, the electricity in the building went off for around the length of a section, so we resumed taking the exam in the dark with no AC (in Cairo in June...). Needless to say, I canceled my score on the spot.
Of course, electricity can go out anywhere, and the best you can hope for is a free retake a few months later with the original test removed from your record entirely. However, there's a very good chance that LSAC might give you nothing at all for your trouble.

Unfortunately, an uncomfortable room isn't the only obstacle you might face.

The Most Common LSAT Test Center Problems:

Time
-proctors not giving enough time per section or for the break (proctors giving too much time is not a common complaint, although it happens from time to time)
-proctors failing to give a 5-minute warning

Noise
-proctors talking to each other or talking on their phones
-proctors' cell phones ringing or beeping
-other test-takers passing out or leaving in the middle
-other test-takers making too much noise while writing
-room being too noisy
-noise from the hallway or outside

Room
-room being too hot or cold
-desks being too small

Miscellaneous
-other test-takers talking about how much they studied before the test or during the break
-proctors forcing you to eat a live spider before the start of each section

Kidding about that last one - this isn't Fear Factor.


Why I am telling you all this? Do I get a kick out of scaring already-nervous test-takers?

Nah, I'll leave that to LSAC.

I just want you to be prepared ahead of time in case any of the above happen to you on Test Day.

What's the cautious test-taker to do?

Prepare for the worst. Just about anyone would retake if the lights went out, a tornado hit, or a terrorist took everyone hostage, so I'm not going to recommend that anyone take a practice test under those conditions.


How To Prepare For The Worst

Time
-Confirm with the proctor beforehand that you'll get 35 minutes per section, a 5-minute warning before the end of each section, and a 15-minute break between the 3rd and 4th sections.

(Be very polite about this. Proctors are the police / dictators of the room. Their word is law, so respect their authority. However, this doesn't mean you can't say something if they're cutting you short on time.)

Anecdotal evidence (reports from students and blog readers) indicates that LSAC generally does nothing for people shorted on time or not given a 5-minute warning. Of course, most test-takers probably don't experience this problem, but if it happens to you, it'll be a big deal.

Noise
-Do at least one or two practice tests in somewhat noisy environments. A coffee shop or library is good for this.

Room
-Practice at least once or twice on a small desk.
-Bring layers in case the room is too hot or cold.
-Practice in rooms where the temperature is slightly uncomfortable.
-Again, try to take a few practice tests in the very room where you'll take the real thing.

Miscellaneous
-Don't talk to anyone during the break - unless you want to.

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Check out all LSAT Test Day Tips.

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Anything I didn't cover? Those of you who've taken the LSAT already, did any of the above happen to you? What are your tips on preparing for Test Day, and what do you wish you'd done differently?



14 comments:

  1. When the proctors offer you a chance to use the restroom before the test starts, TAKE IT. Seriously. No one is gonna care, or judge you. Like your mom said: even if you don't feel like you "have to." Nothing worse than having to pee in the middle of the 3rd section. (I know). And you'll probably wait in line forever to be fingerprinted/IDed, so if you are thinking you might not get this opportunity, it might be a good idea to hang towards the back of the line and pee.
    Having the proctors be incredibly late/disorganized, and having lots of type-A people milling around asking if you've seen anything or heard anything yet???? (looking back, I should have started rumors that the test was actually in the other building and that this was printed on the admissions ticket at the last minute...at least half of the people there would have believed me).
    Get really good at singing songs, or repeating mantras, or whatever works (to yourself...), to distract yourself from hearing about how much everyone else studied, or their target score, or how Yale Law is toooootally going to accept them I mean isn't it OBVIOUS?, blah blah blah blah, in front of you in line. Seriously. Tuning other people out (before and during the test) is key. This is also a helpful skill for when they drone on with lots of directions you already know.
    Keep a bottle of tequila in your car (and have someone else drive you home)!!!

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  2. Hi Steve,

    I can definitely relate to most of what the other examinees described. I just wanted to add a few things that future examinees may find useful:

    - Earplugs, nor any other kind of headgear are not allowed
    - In some cases the test center is not located in an academic institution (the only one in Israel is a hall in an art center), so they might not be as equipped to administer a test as one might expect.

    My suggestions:

    1) do a little research and find out what the purpose of the building is.

    2) when preparing on a smaller desk, it could also be useful to pick one that is not so steady, as the test center may not have any really steady desks and chairs.

    3) arrive early (preferably before the proctor) in order to choose the right place and mix & match with the best desk and chair available.

    4) choose a seat in the middle row, in order to avoid a potentially noisy proctor, as well as the noise from outside.

    5) choose the seat closest to the wall, to avoid noises from the sides.

    The proctor who works at the center was not strict, so the weren't any time problems (credit where credit is due, right?), but because the test is administered in an art center, it's usually very crowded and noisy outside (so far I've taken 3 tests there - 1 SAT and 3 LSATs and there was always an event or a meeting right outside).

    Yo'Av.

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  3. I took Preptests at the test location beforehand. It's a huge help and I hope everyone takes the opportunity to do so.

    However, I would note two additional matters: First of all, don't try to do this the week of the test. Try to start doing it two week beforehand. I was booted out when I attempted to do it a few days before the test by a proctor who was checking the room. Just in case you have a proctor who is pro-active like this, I wouldn't wait until the last minute to do this. Of course, I didn't tell her I had been practicing there for a while...

    Second, if you dn't live close to the testing center, I'd ask people who go to school there about the easiest route to get there. My testing center had a number of people who were snared by traffic. I had received a prior warning not to take a specific route by students who attended the school. The last thing you want to experience is a traffic jam on your way to the testing center.

    I went up eight points the second time I took the LSAT. I don't credit that entirely to studying at the testing center, but I it certainly gave me peace of mind.

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  4. I had a similar bad experience at the last June exam. I sent a complaint and they gave me a free exam in the location and test date that I desired. I don't recommend taking a test at a hotel. I have learned my lesson to research testing locations. Here is a portion of my letter in which I wrote to them. It's basically a play by play of the events that occurred.

    On Monday June 8, 2009 I sat for the Law School Admissions Test at Westin Bonaventure Hotel, test locations #9555. I was appalled at the quality, lack of professionalism and very distracting test taking atmosphere. The following events had occurred:

    * I arrived early at the testing location at 11:00am. I was informed that once I checked in I could not use the rest room until the test started. I inquired in avoiding getting up during the exam when the latest I could register. The man responded “11:30” and in a crass fashion “You better do your business before then.” The test did not begin until well after 1:00pm.

    * Prior to the exam, the lead administrator did not read the directions thoroughly. This was due part by another supporting administrator who was shouting from an afar instructing her to skip around various parts of the explanations.

    * Also once I was seated in the ball room after registration I made note to point out to an administrator the very cold temperature of the room. The problem was not addressed until our break, in which they made an announcement to us that the hotel was just notified. A maintenance man arrived during the fourth section. He was making unnecessary noises with his keys as he walked through the ballroom dragging a ladder.

    * During the first section while sitting in a very cold ballroom I needed to use the rest room. I raised my hand and it took several minutes for someone to come to my assistance. When I returned, I had to flag the person down to return my test back to me. The administrator who was holding the test had his back to the room. This wasted a lot of test time.

    * During the second section of the exam, the test administrators had an array of Starbucks coffee delivered into the ballroom. The whole ordeal was very distracting.

    * In addition the administrators through out the test made unnecessary noises by whispering to each other while standing in front of our tables. It was obvious these conversations were not about the exam. They were carrying on as if they were in a public setting.

    * In addition, the supporting administrators were walking needlessly on and off the stage in their high heeled shoes.

    * As well as tapping their shoes off the table frame when they were
    sitting at the table on the stage. I sat in the second row so this behavior was very distracting.

    * I also experienced random moments of when our floor shook from the floor below.

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  5. I was uber-prepared for my Sept. LSAT.

    * I had my boyfriend tape Therma-Care heat packs between my shoulderblades and on my lower back. Back pain is not uncommon when you're going to be sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours. I was SO glad I did it.

    * I spent ages deciding on a filling, balanced and easy-to-eat-quickly snack (Bumble bee boxed tuna and crackers + tiny tupperware of blueberries) and brought floss in case something got stuck and became distracting

    * To avoid nervous natter, I had my iPod on until the last possible second blasting the Mortal Kombat theme song (FLAWLESS VICTORY!) then stuck it in my purse and my purse against the wall behind the proctor's table after asking politely - it's OK to have "contraband" stuff as long as you don't bring it to your seat or try to access it during the break.

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  6. keeping fingers crossed that I have no noisy people near me.. the worst are the ones who have a cold and don't use a tissue!

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  7. I would definitely agree and recommend that you take a practice test on a small desk. I was stuck in a big lecture hall with those half-desks that flip up and over. The desks barely held an 8.5x11 piece of paper nevermind the LSAT booklet, which made completing the Reading Comp rather annoying. I was also assigned a seat so be prepared for that chance.

    I had done practice tests in somewhat noisy environments to prepare me, but I would definitely recommend practicing in an area where you could overhear a single distinct conversation. The person directly behind me had the habit of whispering aloud as he read which got to be distracting!

    Also, don't let people around you psych you out if you think they're completing the section faster than you. Having done plenty of preptests I knew my pace well and yet was still a little anxious by how fast my neighbor was completing the sections--turns out he canceled his score in the middle of the exam!

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  8. I took the LSAT this past weekend and I wanted to suggest something for you to include in your test day tips or somewhere in your blog. This did not happen to me, but to another LSAT taker. During the first two sections, the proctor gave us a 5 minute warning. However, she failed to give us the 5 minute warning during the third section. One of the test takers assumed that the proctor was required to give the warning (I'm not sure if this is true or not, but I'm guessing it is not), and she didn't get a chance to fill in her answer sheet since she had been counting on doing that during the five minute warning. So, even though she had done the questions and circled them in her book, she was not able to fill them in on her answer sheet. I think people should be advised not to count on the warning because it is not always given and instead take your own watch (my test room didn't have a clock in it but I had a watch).

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  9. I took the LSAT on Saturday (for better or worse) and felt the need to share that:

    Someone, through idiocy or nerves, brought a mobile that rang in the middle of section 1- 4 minutes completely unrecovered. And, more than 5 folks strolled in with hoodies. Suffice to say, the proctor conveniently neglected to enforce that rule.

    Just a random FYI I felt compelled to put out there...

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  10. Just visited the test site, its a nice lecture hall.
    Getting psyched up.
    Will let know you how it goes.
    Thanks!!

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  11. Forgot to get this to you for February, BUT still a good chance with all the cancellations. Please post: If you have a horrible hacking cough and cough every three minutes, PLEASE BRING YOUR COUGH DROPS!! In our October exam a guy coughed and coughed and some of us were going to absolutely throw a huge fit….it was horrible and talk about not being able to concentrate. If you are sick STAY HOME!!!

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  12. I took the LSAT on February 6. I had to use the restroom as soon as I got there, but I was in such a hurry I went right into the testing room. No breaks until after the third section. I did not want to go and loose the time, so I waited. It was was a huge mistake. For the first three sections I could not focus. My point being, no matter how much you study, take practice exams, there is still some unforeseen circumstance that can show up and ruin your day. (Well, unforeseen for me when I talked to the younger folks there (I am 35) they all knew to MAKE SURE you go before you get into the testing room.) In hindsight, that wonderful portion of time where everything in the past is so clear, I should have just went to the restroom and lost the time on the test. Anyway, I should have studied more anyway and now I have a couple more months to improve my skills. I have read some stuff on your blog and its looks really great, so thanks in advance.

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  13. I am not a highly disciplined or overly concerned person. I thought it was a bit of overkill to check out the test site before the big day, but I figured "Why not, it's just 20 minutes away"... Well, it took closer to 40 minutes, on a Sunday morning, to get there, and when I got to the campus, the building intended for test taking (optimistically shown in dotted lines on the college website) was still under construction and completely fenced off with dire trespass warnings. I don't know where we'll actually be placed, but at least I still have time to alert LSAC, inquire at the school itself, and know to leave PLENTY of time for hiking around the sprawling campus in the inevitable search for the new alternate location. PREVIEW YOUR TEST LOCATION!

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  14. I got WASTED on four loco right before the test and made the highest score the test center had ever recorded. I decided then and there (when I got my test score) that there was no way I could ever go to law school after that.

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