Point of View: Difficult to take LSAT abroad, where no one cares
Published: Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Updated: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 22:05
7:15 a.m. -- Time to shower and eat before the 30-minute walk to catch the bus, to catch the airplane, to catch the Underground, to take you to London to take you to the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT).1:55 p.m. -- What does an American student studying in Glasgow feel about and deal with taking the LSAT in London? While all prospective American law students must take the LSAT, for those abroad the LSAT is not simply a test but a weekend ordeal -- or, if you happen to be optimistic -- an adventure. (Here, the author is distracted by text messages from her Glaswegian friends wishing her good luck.)
7:50 p.m. -- While most people spend the day before the LSAT studying or trying to de-stress, the student abroad checks into a hostel and goes in search of cheap food. Then what do you do? You can't go out because you have to get a good night's rest. None of your friends are around, and you are left to watch bad English soap operas (You could score a drink from the 30-something Irish guy who's chatting you up, but would you really want to?).
Very few people other than Americans and Canadians studying in the United Kingdom have even heard of the LSAT. This is due in part to the fact that the U.K. does not have an equivalent of an LSAT test for its law students. In the U.K., law is taught at the undergraduate level after which students have one year of study at the graduate level and then two years of work sponsored by practicing law firms. The result is that no particular test defines your acceptance or entrance into law school.
This makes it hard for people, friends and the curious (whom you come across often at hostels), to understand the importance of the test. This is frustrating because the support you get from people is less then what you would expect, and it also becomes a distraction. How can you take a test seriously when the people you are living with have no concept of its importance? You end up taking it about as seriously as they do, which is a big mistake.
Taking the LSAT here is not as simple as back in the States. Testing centers are not very common. There is only one in the U.K., and for all of Europe there are less than a handful. (Of course, the Law School Admissions Council is willing to let you take the LSAT wherever you wish, provided you pay them a very large fee.) This means not only do you have to prepare for the test, but you must also spend a few days making arrangements for places to stay and dealing with the problems arising from travel delays, fatigue and arriving by yourself in a strange city.
These complications place undue stress on the test-taker. It's not just the test you have to worry about, but is your reservation going to be there when you get there? Where can you find food? What happens if you miss your flight? Foreign test centers also have different check-in times then U.S. centers. This means that your test could begin at 2 p.m. and last until 9 p.m.
Since the tests generally aren't held at universities, but in private function halls, silence is not guaranteed, nor is a student-friendly atmosphere or even places to sit before the test. The facilities themselves are often not intended for examination purposes, which means the lighting and the furniture will often not be conducive to testing (The London test center is notorious for its bad tables. Many test-takers punctured their forms, which cannot only delay scores but also create incorrect marks that can affect the overall score).
Yet, the worst part about taking the LSAT abroad is the night after. While most people return from the LSAT ready to celebrate, to drink insane amounts with friends, the study-abroad student is once again alone. Comforted solely by text messages of congratulations, the solicitations of strange hostel people and, of course, the sole bar stool.
Some have to catch planes or other forms of transportation to return to their homes. Test centers kindly allow individuals to leave early from the writing section of the LSAT if they have connections to make. But, how can people stay focused when they are left worrying whether they are going to be stranded alone in a strange city if they miss their connection home?
So, the end of the LSAT is not greeted with enthusiastic parties and warm congratulations; instead, while abroad, the questions of what the test was and why you are taking it are more common. The support network is missing, and that is not particularly pleasant. For, who can soothe your troubled mind about how you did if all you have are yourself and a cell phone?
-- Alyson Decker '04 submits a column to the Justice.