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On Columbia Law and Studying for the LSAT Under Duress

You may have heard that, in the wake of the grand jury decisions not to indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Columbia Law School is allowing its students to request a postponement of their final exams. The interim dean noted that the cases “have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally.”

The option to delay comes in response to pressure from students, but not everyone thinks it’s a good idea, especially considering that part of the job of a lawyer is to suck it up and deal with it. Check out these articles from Elie Mystal and Eugene Volokh for good arguments against the extension, despite sympathy with the students’ concerns.

We’re here, though, to discuss the LSAT. I’ve often had students struggle to balance their LSAT studies with difficult situations in their personal lives. Here’s the comprehensive list of circumstances in which LSAC will generally permit you to postpone your LSAT by a couple of weeks:

There’s too much snow on the ground to get to the test center.

Not very helpful, is it? The LSAT happens on LSAC’s terms.

So what do you do if you’re balancing your LSAT studies with something really difficult and distracting? Start by acknowledging that both the LSAT and your personal struggle need attention. If you feel guilty studying for the LSAT because of the crisis in your life, your studying won’t be as effective. Or if you constantly feel as if you should be studying for the LSAT, that’ll undermine your ability to process and overcome the stressful situation, which will in turn hurt your studying when you get to it.

In situations like these, it’s important to compartmentalize. Set aside time to do whatever you need to do to get through whatever’s going on in your life. Keep that time separate from the hours you spend giving the LSAT your full attention. Try going someplace different to study, so that you can do your best to block out everything else.

Even if LSAC isn’t going to give you an extension on the LSAT, the LSAT is flexible in a way that law school exams aren’t. You never have to take a particular administration of the LSAT. Up until 11:59 PM Eastern Time the night before the test, you can withdraw your LSAT registration. The only penalty is losing your registration fee.

If there’s something going on in your life that is just so big, so awful, and so distracting that your LSAT performance is going to be compromised no matter what, then it makes sense to delay taking the LSAT. It may mean waiting until the next cycle to apply, but that’s not the end of the world. The LSAT is important enough to your future that you should give it your best shot – with a clear mind and a clear heart.