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The LSAT: It’s All About Perspective

Shon R. Hopwood has experienced the law school application process this fall, taking the LSAT in October and December. This article regards Shon’s experience during the October test.

The LSAT: It’s All About Perspective

In early October, I took the rite of passage for anyone attempting to someday become an attorney: I spent six hours darkening bubbles on my Law School Admissions Test answer sheet. As I sat there during the writing section, mostly daydreaming about what it would be like to no longer have to study for the LSAT, I began to appreciate what the day represents for so many of the people taking the test with me: just another day of school.

I arrived fifteen minutes early at the test center that morning. Only a handful of people were checking into the large auditorium, where I later learned that biology is taught—no wonder the classroom had the eerie feel of boredom and confusion. While I was shaking off the remnants of a week spent blowing my nose, coughing and sweating from a fever, I listened to the people around me speak of last night’s bar scene. I miss being young!

A young guy strolled through the door as I was being checked in. His eyes appeared as if they had been shut not too long ago. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt stained with what looked like ketchup or pizza sauce, and the LSAT administrators asked him to turn his hood inside out because the rules forbid hoods. Not only was he wearing inappropriate attire, he also arrived to the test site with a handful of unsharpened pencils. In many ways I admired his preparation. He probably scored a 170!

The test center administrators remained true to form. If these people worked for the Department of Homeland Security, we would all be safer. Checking in for the test was less severe than the strip searches I endured in prison, but rivaled airport security, right down to the clear plastic bags we carried that contained our identification, car keys, pencils, a 20-ounce bottle of water and “snack.”

The demographics were predictable but held a few surprises. It was mostly twenty-somethings with a sprinkling of people my age. I talked with a few and learned their stories. One middle-aged man started his first career with the family business only to become miserable after a decade of, what else, working with his family.

He had always wanted to attend law school and if he scored high enough to attend law school, he was determined to leave the family business behind. There was a grade school teacher who I attended LSAT prep class with that decided one day that she wanted to go to law school. Her supportive husband had signed her up for the prep class as a birthday present. There was also one woman who everyone in the room was rooting for. By my guess, she was in her late 50s to early 60s. Even the administrators admired her moxie.

Even if their age did not give them away, you would have noticed these three by the grizzled soldier stare adorning their face. Contrast the older test takers with the younger generation who seemed like this was just another exam to get through on their way to the next event of life. The ones I had spoken to had prepared as I had, buying the requisite LSAT prep books and taking an incalculable amount of practice exams. But their mindset was much different. There was no great sense of urgency. One said that if the LSAT did not go as expected, she would just “go in a different direction.” Another told me that he was applying to law school because the job market is not great in his field and going to law school seemed like a good way to ride out poor job prospects until Obama fixes the economy.

If one approach was better than the other, I must say those younger than me had it right. All the stressing about scoring high had the expected effect. On the very first section I was such a wreck that for about three minutes I lost the ability to read and comprehend. It was as if the LSAT test makers had written the questions in Latin mixed with drunkenese. But I recovered. How much I recovered will not be known for a cruel and unusual three week-long waiting period.

As I walked out of the test center, most of the younger test takers I talked with had not had unpleasant experiences taking the LSAT. And that is all anyone can really expect from several hours spent in hushed tones taking a test that will likely decide one’s realm of opportunities. Yes, life goes on no matter the results, but I still pray that I scored high.

Shon R Hopwood is taking the nontraditional path to law school. He learned how to write legal briefs while incarcerated for over a decade in a federal prison. Two petitions he prepared to the U.S. Supreme Court for other inmates were granted and his legal successes were the subject of a New York Times article last winter. He is currently finishing a memoir—tentatively entitled My Resume Gap—that will be published by Crown/Random House sometime in 2011. He also writes about the life and the law at the legal blog he created: The CockleBur.