Jerry Garcia on admissions.

This weekend I spoke to a young woman who had taken the LSAT on Saturday. She wanted to know if she should cancel her score based on her subjective impression that the test experience had been somewhere in the vicinity of “appalling.” She was very comfortable with the amount she had prepared, and with her scores on practice tests; she wasn’t ill on the day of the test; the test conditions themselves were fine. And yet the LSAT worked its perennial magic, and felt like hell.

Do not cancel, I told her. The test almost always feels like hell—an impression I have gathered from the many emails we get telling this exact same story the Monday after every LSAT sitting. If there was some external factor that makes you think you did not perform your best, then maybe it makes sense to cancel and try again with a blank slate, score-wise. But your subjective impression of whether you were getting the answers right is just not a valid way to assess your performance. That’s in part (mostly?) because the test is grueling for anyone, but also because test questions that are flawed (which are the kind that are particularly likely to make you feel like hell when you sit through them) get thrown out. In other words, just because you got a question wrong doesn’t mean you got a question wrong.

Given that law schools use the high score to report their data to the ABA, and that they therefore generally rely more heavily upon that score than upon the average, you might ask why cancel at all, under any circumstances? You can always retake and effectively overwrite that lower score. True enough. I think the biggest reason to retake is psychology: for some people, an initial lower-than-desired score mentally saddles them a bit. If that’s not your particular make-up, then arguably there really never is a great reason to cancel.

Anyway, my advice not to cancel based on your subjective impressions was awesome. How do I know it was awesome? Because when I recounted this advice to another admissions professional, she told me that Jerry Garcia had the same take on assessing the success of any of his performance: he doesn’t, he said, like to make judgments about the gig. You can’t know how the music sounds by trying to assess the audience reaction from the stage.

That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Although this is definitely the first, and I suspect it will be the last, time I invoke Jerry Garcia as authority for my standardized-testing advice, I think that if there’s anything better than giving awesome advice, it’s giving awesome advice with which Jerry Garcia concurs.

And if you don’t know who Jerry Garcia is, youngsters, please, get on that.

-Dean Z. Assistant Dean for Admissions and Special Counsel for Professional Strategies