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Caitlin Sanders, a fourth year Criminology and Political Science double major, can finally breathe again.

This past weekend, she took the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) after eight weeks of three to four hours of studying a day, getting used to phrasing her everyday conversation in terms of “what can you confer” or “the conclusion is valid if…”, and ingraining her favorite drink order into the minds of the Starbucks staff off Michaelson and Jamboree.

After an intense summer of studying test techniques, completing practice tests, and shelling out large sums of cash for preparation courses, UCI students hoping to attend law school took the LSAT Sept. 26. The day began early for the law school hopefuls, who had to sign in to their testing locations by 8:30 a.m. and began the LSAT at 9 a.m. Some woke up as early as 6:30 a.m. to eat breakfast and relax before the exam.

The exam ended at 2 p.m.. By 3 p.m., I noticed my friends’ updating their Facebook statuses. Some were just glad to be done with LSATs. Another friend “bombed the LSAT” and was entering “depression mode.” Still another claimed she was “trading in her LSAT books for a nice cold gin & tonic.” Another said that his “brain hurt.”

The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admission Council four times each year at many locations — 47 locations in California alone. Many UCI students took it in the Social Science Lecture Hall building on the UCI campus. Louise Truong, a fourth-year double major in criminology, law & society and literary journalism, said that taking it on a familiar campus helped somewhat.

“Knowing where to park and where to find the restrooms probably took away some stress,” she explained. “I was still very stressed, though!”

According to LSAC, nearly every law school in the U.S. and Canada consider LSAT scores when making admissions decisions. Some schools weigh it more heavily than others. Other factors considered are grade point averages (GPAs), extracurricular activities, and strength of application essays. The LSAT is scored on a scale from 120 to 180, with 180 being the highest score.

UCI students who took the LSAT on Saturday said the exam felt much harder than the practice exams they studied from. It might have also felt harder simply because the pressure was on. Students also reported that LSAT preparation courses helped a lot.

Courses range in price from Kaplan’s $1499 to Testmasters’ $1450 to Blueprint’s $1100 to UCI Lecturer Mark Sacks’ more affordable ScoreItUp course that costs $750 for students who enroll early. Reveka Shteynberg, a fourth-year criminology, law & society student, took Sacks’ ScoreItUp course and reported that the course helped her build endurance to sit through the five-hour test. Both Shteynberg and Truong reported that the ScoreItUp course helped them increase their scores on practice exams by about 10 points.

After taking the LSAT, students have one week to consider whether to accept their scores or to cancel them. Canceled scores are not reported to law schools, though the law schools can still see that students took the LSAT and canceled. Canceling the score enables the student to retake the exam with a relatively clean slate. A downside of canceling is that a canceled score is not reported to the student either, so the student will never know how they did on the exam.

Criminology, Law and Society Professor Donna Schuele generally advises students to keep their scores, because students rarely score better the second time around.

“Unless the next time they take the exam under very different circumstances, students usually receive very similar scores on a second try,” Schuele explained. “Bottom line — don’t make a career out of taking the LSAT. It is just the first step on the way to becoming a lawyer!”

LSAT results will be released through email on October 19 and through regular mail by Oct. 27. Many students are waiting for the LSAT scores before finalizing which law schools they will apply to. Although those seeking admission to law schools for Fall 2010 can take their LSATs as late as December 2009, most students prefer to take the test sooner to know which schools they have a chance at being admitted to.

Some law schools, perhaps most notably UC Berkeley School of Law, consider each applicant holistically, placing less emphasis on numerical indicators like GPA and LSAT scores. Nonetheless, because law school rankings are based heavily on GPAs and LSATs of incoming students, those numbers continue to be important factors in admission to most law schools. For UCI students who took the LSAT on the 26th, the first step in their prospective law careers is complete.

Though this is a step in the right direction, students still dread this exam.

“The LSAT turns everything into your life, and everything you do becomes the LSAT,” Sanders says solemnly. “It’s really not that fun of an experience.”

Additional reporting done by Emmercelle DeLeon, staff writer.

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