Tuesday, September 27, 2005
LSAT at Midnight, with apologies to Coleridge
I've spent the past month frantically studying for the LSAT. The LSAT has become a personal affront to me, a challenge to my pride, a tiny, strange, meaningless yet momentous element that invites discipline and eludes mastery. In my uncertain world, the LSAT offers focus, a goal, an elusive promise that everything can be a meritocracy, hard work can pay off, and wanting something badly enough means you have the chance of getting it. How else to explain why a sane person with a prior career could spend hours trying to diagram logic games with a stopwatch as the last summer days sink into their reddish embers? They tell you on the law school sites that the LSAT is only one indicator among many of how a prospective student might perform, and that they take many factors into consideration when screening applicants at the most prestigious law schools. Don't believe it. The LSAT is everything. A PhD, an academic career, a book, fabulous letters of recommendation, and an earnest but sensible application essay are nothing if the LSAT isn't cracking 160-plus. I know. The best I could do last year with all of the above and a thoroughly mediocre 157 was get into NEXT year's part-time night program at a school --a decent school, to be sure-- ranked about 65th. It takes more than accomplishment, focus, discipline, age, or a political commitment to LGBT issues. As the lady who interviewed me last year sternly warned me, you gotta respect the test.
So how to crack 160? Well, there are 4 sections: reading comprehension (yay!), 2 sections of logical reasoning (sigh), and logic games (oh lord). There are 24-28 questions per section, and you have 35 minutes. Assuming you'll get 3 questions wrong out of 28 or so on the reading comp because of time pressures, and 5 or 6 wrong on each logical reasoning section because of mental exhaustion and time running out, that leaves a do-or-die logic games section where you need 13 or more right to crack 162. That means you've got to diagram three out of the four problems and answer most of the questions correctly, then guess at the rest and pick up a point or two from that. You will get only one question wrong on each problem if you do well. That leaves 5 or 6 right, maybe. In order to get 4 problems done, you need to spend 8 minutes on each. It takes me twice that long. Decide to do 3 and you've got 12 minutes to diagram the thing and answer all the questions.
Why do this? you ask. The joblist is out, with at least 10 jobs out there to go for, all of them far away from here. You are planning to apply for them. So why do this crazy LSAT? Why spend hours arranging people at a table, or placing dog show contestants, or figuring out the kinds of birds in a forest, or determining the exact order of colored Christmas lights on parallel streets?
You have taken it twice before. This is it for you. It is a taunt you must throw back, unbowed. It structures your days, every morning and afternoon. Getting things right makes the day worth while; failing is a personal shortcoming, a failure of attention, diligence, care. You can control your life, on your terms. There will be a second act. Going back to school, you'll be becoming something again, instead of ending everything you hoped for.
It is an illusion, of course, this dream of a simple road to happiness, but it is YOUR illusion, for now. You sit up late in bed, reading diagrams. Your cats stir and shift at your feet. Your lover sighs in her sleep beside you. This is where you live. Do you want to leave this for a job alone in Boston, Kentucky, California? The room is quiet, filled only with the sounds of creatures breathing. You click your mechanical pencil, clear your timer, and study on.