Don’t rush into graduate exams


By Boswell Hutson

Roughly a month from today, ambitious students all over the world will file into classrooms at universities to take standardized tests, ones that will perhaps define the rest of their professional futures. Many of the students attending the University will have the immediately unfortunate and hopefully satisfying experience of taking the Medical College Admissions Test, the Law School Admission Test or the Graduate Record Exam.

The outcomes will dictate the professional future of most, if not all, of the participants.

Until last week, I was slated to take the LSAT, one of the most ridiculously weighted standardized tests in the country. Not only is it offered in limited quantities (only four different months a year), but unlike its GRE counterpart, but it also uses an averaging method with scores. If someone takes the test twice, the higher score is not taken alone, but instead, it is averaged with the lower score. Thus, if an applicant is unprepared and does not perform well, he or she is stuck with the score forever. Even if someone scores amazingly the second time around, the first score drags down the average, likely prohibiting entrance to some institutions.

While the LSAT is one example of a test weighted too heavily, the increased importance placed on it and other post-graduate examinations is indicative of an increase in pressure on many recent college graduates. I’m not saying students are forced to take these exams; they’re clearly optional, but when it becomes necessary for a student to take these exams and do well, often while also maintaining a high academic standard and a good extracurricular record, the outcome is not always optimal.

While I’m sure there are those who can juggle the stresses of classes, a job (or two), extracurricular activities and studying for extremely laborious standardized tests, I hesitate to say it’s always necessary. For seniors like me, the year is hard enough. Finishing a degree with upper-level coursework is no small feat, and I certainly don’t want to stay up late every night or get up early in the morning every weekend to take mock exams and fill out applications. I, like many other University students, am already burning the candle at both ends, and the added pressure of test and application deadlines is something I could better handle later on when I have more time, especially given the unforgiving scoring structure.

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As you can probably guess, I decided to forego my LSAT this year because I’m too busy. It was the right choice for me, just like it can be for others. By taking a year off school, specifically a year off from law school, I will get to experiment with other career options, perhaps finding something that suits me outside the legal realm. Maybe law is for me, and I’ll end up going next year, but I’ll forever be grateful that I took my time deciding before being thrust into the trials and tribulations of adult life. Students only get one senior year, and I don’t want to spend the entirety of mine filling out applications and studying for a test.

In addition to this extra time, I’ll also be able to take the LSAT, if I choose, at a time in my life when I won’t be overrun with assignments, club meetings and (arguably the most important) football games. I’ll have more time to dedicate to getting a good score, which could actually help my academics. The same could be true for others.

Believe me, this isn’t a diatribe against graduate school. My parents both have experience teaching in academia, and I believe wholeheartedly in the powers of education. For those who it is suited, it’s a wonderful option. What I am saying, however, is that jumping into studying law or medicine right after graduation isn’t for everyone. And no one should feel bad about that, nor should they take entrance exams hastily.

If given the option, one should at least consider an alternative approach to taking graduate school exams while in college, perhaps one that allows for time to expand, both personally and professionally, before taking such an important test or committing to a career. You never know what you’ll find out about yourself.

If you feel confident enough to jump right into law school or med school, great. I admire your ambition and drive. Others, like me, should do what they feel ready for. As a friend of mine told me the other day, adulthood is always going to be waiting for us. If there’s ever a time to teach snowboarding in Colorado or be one of those mail delivery people on a boat in Lake Geneva, it is now.

Boswell is a senior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].