Edited on May 12, 2011 to add: LSAC has reversed itself and the date-change policy has changed again. Please see here for an update.
The December 2010 LSAT test date change (postponement) deadline is today (if you're changing the date by mail, phone, or fax) and Sunday (if you're changing the date online).
I recently had an interesting and impromptu email exchange with LSAT guru Steve Schwartz, author of the LSAT Blog, in which we discussed what happens if you miss the postponement deadline, and whether you should cancel your score or have your record show an absence. (Our email exchange was a follow-up to an earlier discussion ("Cancel, Postpone, or Absence?") on the same subject. Here are some excerpts from our most recent conversation:
Anna: LSAC changed the registration cancellation deadline in the run-up to the June 2009 without much notice or publicity, and that caught a lot of test takers off guard through no fault of their own. Fast-forward to 2011, though, and applicants have had plenty of time to see the current deadline for canceling or postponing registrations, and I would think that admissions officers are going to expect that they plan accordingly. I still don't think one absence is the end of the world, but it does signal that someone couldn't follow directions, and that's a pretty big deficit for someone who wants to be a lawyer. (Lawyers live and die by deadlines.) In contrast, with the June 2009 test, an absence didn't really signal anything about their ability to follow directions, because the directions got changed on them in the middle of the night. Does that distinction make sense?
Steve: My impression from students and blog readers is that, for the most part, test-takers are aware of the deadline, so it's not an issue of irresponsibility. I see it as simply being that 3 weeks beforehand is too early a deadline for them to know whether they'll be ready in time. It forces them to gamble and assume they'll be ready, or it forces them to postpone to a later date when they may not have needed to do so. They may have been ready by the date for which they'd initially registered. Many people just can't predict where their scores will be by Test Day.
Most serious preppers spend that final month taking full-length practice tests and refining techniques. By Test Day, some will experience score increases during the final 3 weeks that signal their readiness to take the exam for which they've registered, others won't. It's hard for test-takers to know which group they'll fall within.
And there are all the people who, in the final 3 weeks, get sick/injured, have life crises, or experience a sudden increase in busyness due to work/school/family issues. In short, something may come up before the exam that prevents test-takers from studying adequately during the final weeks. This often leads them to desire a postponement, but by then it's too late. I hope admissions officers won't punish them for what may be outside their control.
Anna: I guess I'm biased in the other direction, because I hear from a number of applicants who just didn't pay attention to the deadline, and that puts a bee in my bonnet. :) Also -- and I'm really curious what you think on this front -- I see a lot of applicants acting a bit delusional about how much they can improve in that 3-week window.
In any event, I agree with something that was said in the original post, which is that admissions officers now have no way of knowing who is "absent" because life got in the way on test day (woke up with the flu, etc.), and who is "absent" because they couldn't be bothered to follow directions. When LSAC conflates the two and uses the same label for both situations, they remove an important piece of information. If someone had until the test day (or even beyond, as used to be the case) to reschedule, but didn't, then failing to do so actually used to signal something.
Steve: Yes - too many people think miracles regularly happen in the final 3 weeks and on Test Day itself. The extent to which applicants see diminishing marginal returns depends upon the individual (as so much does when it comes to the LSAT) and how much studying they've done up to that point. Those who put in at least 3-4 months total generally see the majority of their increase prior to the 3-week deadline. However, those who put in a total of approx. 2 months have only done a little more than half of their total prep by that time. As such, a lot can happen as they finally bring it all together in the final 3 weeks.
Many do see big increases toward the end as things finally start to click. Others simply devote an increasing amount of time to studying as the impending test date finally kicks them into high gear.
Anna: That all makes sense. I guess the former admissions officer in me still thinks that if someone waited so long to prepare for the LSAT that the last three weeks represent some sizable chunk of their preparation, they really haven't gone about it with the seriousness it deserves. I'm inclined to think absences are OK for those day-of catastrophes (waking up with the flu), but as long as admissions officers don't have insight into why someone was absent, it's all a big question mark, and an absence can't really be held against the applicant.
Regarding [score] cancellations: I do think admissions officers take those into consideration to a small degree when analyzing the subsequent score. No matter why someone cancels (dry run vs. screwed something up on the test in a big way), people who have taken the real thing before are going to have some advantage on the margin over someone who hasn't, and so people who have canceled will be assumed to have the benefit of that dry run (again, whether they did it for that reason or not).
Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, recently updated and available as an e-book. Follow Anna on Twitter (@annaivey).