Q: I’m signed up to take the October LSAT, but I’m not feeling ready. I don’t think I would do as well as if I took it in December. Will it really hurt my chances of getting into law school if I don’t take the test until December?
A: It is definitely preferable that you take the test when you feel ready for it than that you take it at a specific time. If you reasonably believe your score would be several points higher if you put the test off until December, you should put it off.
That said, given the fact that the December test date is right before finals, I am concerned that even by December you will not have adequate time to prepare. My recommendation would be that you put aside a chunk of time each week that is solely devoted to LSAT preparation—3-4 hours minimum. If you can really dedicate that time to preparation and taking sample tests, you should be fine.
In terms of timing, the important thing is that you get your applications in as soon as possible. It is generally recommended that you not complete and file the rest of your application until your LSAT score is in so that you can make a more informed determination of which schools you have a likelihood of getting admitted to. If you follow this general recommendation, then you should have your applications all set to go by the time your scores come out in mid- to late December, quickly make your final cut, and send them off. If, on the other hand, there are schools you know you will apply to regardless (for example, a school that you reasonably believe will either be a safety or a likely, depending on your score), then you can go ahead and send the applications as soon as they are ready. The schools will not look at the applications until your scores come in, but you will minimize your last-minute scramble time.
The December 1st deadline for applications is a somewhat arbitrary rule of thumb to encourage applicants to get things in as soon as possible. It does matter, and application rates are definitely better for fall applications than for winter applications, all other things being equal. This is because the schools review completed applications as they come in. Many schools have substantially filled their classes by the time their actual deadline comes around. Nonetheless, while it’s not ideal, you should be fine with a December test if you get all your other ducks in a row in advance.