My Life As a Number

When I came to college, I knew I was through with math--forever. I knew I was through with physical education class--forever. I thought I was through with standardized tests. Forever.

Sadly, sometimes paradise is only temporary.

Because when senior year drags itself into view (or junior year for the hyperambitious) The Future begins to loom on the horizon. And for all too many of us, the ticket to the future bears a three-digit number.

Two weeks ago, I took the LSAT. When you utter the word, you usually face a flood of unhappy lawyer stories. Or, you're bombarded with a stream of statistics about exactly how many lawyers exist in the world (many), as opposed to how many the world needs (Few, they say. Very few).

For every unhappy lawyer story, it seemed, there were 16 college students cramming for the LSAT. On October 2, a couple thousand harried, bag-eyed twentysomethings filed into a highrise at Boston University to take a four-hour test.

Through the window of the fifteenth-floor room where my test was administered, I could glimpse a view of the Boston skyline. It was a clear day, with a slight breeze. I was sitting in a law school classroom, in a chair that reminded me of an amusement park teacup ride. It swiveled left and right, forward and back, around and around. (It was kind of fun.)

These impressions of my room made me feel like a human being. The LSAT did not.

Before we entered the room, we test-takers sat along the sides of the hallway, most of us silent, some exchanging empty pleasantries. At a signal, we lined up in single file, each of us holding a ticket and a picture ID. Before entering the room, each of us in turn was checked, issued another identification number and thumbprinted (for verification). No bone-scans or DNA samples, thank goodness. It'll be years before technology catches up.

"Bon soir," one student behind me told her friend as we waited for our thumbprints. "Thank you," the other responded. Then there was a pause.

"Actually, I think that means good evening," she said. "I think it's bonne chance."

"Oh. Bonne chance."

I don't remember much of the test itself. There was a lot of underlining, a lot of chicken-scratching, and a lot of swiveling. The proctors checked our identification several times throughout the four-and-a-little hours we spent in the slightly chilly room. I filled in at least 125 bubbles--completely, leaving no stray marks. I didn't bend, fold, spindle or mutilate the answer sheet. Then I gave my paper away, knowing that soon enough I would be converted to yet another number.

That's a common complaint, I realize. A cliched complaint. But during the entire morning I spent at Boston University, I marveled that so many people were allowing themselves to be treated this way.

"Law Services," the company that administers the LSAT and runs the score-recording service, has a strange kind of monopoly on law school admissions. Only Law Services offers the LSAT, and you can't apply to law school without taking the test.

Nobody seems to question; how could we? After the test, in the cab ride home, we fantasized. What if every law school student in America simply refused to take the LSAT? What would the law schools do?

The answer is, it wouldn't happen. Even if a group of crusaders banded together and pledged not to take the test, some people would still take it. Enough that the law schools would scoff at the silly few who mistakenly thought that they could really make a point.

Scoff at them, of course, for exhibiting individuality and personal conviction--qualities that would probably make somebody a pretty good lawyer.

If it weren't for my swivel chair, it would have been a really bad day.