The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is facing one of its biggest changes since its creation in 1948, as the entire test will now be administered through a digital interface — a shift that students are concerned could impact their results.
According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) website, the organization that writes and administers the LSAT, the content and structure of the exam will remain the same, but starting Sept. 21, the majority of the exam will be delivered through tablets provided by testing centers. The features on the tablet include a five-minute warning before the end of the test, highlighting and the ability to flag questions, which aims to help test-takers keep track of questions that they wish to revisit later.
Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-law programs, said the LSAC has spent years studying and designing the digital interface.
“Digital testing should allow for a more consistent test-taking experience and for scores to be in students’ hands faster,” Thomas wrote in an email. “In fact, LSAT is somewhat playing catch up in this area — the other major graduate level admissions exams like the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) have been digital for several years already.”
The LSAC announced they plan to release the scores for the Sept. 21 exam on Oct. 14, but they anticipate that they will be able to get scores out more quickly in the future since the exam is now online.
Another difference, as of June 2019, is that the test day for the LSAT will be shorter. According to the LSAC website, the writing portion will now be administered separately and online through a secured proctoring software that test-takers will have to install on their computers. Using the new software, test-takers will be able to take the writing portion of the exam outside of a testing center. The software can only be launched by Google Chrome, Edge, Firefox and Internet Explorer. Other browsers, such as Safari, are not currently supported.
The LSAC will have access to the test-taker’s webcam while they are taking the exam, and the test-taker must identify themselves before taking the exam by holding a valid, government-issued ID to their webcam. They will also have to scan the room with their webcam to ensure there are no other people or prohibited devices, such as cell phones and other digital items present. The LSAC will have access to the webcam while the test-taker is taking the writing portion to ensure no cheating occurs.
For the non-writing portion of the exam, test-takers will only be taking the multiple-choice sections at the testing centers. Along with the provided tablets, there will be additional LSAT technology onsite at the testing centers to monitor the status of each tablet, according to Thomas.
“From everything we’ve heard so far from the soft launch of the digital LSAT this summer, technical glitches have been few and far between,” Thomas wrote. “In the rare instances where it does happen, administrators can and will swap out hardware and give additional time to ensure every student has exactly 35 minutes.”
But students looking at law school have not prepared for a digital exam, and some, like Stephen Perez, a junior double-majoring in political science and sociology, have worries. Perez plans on taking the LSAT in summer 2020, and said the new digital format is concerning, given all the work is done on a screen.
“The new format makes me worried because I have always disliked reading and doing my work on a computer screen,” Perez wrote in an email. “I have been studying with printed out practice tests and ‘LSAT Bibles.’ I like to take notes in the margins and use the page, so I am going to have to develop new test-taking and study strategies.”
Scratch paper and a pen will be provided to test-takers at the testing centers, according to the LSAC website. A stylus will also be provided to allow for test-takers to underline and highlight text on the tablet.
According to Thomas, many law schools are in support of the move to digital from pencil and paper.
“In Kaplan’s 2018 law school admissions officers survey, nearly 80 percent of the Juris Doctor (JD) programs we spoke with think this move is a good idea,” Thomas wrote. “With the exam going digital, it’s possible students will receive their scores back faster, which should not only alleviate any post-test angst, but also help them put their applications together more quickly.”
Although law school admissions approve of the idea, Victoria Viola, a senior double-majoring in political science and history, said she is concerned she will have to adjust her study techniques to a new format.
“I am nervous that the test will be entirely digital,” Viola said. “While I have had digital assignments before, I’ve never taken a standardized test, or any test for that matter, without pen [or] pencil and paper. Hopefully, familiarizing myself with the format and adequately preparing for the test content will ensure that my score is not affected by the digitalization.”
Another concern, Perez wrote, is that it could be more difficult to keep track of progress on a computer screen.
“I think that the digital format will be great for getting scores out faster to students,” Perez wrote. “Oftentimes, students find that they did not do as well as they expected, and do not have enough time to take another LSAT by their law school application deadlines. That being said, it is a step back in terms of accessibility. There are [helpful] features to help those who have trouble reading the small font, but nothing beats the good old pencil and paper.”
Once students begin taking the new, digital LSAT, Viola said she is anxious to learn from their experiences.
“Since the digital test is so new, I haven’t been able to gather as much information about what it’s like to physically take the test,” Viola said. “Many of my friends have taken the old LSAT, but not as many have taken the digital one. I hope to learn more about the test as people I know start to take it this fall.”