LSAT moves digital: students respond to the adjusted law school exam

Thursday, October 11, 2018 - 8:31pm

Over the last couple of years, many standardized tests have moved over to a digital formatting system. Now, the last of the graduate school admissions tests — the Law School Admission Test — joins them in this technological advancement.

The Law School Admissions Council declared the LSAT will be a tablet-based administration starting in July 2019. Instead of a test booklet, students will receive a Samsung tablet, a stylus and a white pencil with a scrap sheet of paper.

The stylus will not mimic handwriting; instead, it will feature testing tools including highlighting and underlining. There will also be a multitude of annotation tools such as numbering passages. A proctor will still be present in the room, but all timing will be done electronically on the tablet itself.

In addition, there are an array of accessibility options built into the digital system. Students will be able to brighten the screen, make the text bigger and utilize a variety of other resources.

LSA sophomore Jack Wroldsen, who is considering Law School, believes these changes were inevitable and may require a bit more practice, but overall will be a great aid to students.

“I really like (the switch to digital) — I think the LSAC is moving in the right direction by putting it online and increasing the testing availability,” Wroldsen said. “Advanced degree tests like the GMAT have been online for decades, so I think moving into a digital format is the LSAC keeping up with the times. It may take a bit more practicing and it adds some sort of unpredictability as it’s hard to know exactly what it’ll look like. But I’m sure it’ll be a well-structured program that makes the testing process actually easier.”

Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs for Kaplan Test Prep, believes this is a practical change, saying newer generations of students will virtually age with the advancement of technology.

“This really gives two big advantages for the Law School Admission Council,” Thomas said. “First, it allows for a very consistent test-taking experience for students. Up until now, the test was paper-and-pencil-based. Students would walk into the testing room and would encounter some sort of variability within the testing experience, such as proctors keeping time in different ways. Now there is a sense of consistency. Second, this will really allow the LSAC to speed up the scoring process and then get the scores in students’ hands faster.”

When the test transitions in July, about half of the students will take the computerized LSAT and the other half will take the standard pencil-and-paper test. Students won’t get to choose their type of test — it will be randomly assigned. Because of this, the LSAT is offering a one-time opportunity: Students will have the chance to see their score before they decide whether they want to send it to each of their prospective schools. Those who decide to cancel are allowed the option to retake the test until April 2020 with no additional costs. The upcoming July test is the only test for which this will be an option.

Law student Jeff Nwagbo is in favor of the transition, but he believes students might just have to adjust their study habits.

“I don’t think it’s a huge deal either way,” Nwagbo said. “I think I’d rather take it on paper but that’s probably because of the way I studied for it. Some of my strategies for taking the test involved diagramming logic games or marking up the reading comprehension passages so I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that if the test is digital. I don’t think the online thing makes much of a difference in terms of difficulty.”

There are four paper-and-pencil administrations of the LSAT left: November, January, March and June. Kaplan is encouraging all students that are considering studying for, preparing and taking the LSAT next year to take at least one of those final paper-and-pencil exams.

“Students shouldn’t be scared of the digital format, but it does introduce a level of complexity and unfamiliarity and there are, frankly, not going to be a tremendous amount of practice tools digitally available for students immediately at launch,” Thomas said. “Over time, they will develop. Right now there are over 100 full-length paper-and-pencil tests available for students to practice with. We don’t want to add an extra level of anxiety to what is already a very, very high-stakes test experience.”

However, many prospective students are still wary of this new change. LSA sophomore Hannah Walsh fears the change might cause her to receive a lower score, as she likes to physically hold the materials.

“I do not like the idea of it being moved to the computer,” Walsh said. “Personally, I feel like I am stronger when (a test) is physically in front of me and not on a screen. When I have readings assigned in classes I always print the materials because I feel like I am better able to understand and comprehend what I am reading, doing. I think online tests are so much more work, they’re harder and perhaps more tiring than a normal pen-and-paper test. So this is super overwhelming and a little scary for me. It will be nice to receive test scores faster, but I would rather take a hard-copy of the test and slower results than on the computer.”

LSA senior Anuja Nandi has already taken the exam twice. Like Walsh, she believes the change would add even more apprehension to an already overwhelming atmosphere.

“I do not believe (going digital) would be beneficial, as the LSAT is a standardized test where it helps to have your justifications physically written out next to the problem,” Nandi said. “With the change, there are individuals who have already been practicing for months in the paper way. The first time I took it was in a noisy hotel conference room in Philadelphia with about 100 test takers. The second time was on campus in a room with 20 students and complete silence, even though it was the first home game day. This new test would be strenuous because your eyes have to shift back and forth between tablet and scrap paper, in addition to the random environment you’re placed in, overall creating an unsettling environment.”

The LSAT moving digital is just one of the many changes LSAC has enacted over the past few years. In the upcoming 2019-2020 test cycle, the LSAT will be offered nine times, as opposed to the previous six, in order to allow candidates to assess their level of preparedness and accurately determine when they are ready.

In September 2017, the LSAC changed its policy on how many times you can take the LSAT. Before, a student could only take the test up to three times over a period of two years. Now, they’re able to take the test as many times are they choose.

Furthermore, in 2017, a move was made by a multitude of institutions, including Harvard University and Georgetown Law School, in which they would allow applicants to submit scores from the GRE –– the Graduate Record Examination –– instead of the typical LSAT.

The GRE is possibly more beneficial for students who are stronger in science, math and engineering. Yet, the LSAT is designed to mirror a typical law school testing experience. Thomas still encourages students to take the LSAT, even if they are apprehensive toward the new procedures.

Though students may be doubtful and perhaps even dismissive toward this relatively new procedure, the LSAT only accounts for a portion of the admissions evaluation, according to Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean at the University of Michigan Law School.

“There is no formula,” Zearfoss wrote in an email interview. “We have a holistic admissions process, in which the LSAT is but one of many factors. It is an important factor, to be sure, because the LSAT is a well-designed test — but the LSAT is not a perfect test, and many other factors will often outweigh the significance of a given score.”