The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) will begin administering digital Law School Admission Tests (LSAT) to all law school applicants starting in 2019.
The LSAT serves as the entrance exam that most students take to enroll in any of the 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools around the country. The exam has historically been administered as a paper-pencil exam with Scantrons, testing booklets, stopwatches and proctors.
“It is, in many ways, the most important part of a law student’s application," said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of prelaw programs. "A poor LSAT score is the thing that is cited most often by admissions officers as the biggest application killer.”
Thomas said that the LSAT is actually the last exam of the graduate school admissions tests to transition to a computerized form. The Graduate Record Examination, the Medical College Admission Test and the Graduate Management Admission Test began digitalizing over the past 10 years.
The director of admissions at the UNC School of Law, Michelle Gunter welcomes the change as a way of embracing our electronic generation.
“I am really excited to see it move in that direction, as other graduate exams are also electronic,” Gunter said.
The digital LSAT exam will be administered on a tablet device instead of the traditional Scantron sheet and test booklet. Students taking the exam will be provided a tablet, a stylus and a blank test booklet for scratch notes.
Additional test-taking tools will be available to students taking the exam. Students will be able to highlight text in different colors, cross out answer choices and annotate reading sections.
The digital exam will benefit students who want more flexibility and consistency in taking the exam, said Thomas. The LSAT will now be offered nine times throughout the year instead of six, and time will be kept through the tablets at all test administration sites. Scores will also be released sooner.
“I think it is convenient to have more test dates because it is really hard for students our age who are starting to take the LSAT to find the date that works for them in their schedule with as sparse as they are now,” said Olivia Robertson, president of UNC’s chapter of the Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.
Despite the administrative changes, the test’s format, questions, sections, number of questions and scoring scales remain the same.
“This is like a lift-and-shift from a paper and pencil format to a tablet-based administration,” said Thomas.
November, January, March and June offer the last paper-and-pencil exams.
The LSAC will administer its first transition exam in July 2019. Half of the students taking the July test will be taking the traditional paper-based exam, and the other half will be taking the new tablet-based test.
Students won't know which format they'll take before arriving to the exam, and they'll be selected randomly.
July LSAT takers will have the unique opportunity to see their results before deciding whether or not they would like to cancel their scores.
“For this one administration, they can take the test, get their score and decide if that score gets reported to law school,” said Thomas. “Even though there is some anxiety around a new format for some test-takers, that offers a unique opportunity for students as a safety net.”
Thomas advises students who are anxious about the new format to attempt to take the exam by June before it changes to take full advantage of paper practice materials available. Additionally, he said students should take the July exam as a back-up since they'll be able to decide whether to send the scores or not.
The September 2019 LSAT exam will be the first fully digital exam.
“Now that I know that it is digital, maybe I could provide resources for Phi Alpha Delta members that can help them prepare to study for online exams or to help them see if there are other options, if there is someone that is seriously inhibited by staring at a computer screen for that long,” Robertson said.
Students preparing for the digital exam should continue to practice the same strategies they would use for the paper exam since the format and questions are the same, Thomas said. They will have to adjust to the test-taking logistics of the exam on the tablet device.
“I would say don’t be intimidated," Gunter said. "It’s still going to be testing the exact same information that it tested before — it’s just going to look different."
Kaplan Test Prep, as well as online organizations like Khan Academy, will provide opportunities for students to practice digitally.
“Ultimately, I think that this is a good move for test takers," Thomas said. "It is a student-friendly decision by the Law School Admissions Council. Like any change, it takes getting used to and there will be plenty of students who would prefer to just take the tried-and-true format, and we encourage that, but I wouldn’t say that students should be fearful of the change per-se.”
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