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The LSAT will go fully digital starting this month


UNC junior political science and public policy major Joey Hannum studies for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) he's taking this winter.

Starting this September, tens of thousands of hopeful law students will take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) in a completely new format.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which distributes and administers the LSAT, announced last year students will take the test digitally beginning with a pilot test in July 2019.

Students will take the exam on Microsoft Surface Pro tablets provided at testing sites, as opposed to the traditional pencil-paper method. According to a press release by the LSAC, the new digital format is intended to ease the law school application process. 

Glen Stohr, senior manager of products for Kaplan Testing Prep, said the LSAT is one of the last of the major graduate school exams to “go digital.” Apart from the LSAT, Kaplan also provides testing preparation materials for assessments like the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The content of the test will remain the same, but Stohr said he hopes the use of tablets will allow for increased security, faster scoring results and more environmentally sustainable practices. He said despite a few problems, such as the tablets not being properly charged at one site, the feedback from students who took the exam digitally in July was mostly positive with regard to the actual interface. For the pilot exam, half the students took it digitally and half used pencil and paper. 

“I'm sure there were one or two things that was like, ‘Well, there's a good thing to learn, and we won't have that problem in the future,’” Stohr said. “But the big majority of sites that used the tablet in July, they were just error-free, it was just that the administration went off smoothly.” 

In particular, Stohr said unique features provided on the tablet, such as flagging and highlighting options, decrease the opportunities for manual error that come with traditionally bubbling answer sheets. The LSAC and Kaplan have developed materials for students that apply techniques and strategies for the digital format, but he strongly recommends students practice using a tablet prior to taking the exam.

Junior Joey Hannum, who is preparing to take the LSAT in December, said he finds the transition a little troubling. 

“It’s a kind of disadvantage to students that maybe don’t have access to a computer, or a reliable one, or a tablet that they can replicate the results and make sure that they understand how to use the format,” Hannum said. “I think that’s kind of frustrating because I think print resources are very standard, and you can’t really mess that up.” 

William Taylor, UNC assistant director of pre-graduate and pre-law advising, had similar concerns with regard to the LSAT changes. 

“There are some digital practice tests available, but not nearly as many as the multiple decades' worth of paper practice tests,” Taylor said. “Time will remedy this problem, but not quickly.”

Stohr said he would tell students to try out what works best for them. He said Kaplan intends to work closely with test-takers to help them better understand the digital shift.

“We always tell students that the test is not your enemy, the test is your opportunity to show the schools what you can really do,” Stohr said.

Similar to the undergraduate admissions process, UNC’s School of Law takes a holistic approach when reviewing applications, Assistant Dean for Admissions Bianca D. Mack said.

“If you perform really well on the LSAT, that's a great thing,” Mack said. “If you don't perform as well, but every other admissions factor that we’re considering is really strong, then you should be a competitive applicant as well.”

She said it’s still too early to fully understand the implications of the new change, especially since the September testing date will be the first time all LSAT test-takers use the digital format. 

“It’s so new that I think we just have to give it some time, and we'll learn more,” Mack said. “In a year from now, this could be very different.”

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