Digital LSAT: Facts vs. Fiction

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Maybe you’ve heard, but the LSAT is going digital this year. I mean, you’ve probably heard this, right? LSAC has certainly done its due diligence publicizing this change. This blog, for one, has discussed this upcoming change a lot, as have many others. We even have a whole FAQ on this blog, link available to on the top of this page, labeled clearly as “DIGTIAL LSAT FAQ” — unless you’re reading this on your phone, in which case you can access that FAQ by pressing on the three horizontal line segments on the top right-hand corner of your screen.

The point is, there’s a lot of information on the digital LSAT now. If you’re taking the LSAT in 2019, you should know that this year, a test once defined by the graphite powder residue left on answer sheets by your trusty no. 2 wooden pencils will become a test defined by the sequences of 1s and 0s that signal a certain selection was made with a stylus that test administrators leant to you. You should know that the first digital version of the test will be administered in July 2019, but will only be administered to roughly half of the July 2019 test takers. You should know that the LSAT will become permanently digital in September 2019.

And yet, still, many of you don’t know this. Or, you know only in very a general sense that the LSAT is going digital — you know the broad outlines of the change, but haven’t quite nailed down the specifics. Or, worse still, you have certain misconceptions about the forthcoming digital test. I know some of you don’t know about the digital LSAT, because I talk with a lot of people who take the LSAT this year, and I’ve been surprised by the number of you aren’t aware of what we in the LSAT biz consider a “seismic” shift.

I can’t blame you, though. You have a rich and full life — tracking the vicissitudes of a standardized test isn’t high on the old priority list. So you’ve maybe relied on what you’ve heard from your law school-bound peers. And they’re relying on what they’ve heard from some unknown sources, and who knows where those sources got their info. This game of telephone happens for many aspects of the law school admissions process. It’s why the misconception that law schools average multiple LSAT scores persists today, for instance. And I think it’s why so many have missed the memo that the LSAT is going digital, or only got part of that memo, or got a completely misconstrued version of that memo.

So, let’s discuss the LSAT doing digital, once more. And let’s separate the facts from the fiction, to make sure you aren’t left with any misconceptions.

FACT: The LSAT is Going Digital LSAT in July 2019

This is true! As we’ve mentioned before, the LSAT will switch its format in July 2019. In July, all test test takers will be given the same exam, but about half of all test takers will be given that exam in its swanky new digital format. The other half will be given the dull, old paper-and-pencil test. Then, in September 2019 the LSAT is going permanently digital. That test, and every subsequent exam, will only be given in its digital format.

The digital test will be given on Microsoft Surface Go tablets, proudly mounted an adjustable stand LSAC provides. The test software was developed for the LSAT specifically, and will allow test takers to underline or highlight the text (and in multiple colors!), adjust the text size, screen brightness, line spacing, and cetera. Test takers will make their answer choice selections on the tablet, and can jump back and forth between questions at their pleasure. A stylus will be provided by LSAT to help test takers operate the software. A preview of the digital software is available here.

FICTION: The Digital LSAT Will Be Harder/Easier than the Traditional LSAT

The digital LSAT won’t be any different than the current LSAT, other than the fact that you’re using a tablet and stylus, and not a test booklet and pencil. Only the delivery system is changing. LSAC says that the “content and structure” of the LSAT will remain unchanged. So there will still be four scored multiple-choice sections, thiry-five minutes each. There will still be two Logical Reasoning sections, one Reading Comp section, and one Logic Game section, with one unscored “experimental” section thrown in for good measure.

Sure, there will be some changes with the format switch. You won’t have to bubble in your selections on an answer sheet, which will save a little time. You’ll get to quickly access whichever questions you’d like to look at, without having to flip through multiple pages in your test booklet, which might also save a little time. But most of your work will be done on scratch paper, forcing you to look at both your tablet screen and the scratch paper. That may take a little more time than just looking at your work in your test booklet on the old paper exam. In all, we anticipate that these pros and cons of the digital test will just about balance out.

And, by the way, the reason LSAC is making half the July test takers take the traditional paper-and-pencil test is to ensure that the digital test is no easier or more difficult than the traditional test. Essentially, before the permanent digital shift is made, LSAC needs to have a test in which a group of people takes the digital LSAT and another group takes the same exam in its traditional format, to make sure that the scores earned by the two groups aren’t meaningfully different. If the scores earned by the groups are meaningfully different, expect LSAC to make the needed adjustments.

The questions you’ll get on the digital exam will also be the same as the questions that were asked on the traditional exam. So whatever strategies and methodologies you’re studying right now will also help you on the digital exam.

FACT: You’ll Be Given Scratch Paper to Work With

Yep. LSAC, in its beneficence, will give test takers scratch paper. This, believe it or not, was a luxury not afforded to those who took the test in its traditional paper-and-pencil format. Those unlucky souls had to do all of their work in the margins of their test booklet, which was especially difficult when they used to jam the whole Logic Games section onto four pages. But, since digital test takers won’t be able to write with their stylus, LSAC will provide scratch paper and a pen to allow test takers diagram conditional statements, map out logic games, and make notes for Reading Comp.

FICTION: You’ll Get Your Score Back Instantaneously

Unfortunately, no. The interminable period between test day and grey day (AKA score release day) will still remain a roughly three-week affair. For every test, digital or not, LSAC needs to process and analyze test takers’ raw scores in order to scale the exam. That takes time no matter the test format, so it’s still going to take a few weeks to get your score back.

In fact, LSAC has suggested scores for the July 2019 exam may take even longer to come out, since processing and comparing the scores from the two different formats “will take additional time.” Fortunately, those who survive the elongated wait for the July test will get a reward. They get to decide if they want to cancel their score after receiving it. And, those who do decide to cancel their July score will get to retake the test one time, free of charge, for any LSAT administered through April 2020. Some things are worth the wait, apparently.

FACT: The Writing Sample Will No Longer Be on Test Day

This is technically a change that’s occurring with the June 2019 exam, but it’s worth mentioning nonetheless. Instead of having to spend an extra thirty-five minutes in your test center risking carpal tunnel syndrome handwriting your response to the writing sample, you’ll now get to complete the writing sample at home, on your own time, after the exam. Plus, you’ll get to type out your response to the writing sample. Moreover, you only have to do the writing sample once, rather than retake it every time you take the LSAT. It’s a pretty sweet change for 2019.

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