The LSAT Experimental Section Explained

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In case you were unaware, there is one section of the LSAT that looks like the other scored sections of that exam, but it is unscored. You will never find out how you did on that section, and the questions will never be released. This is known as the Experimental Section.

It has been noted by more than a few test takers that the LSAT is difficult and stressful enough without taking an extra 35 minutes to be the unwitting subject of experimentation right in the middle of it. Couple that with the fact that you are literally paying them to experiment on you, and some people downright resent the Experimental. While I can’t make you like this section, I can at least explain what it is, why it’s important, and how to think about it. Spoiler alert, the answer to this last consideration is basically, “Don’t bother thinking about it.”

Why is there an Experimental Section?

The reason it’s called the Experimental Section is that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the people who craft the LSAT, are literally experimenting on you with those questions. We did a post a while back about “test equating,” which is the complicated, multi-step process by which LSAC “curves” the LSAT. I put that in quotation marks because test equating goes far beyond the garden variety test curve.

Without recapitulating everything in that article — which you should definitely read immediately after you finish this one — the most basic and important purpose of the Experimental Section is to gauge the difficulty of particular questions to be used on future exams. (It’s also used to identify possible problems/errors with questions that they can then fix or, alternatively, use as a basis to throw the question out entirely.)

Armed with each test taker’s score on the four real sections and their answers to the Experimental, LSAC now has everything they need to analyze those questions and compile them for future use. For example, if high scorers have difficulty with a question, that’s a toughie. If low scorers still do fairly well on a question, that’s an easy one. Since they do their best to make each LSAT about as hard as any other LSAT, knowing the mix of difficulty of these questions is crucial.

In short, your work on the experimental is nothing short of you helping out future test takers by allowing the test makers to craft the test.

What does the Experimental Section look like?

There are three section types on the exam Logical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Logic Games. Your score will be comprised of your performance on two Logical Reasoning sections, one Reading Comprehension section, and one Logic Games section. The Experimental Section is an extra section of one of these types of sections. Unfortunately, you won’t be told which one is the Experimental, and, unless you cheat — which Blueprint officially frowns upon — you won’t know until the exam is over.

In other words, while you are taking the Experimental Section, it won’t feel any different to you than taking another section of that type. Some people claim that they could tell when they took the Experimental Section because it seemed “too hard” or “too easy” or “weird” (whatever that means), but I have yet to meet anyone in all my years teaching this exam that was confident enough about a particular section being the experimental that they just took a 35-minute nap on one section. The makers of the LSAT may not feel that these particular questions are quite yet ready for primetime, but that doesn’t mean they’re throwing a bunch of garbage at you to see how you do. These questions are already carefully crafted based on the experience of decades of crafting LSAT questions.

The makers of the LSAT want you to not think about the Experimental Section (which they call the variable section), as evidenced by the near total lack of information about it on their website.

Where is it?

In the test booklet, dummy! Just kidding. For almost every LSAT to date, the Experimental Section was one of the first three sections. You get a ten-minute break after the first three sections, and then another two sections and a writing sample afterward. Strictly speaking, when you see a second Reading Comp or Logic Games section after the break, that means that the first one was the Experimental. If you see a third Logical Reasoning section, it means one of the first two Logical Reasoning sections was the Experimental. So you might be able to figure out which one it was before the test is over, but not before you’ve already completed it.

Once the test is over, it’s fairly easy to determine which one was the experimental by comparing notes with other test takers. The experimental section is always the same section number for all the test takers of that test administration. So, for a particular LSAT, it might be that section 2 is the Experimental. The other four sections will be the same variety for everyone, whereas section 2 will be Reading Comprehension for some, Logic Games for others, and Logical Reasoning for yet others. Here’s an example of what it might look like for two test takers if the Experimental is section 2:

Amy

1. Logical Reasoning
2. Reading Comprehension
3. Logic Games
4. Reading Comprehension
5. Logical Reasoning

Bob

1. Logical Reasoning
2. Logical Reasoning
3. Logic Games
4. Reading Comprehension
5. Logical Reasoning

In the above example, sections 1, 3, 4, and 5 were identical for Amy and Bob, and section 2 was an extra of a particular section type, Reading Comp for Amy and Logical Reasoning for Bob.

So, how do I prepare for the Experimental Section?

Well, strictly speaking, you don’t, not least because your performance on that section of the exam is irrelevant to your score. You won’t ever even know how you did. In a more meaningful sense though, you prepare for the Experimental Section by studying hard so that you do well on the real sections and needn’t ever worry which one was the Experimental.

It can be useful to know after the test which was the Experimental if you are considering canceling your score. If you felt very unhappy with your performance on just one section, and it was the Experimental, then go ahead and keep your score. If you felt uncomfortable with another section, you may need to bite the bullet, cancel, and retake.

Just know that the big, bad Experimental Section can’t hurt you.

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