July LSAT takers: where were you on February 8, 2014? Maybe this was a simpler, pre-LSAT time in your life, and you were trying to figure out the newfangled “Stories” feature on Snapchat, while listening to Katy Perry and Juicy J’s “Dark Horse,” on your way to see the surprisingly good The Lego Movie, after watching the opening ceremonies to the twenty-second Winter Olympics games in Sochi? Or maybe, on the other hand, you were taking the February 2014 LSAT. If you were in the second camp, some may say you had an advantage over your social media-using, trap-pop-listening, Scandinavian toy-movie-watching, winter-sport-viewing counterparts.
Or, where were you in September 2017? Were you wondering how anyone could possibly enjoy that dreadful new Taylor Swift single that was skyrocketing up the charts, but mounting a defense of the scary clown movie to your friends? Or were you among fellow chosen ones who observe the Sabbath on Saturday, taking the LSAT given on Sundays for the folks of your stripe? If you were in the latter group, some may say you had a sizable advantage over your gentile peers.
That’s because the test LSAC gave out yesterday on July 23, 2018 was — as had been widely suspected — was simply an old “nondisclosed” test. Specifically, the old February 2014 test. This test was also administered to Saturday Sabbath observers in September 2017. So I guess the intrepid folks who thought they were signing up for something brand new with the July LSAT were actually just exploring well-worn ground.
But this shouldn’t be that surprising — in fact, reusing “nondisclosed” exams is precisely why LSAC makes some exams “nondisclosed” in the first place. When LSAC announced — sort of last minute — that it would add a July exam after already expanding the number of LSATs administered each year, it wasn’t like they could suddenly hire way more qualified psychometricians to devise, test, and equate three more exams each year. It would be so much cheaper and easier to simply draw from the well of old February exams. So it’s understandable that they would do this. For years, this is what they’ve done for Saturday Sabbath observers, for people who had to take the test on a different day because of an emergency at the test center, and for international test takers (allegedly, this February 2014 test was used for test takers in Asia in September 2016, as well).
Now, it is a little bold to re-use the same test maybe four times in the span of just over four years. And, if you had a hard time with the July test — like a lot of people reportedly did — you may be worried that a group of test takers who already took the exam when it was first administered were given a distinct advantage. Maybe so much of an advantage that it could affect the curve of this exam, and your chances of scoring well. But honestly, how many people took the February 2014 and then the July exam yesterday? Almost no one spends almost four-and-a-half-years studying for the LSAT.
Even if someone did, what are the odds that they remembered anything specific or helpful about that test? Can remember any specific Snapchat Story you made in 2014? Can you repeat a single line Juicy J rapped in “Dark Horse”? What was the name of the main character in The Lego Movie? You’d have to admit that those should be more memorable pieces of cultural ephemera than an LSAT. And if you can’t remember those, there’s no way someone who took a four-hour test — and never saw that test again — would have a strong enough memory to greatly benefit from taking the test once.
The Sabbath test takers from September 2017 and the test takers in Asia from September 2016 took the test more recently, true, but how many of them retook the July test? LSAC, as far as I can tell, doesn’t publish the number of tests administered to people who observe Saturday Sabbath, but it did publish the total number of exams administered in Asia in the 2016-17 LSAT “year.” In that year, there were a total of 2,286 test takers in Asia. That’s about 2.6% of all test takers that year. Typically about a third of all test takers take the exam in September. So let’s assume that about 762 people took the September exam in Asia. Even if everyone who took the exam in Asia in September 2016 also took the July test in North America this year and even if they remembered enough from the September 2016 exam to have a distinct advantage — two “ifs” that are roughly the size of the Asian continent itself — they would still represent only about 4.7% of the 16,338 people who were registered to take the July test. They would have at most a negligible effect on the curve.
So … yes, LSAC got a little lazy and re-used a test. And unfortunately they re-used what was previously considered to be a particularly difficult exam. But fortunately, I don’t think the former is going to influence the latter. In other words, I don’t think the fact that this test has been administered before made this test any less difficult for anyone. So I would expect the curve to very forgiving — potentially allowing test takers to miss as many as 13 questions and still earn a 170. And I don’t think the fact that maybe a handful of the July test takers already saw the exam is going to change that fact.
But it was a difficult test by all accounts, so let’s go over what we’re hearing about it, section-by-section.
We almost never get a clear picture of a Logical Reasoning section immediately after the test, for understandable reasons. Test takers are inundated with 51 short questions (sometimes as many as 77 if they get a third LR section as the experimental section), about all manner of topics. It’s tough to remember anything about these sections, other than maybe a fleeting memory of an errant question or two.
We’ve heard tales of questions about fossilized birds and dinosaurs, about Chinese coins and Quebecois cards, and about shrimp economics. So you know, just the classic topics we all know about and read about all the time. It’s tough to gather anything specific about question distribution, though.
For the Reading Comprehension section, the first passage was about the effect of French Revolution on women’s rights — a topic the LSAT has covered before, way back in October 2001. We’re hearing the second passage was the comparative passage about the aesthetics of viewing sports — whether we appreciate athletes in the same way we appreciate works of art. Does the violence Russell Westbrook inflicts upon a rim inspire us in the same way that violence Jackson Pollack inflicted upon a canvas?* The third passage was a physics passage about Karl Popper and “theories of everything.” This passage is the consensus pick for the most-difficult passage. It was dense, but not impossible for most test takers. In all likelihood, test takers who took the time to understand the most important parts of the passage — like the number of arguments and the author’s role — but didn’t waste time trying to develop a theory of “everything” in the passage — had the easiest time with it. Finally, there was a passage about Belizean common law and its effect on indigenous Belizeans’ rights. A passage about indigenous peoples’ rights on the LSAT? Not exactly an un-Belize-able development.
*As an aside, I really wish I could have seen this passage — as a lifelong skateboarder, I have a lot of experience with this topic, since analyzing other skaters’ tricks in aesthetic terms is pretty much all we do. We assess the style with which they perform their tricks, their ‘fits, the spots they chose to skate at. There’s even an art historian and curator who runs a popular Instagram account where he analyzes skaters’ clips with the same exacting, and brutal, terms he would bring to bear upon work of art. It’s tough to imagine a passage more squarely in my (polyurethane) wheelhouse.
Finally, Logic Games, which colored pretty much everyone’s opinion of this exam. This was a hard logic games section, by all accounts. These games were time consuming and difficult, according to most people. Most of all, the third and fourth games.
The third game involved five art instillations, installed over the period of three months. So it’s like an overbooked ordering game, wherein some months will feature more than one art installation. But then there was another variable thrown in — whether the installations would be supervised or not — that necessitated the construction of another tier. So it sounds like it was an overbooked tiered ordered game, which is a rare — and difficult — combination.
The fourth game was a seldom-seen circular ordering game, last observed in 2003. You know, those games where a group of people are sitting around a circular table, where the last person is still next to the first person, making the game annoyingly complicated? In this version of that fun ditty, we had delegates and translators sitting around table, and it sounds like the game mostly involved figuring out whom each delegate or translator could sit between.
These two games, taken together, made a lot of people feel like the test went poorly. Games have a way of coloring your perception of a test, more than any other part of the LSAT. They’re the most memorable parts of the exam, and you typically know, as you’re doing a game, whether it’s going really well or really poorly. But you should also be aware that one or two games won’t necessarily have a devastating effect on your score. Two games may have as few as 11 or 12 questions between them. Which is just a little over 10% of a scored LSAT. Not a small chunk of the LSAT, to be sure, but they shouldn’t be the only things you think about when you assess your performance, when you’re deciding whether or not to cancel. Especially if you nail the other two games — which in this exam were about city workers and grouping players into departments at a store.
So this wasn’t a new LSAT, but that didn’t make it any less difficult for many test takers. If you were among those who felt great about it, take a well-deserved victory lap. If you feel like it didn’t go well, you still have a few options.
First, you may be considering whether to cancel your score. LSAC’s official cancellation policy can be read here. According to LSAC, you have until 11:59 pm EDT on the sixth day after the exam to cancel using your LSAC account. To translate that out of unintelligible bureaucratese for your poor, fried brain, you have until Sunday at 11:59 pm Eastern to cancel. Sleep on it. Heck, take the next few days to think it through. Take a look at this video, if you need a little help.
Before canceling, you should also be aware that nearly every law school will simply use your highest LSAT when constructing your academic index, or whatever calculation it uses to assess you as an applicant. Now, schools will see every score you got on the LSAT; however, the vast majority of schools won’t hold having multiple LSAT scores against you to a significant extent. For most test takers, our recommendation is to choose to receive your score, just on the chance that you’ll be happy enough to with the score that you don’t have to study for the next exam.
Second, LSAC announced a a new policy for July test takers who signed up for the September exam as well. For those test takers, LSAC is offering a full refund of the September registration fee if they decide they don’t need to take September test after receiving their July scores. To take advantage of this refund, you just need to email LSAC by August 17. Scores are due out on August 10, so you’ll have a week to make that decision. However, if you cancel your July score, you won’t be eligible for this refund.
So congratulations to all who finished this July LSAT, the brand new test that wasn’t at all new. We hope at the very least, you are enjoying a break from the LSAT. If you decide you need to take it again, we’ll be here to help.