New LSAT format prompts mixed reviews from students

New LSAT format prompts mixed reviews from students

Photo Credits: KATHERINE FRANKS / AGGIE

Digitalization of the test allows for additional test dates, reduces paper waste

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) announced that the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) would change to a digital format in Oct. of 2018 — this was partially implemented in July of 2019 and fully implemented for the most recent Sept. 21, 2019 test. This change came with the news that there would be an increase in opportunities to take the exam — in previous years, there were only four annual administrations and now there are nine. 

Glen Stohr, a Kaplan LSAT instructor for over 20 years and the company’s senior manager for instructional design, openly supports this switch, saying it comes as a huge benefit to test-takers. 

“That’s really helpful for students,” Stohr said. “In the old world, if you decided in June, ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for this,’ then you had to wait until October, and that’s a big decision to make. Now, if you think, ‘I’m not 100% ready for June, but I’m going to be ready for July or September,’ that is a lot better.”

Stohr also emphasized that some testing accommodations, including printing tests with larger fonts for visually impaired test-takers, could be resolved by virtue of having features such as the ability to change the font size on the tablet. 

The new digital organization comes with one obvious benefit which everyone might be able to agree upon: it’s more environmentally friendly. Over 130,000 people took the LSAT between June 2018 and March 2019, which resulted in a hefty amount of paper waste. 

“I’m sure that one of the things that makes [nine test administrations] possible is the change to digital,” Stohr said. “With paper and pencil, you had to print and ship tens of thousands of booklets, had to collect tens of thousands of papers back. The tablets are reusable, of course, which is environmentally good too. You’re not just printing up tens of thousands of booklets on paper.”

Stohr says it is important to reassure test takers that the content of the exam itself remains unchanged and that the time students spent studying paper exams or using a pencil and paper did not go to waste. 

Second-year philosophy major and prospective lawyer Susmita Bagchi does not foresee any detrimental effects associated with the changed format. She plans to take the test in the summer of 2021, using personal textbooks and prep courses to study. 

“I don’t think the [digitalization] will really affect me as a test taker for the logic games and most other questions,” Bagchi said. “I feel like the biggest impact it would have is on the essay portions.”  

Jamie Cliff, a fourth-year psychology and sociology double major, disagrees. Cliff, who is also president of the pre-law association at UC Davis, took the first ever fully-digital exam last month in September. She says she prefers the old format and said her experience was not ideal.

“At my test location, the proctors were unprofessional and laughing,” Cliff said. “It took them an hour to get everything set up. And they were saying, ‘We’ve never administered it this way before,’ which I get, but don’t tell everyone that. And it’s frustrating that you have a stylus for the screen and then a separate pen for a piece of paper. I am very much a tactile person, so I like to be able to touch and feel paper and books. It worked well, but I would just prefer the old-school way.” 

Cliff did admit, however, that the change may not entirely be for the worst. 

“But, people hate change always,” Cliff said. “Change is a constant, and people are always going to complain about it.”

Second-year law student and pre-law advisor Montserrat Garcia-Juarez said the LSAT was a challenge when she took it because it was unlike any standardized test she had taken before. She thinks that the change in the test-taking experience might be difficult or troublesome.

“I’m all for saving paper,” Garcia-Juarez said via email. “But I can foresee difficulties arising, just since technology is not infallible.”

Cloe Le Gall-Scoville, the coordinator for pre-grad and pre-law advising services, added that she has heard about some problems surrounding the first test since the shift.

“I have heard from a couple of students who took the Sept. 21 test, as well as from other pre-law advisors, that there have been technical difficulties,” Le Gall-Scoville said via email. “Students should be prepared for issues to arise during the first few all-digital LSAT tests.”

Third-year history major Hamza Ahmadzai realized that he was interested in pursuing law after a summer internship as a court runner at a law firm. He plans to take the LSAT either in the summer of 2020 or 2021, but he is also open to taking a year off to complete another internship and study more for the LSAT in order to be a more competitive applicant to law schools. He says he doesn’t see many issues with the digitalization.

“I believe the biggest benefit is that test results will be returned to the test takers much quicker than with the traditional paper and pen method,” Ahmadzai said. “The only drawback that I can see is that the test may be more difficult for people who were not raised using computers, smartphones and other digital [devices]. I do like the change to a digital format because I will be able to receive my test results quicker, but only time will tell regarding the overall consensus of the new test format.” 

Even before the July test, LSAC released a digital practice tool, and Stohr had some of Kaplan’s top teachers — who score in the 95th to 99th percentile every time they take the LSAT — independently try out the tool to compare strategies and tactics. He compiled some of that information into an ebook, which highlights the importance of preparing for the test with digital tools to help with the test-taking experience. 

“I think the most important thing for students, in terms of the digital test, is just that on test day, you’re not thinking about how the test is administered,” Stohr said. “You’re just thinking about the test content. And so, having trained or having already decided, ‘I want to make the font size bigger, I’m going to use the yellow highlighter for this,’ and having that sort of comfort of testing, you’re not thinking about the tablet, you’re just thinking about the test.”

Written by: Anjini Venugopal — features@theaggie.org