LSAT to go digital: What that means for test-takers

The tech revolution can put another notch in its server. The Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) is going digital.

This one took some time. The test that most law schools use to help judge a prospective student’s worthiness has been done by paper and pencil dating back to its origins, which was when Harry S. Truman was president.

Barack Obama? He did it on paper and pencil.

So did Geraldo Rivera. 

Name a lawyer … And he or she had to enter the exam room with sharpened No. 2 pencils at the ready. (The best one, according to a poll done by TopLawSchools, is the Black Ticonderoga. Sorry about the news, Black Ticonderoga.)

What will the change mean for prospective students? Well, the good news is that there is a transitional period. The new tablet-form LSAT test won’t be offered until July 2019, and only a portion of the test-takers will be tested in that form. (You can’t choose which one to take.)

There’s more good news. If you blow the test because you had problems adjusting to the new technology or simply had a bad case of LSAT-induced anxiety (it happens) you can toss the results, regardless of how you took the test. That’s the first time the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT, has allowed for such an option. Testers — if they felt they did poorly — have had the option to forgo the results before knowing them.

The digital form will be standard beginning with the September 2019 test.

“The structure of the test sections and test questions will not be any different than the paper-and-pencil LSAT, and we’ll be providing free online tutorials, so we don’t think test-takers will have any problems moving to the digital version,” said Kellye Testy, president and CEO of LSAC. “In our field tests, candidates found the Digital LSAT easy to use. That said, we wanted to provide additional options for those who register for our July transitional test.”

LSAC is also increasing the number of LSAT tests given in the 2019-2020 testing year from six to nine.

Test prep experts say the transition may be challenging for those who have prepared for a traditional pencil-and-paper exam. Kaplan, one of the nation’s leading exam prep companies, advises students to take the test by June 2019 and no later than July 2019.

"We do not think students should be overly concerned about the new format. But at the same time, we know there is always some anxiety when there is a test change,” said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep's executive director of pre-law programs. “It would behoove test takers to eliminate as much uncertainty as possible by taking the exam in its current format, the format they are familiar with, and the format for which there are exhaustive practice tools.”

Thomas noted that Kaplan, like students, will adjust.

“Kaplan will continue to work diligently to update our curriculum to reflect digital test-taking strategies and will be providing extensive practice tools for students who will be taking the LSAT in its new format.”

Among the changes is that testers will be given scrap paper for diagramming. In the past, scrap paper was not allowed, so test-takers did so in the exam’s open space.

Some law schools have moved from their reliance on the LSAT — at least partially. A number are now accepting Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores in lieu of the LSAT. The schools are hoping to get a broader range of applicants, particularly those who major in science and technology.

That test is done digitally.

That did not motivate LSAC to make this change, though. It began testing a digital version well before law schools started using the GRE as an alternative.

It offers a number of advantages, one of which is that results can come faster. So you’ll know whether Harvard Law School is a go or not much quicker.