A foul-mouthed, cell phone chatting proctor who tells students she hates lawyers would probably be a Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) test taker’s nightmare, but at City University of New York (CUNY) Brooklyn College it was an uncomfortable reality for several students.
A study by Kaplan Test Prep documenting students’ LSAT and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) experiences was released recently, showing that test taking conditions often vary widely from test site to test site.
The survey, called the “2002 Test Site Rater,” consists of the responses of Kaplan students to questions assessing satisfaction with their proctor, “quiet and comfort” and “overall experience.” Responses were graded on a one-five scale and each of the 261 LSAT and 192 MCAT sites were ranked according to these responses. More than 5,000 test takers participated in the LSAT survey and the data for the MCAT rankings was based on the responses of 2,124 students.
Ivy League schools did no better in the rankings than any of the other colleges and universities. In the LSAT rankings, Columbia University was the only Ivy to rank above 87, placing at 16. Cornell ranked 143, well behind Columbia but still far outpacing the University of Pennsylvania Law School, which was ranked at a dismal 252.
In terms of MCAT test sites, Cornell fared considerably better, coming in at 24. The only other Ivy League school in the top 50 was Harvard Law School, at 48.
According to Justin Serrano, executive director of Kaplan Test Prep, the conditions under which these tests are taken are very important in determining the value of such tests as indicators of students’ knowledge.
“The validity of standardized tests rests on standardized testing conditions,” he said.
Serrano detailed several problems students taking the LSAT in October faced at Cornell. For one, the intended test site was “overbooked” and students whose last names began with “A” were forced to take the test in an engineering building where the desks were reportedly so small that students had to balance test booklets on their knees as they filled out the multiple choice answers on their desks.
Additionally, due to the timing of the LSAT, which took place on an October afternoon, a Cornell football game was in progress and, as a result of the test site location, test takers could here the Big Red Marching Band, described by one student as “a very loud ambient noise.”
Conditions like these are problematic because “arguably you had two sets of students taking a standardized test under very different conditions,” Serrano said.
Justin Krieger ’03, who took the LSAT at Cornell, expressed some dissatisfaction with his test taking experience.
“Everything was fine until a girl’s cell phone went off. It was frustrating. They’re supposed to make a big deal about that stuff. Everyone in the room looked up,” Krieger said.
Burt Weiss ’04, who took the MCAT exam in Statler Hall, was more positive. “It was fine. It was a pretty good experience. I actually knew the proctor randomly.”
Serrano believes that both individual universities and students can take simple measures to ensure a more positive testing environment. Universities and colleges should pay special attention to the location itself to avoid such situations as that experienced at Cornell during the LSATs. Desk size is also important. Room temperature is another frequently problematic factor, since some students complained that the rooms were so hot that their answers were smudged by their hands, according to Serrano.
Kaplan could not determine the degree to which testing conditions affected students’ scores on the exams because they lacked access to score data. The results of the Kaplan study are being made available to the makers of both the MCAT and LSAT.
Archived article by Daniel Palmadesso