Courtesy of Cornell University

The LSAT has switched to a digital format.

September 22, 2019

LSAT Goes Digital, Students Faced Canceled Tests and Raise Accessibility Concerns

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The Law School Admissions Test has officially transitioned to a fully digital exam as of the Sept. 21 exam, joining the ranks of other graduate admissions exams.

The digital exam is now administered on a tablet — provided by the Law School Admissions Council, who runs the test. While the digital version will allow the LSAC to administer more exams, deliver scores faster and provide better accommodations, some students worry about its potential inaccessibility and administrative hiccups.

“Historically, [the LSAT] has been the only diagnostic exam that law schools accept for admission,” said Monica Ingram, Associate Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Cornell Law School. “There is a lot riding on it; there is a lot of anxiety about it.”

Recently, Cornell Law School launched a pilot program to accept the GRE in place of the LSAT, joining peer institutions such as Harvard, Ingram said. However, all LSAT scores are released to the law schools students have applied to, per LSAC rules.

For the September test, many Cornell students had to travel to Binghamton because all the spots at the Ithaca location had filled — including President of Black Ivy Pre-Law Society Lynn-Saskya Toussaint ’20, whose friend had to drive her to the testing location at 6:30 a.m. merely to ensure that she would arrive on time, she told The Sun. Another Cornell student spent over $100 taking an Uber, according to Toussaint.

But the new digital exam also presented more issues than LSAC had accounted for, Toussaint said. While nine locations around the country canceled their tests, she was optimistic about her own because it had not been cancelled.

Throughout the test, she felt confident, but was thrown off when the test proctors announced that they had lost connection to the wifi after the fourth test section.

Eventually, the proctors dismissed the students before having a chance to complete the final section, without any further information or clarity about next steps.

“I was distraught,” Toussaint explained. “Certain people got really upset. There was one individual who was crying. People prepare for months for this exam, and their future is on the line.”

Toussaint was frustrated because she had taken off work to take the LSAT and was planning on this being her final try before moving on to the admissions process. She took the paper version in July.

After the exam, she said test takers received apologies from LSAC in an email, but no real answers. When she called, they said reimbursements weren’t likely, and they couldn’t provide any more information about when or where her rescheduled exam would be or what sections she would need to retake.

“At the homestretch, I feel like all of it was wasted,” Toussaint said. “While the exam is three hours long, the preparation for it takes months.”

The changes to the LSAT began in July, when half of the test takers randomly received the digital exam for the first time, while the rest took the traditional paper-and-pencil format.

“The content is not changing,” said Glen Stohr, Kaplan Test Prep’s senior manager for instructional design. The LSAT teacher of 23 years recently published a book about the new digital LSAT.

“It’s the same question type, it’s the same number of questions,” he said. “The strategies and skills you’ve learned continue to apply … If you have been practicing with paper, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

For Stohr, the format changes are positives.

The digital LSAT will allow the LSAC will now be able to more than double their usual four test dates. It will also offer better accessibility options, such as larger text, brightness adjustment and color filters or grayscale. Stohr was also optimistic about the interface tools to highlight text, flag questions, deselect eliminated multiple choice answers and keep track of time.

Many pre-law students on campus use various external live courses, such as Kaplan and TestMasters to prepare. Different pre-law organizations on campus often offer deals to their members to help decrease the accessibility gap to law school.

However, not everyone has access to extensive prep materials, beyond the three provided official practice tests from LSAC. This poses significant disadvantages, according to some students.

“I think that the LSAT is already a pretty significant barrier to law school,” said Nick Shepard ’20, new member educator of Kappa Alpha Pi — a professional pre-law fraternity. “It’s like the ACT or the SAT: if you have the resources to shell out a lot of money to go and take these prep courses, you’re going to do better.”

“It makes it harder for individuals who don’t have those resources to simulate the test environment,” Toussaint said. “Not everyone is going to have a tablet, not everyone is going to have the resources to simulate the exact conditions anymore.”

“The LSAT is a test that you want to reduce the amount of variability you experience on the day of the test,” said Ishan Sharma ’20, president of KAPi.

Yet, the LSAC assures that the digital LSAT is “very easy to use,” and that because the structure of the test sections and questions will not change, the scores should have no preferencial difference.