The digital LSAT is coming! Make sure you know what to expect this July and beyond.
The Digital LSAT is essentially the LSAT you've grown to love (or hate), but delivered on a tablet that you're given at the test center rather than a paper-and-pencil test. The content and structure of the Digital LSAT test sections and questions will be exactly the same, and the test will be delivered on Microsoft Surface Go tablets that have been loaded with patented software developed by LSAC. The digital interface means no more filling in the bubbles on a separate answer sheet (three cheers!). The tablet will have a timer with a five-minute warning, and you'll be able to eliminate answers, highlight text, and flag questions you want to revisit later.
There are free online tutorials at https://familiar.lsac.org/, so anyone looking to test in July or beyond would be well-served to spend some serious time getting comfortable with the new platform and learning how to best approach it. We've talked at length about the format of the digital LSAT on our blog, so it might also be helpful to read our experience with this test so far.
There are a number of advantages associated with digital testing, for provider and student alike, ranging from frequency and ease of administration, to security safeguards, to immediacy of results. Just as LSAC is mindful of its test taking audience, so too is it aware of the other exams catering to its demographic. In particular the GRE, GMAT, and, to a lesser extent, MCAT, all three of which are taken on a computer. LSAC has been toying with the idea of computerized administrations for years, and began conducting pilot tests back in May of 2017. They tell us that over time the digital platform will speed up score delivery, and we can't wait for that feature to be rolled out!
LSAC will begin transitioning to a digital version of the LSAT starting with the July 2019 test, with a full switch to digital in September 2019. All remaining 2019 LSATs as well as all 10 LSATs in 2020 will be given on a tablet, with no paper option available. Note that this only applies to North American tests; international test takers will presumably have the familiar, paper-based exam available for a while longer.
LSAC is easing the transition by allowing anyone who tests in July, regardless of paper or tablet, to have the option of cancelling their score after seeing it upon score release! We've confirmed that this will only be for July 2019 test takers, but it's a rare opportunity to cancel only when you know with certainty that you didn't hit your target. So despite the seemingly arbitrary and mysterious nature of how the July test will be offered, it's something of a no-brainer to take it. Either you get the traditional paper test and have a perfectly transparent cancellation process available, or you get a digital test (which you'll have prepared for anyway) and the option to cancel after learning your results if you don't have a good experience (note that the results might take a bit longer than usual because they will be processing and comparing test results from two delivery methods). The cancellation will be on your official record, the same as any cancelled test is currently, but as we've discussed many times previously schools don't care about one or two cancellations when evaluating applications.
Here's a rundown of the tablet's functionality and other test day elements:
- When you arrive you are assigned a 10" touch-screen tablet that is matched to your LSAC account number (it even shows your uploaded LSAC pic on the screen at the start, the break, and briefly between sections), and you're given a sealed booklet of scratch paper about 14-16 pages (front/back) long. You're also given an ink pen with a stylus on the "eraser" end. The pen is to write on the scratch paper, and the stylus lets you control the tablet screen if you prefer that over touch.
- The tablet can either be kept flat on the desk, or you can use the attached kickstand to prop it up at an angle. You're not allowed to hold the tablet while you work though; it must remain on the desk at all times.
- Test proctoring is fully automated once the test begins, so the tablet controls when sections start and stop and what you're allowed to see. The real life proctor at your testing center can only initiate the test at section 1, and then restart the test at section 4 following the break.
- A countdown timer is displayed in the top right corner (I don't believe you can hide it, but that may change), and a large, manually-dismissed pop up occurs for the five-minute warning. This timer can be set to different times as needed for accommodated students.
- There is a Directions button in the top left that will display that section's directions, but there is absolutely no reason for a student to ever use it.
- Along the bottom of the screen is a view of the full question count for the section (divided accordingly in LG and RC to show the number of questions in each game and passage), showing what you've answered and left blank, and also showing any questions you've flagged (more on that shortly). This allows you to jump to an individual question instantly. Alternatively you can use the left and right arrows at the bottom to move one at a time.
- Adjustments can be made to a number of settings: brightness, text size, line spacing, colors (invert, grayscale, etc.), and so on. Text size, line spacing/separation, and brightness are always available on the main screen in the top menu.
- Each question is displayed individually on the tablet in a split-screen (left/right) format as follows:
- LR: Stimulus on the left; question and answers on the right
- LG: Scenario and rules on the left; question and answers on the right
- RC: Passage text on the left; question and answers on the right
- Both columns are scrollable if the text runs beyond the bottom of the screen, and RC has a toggle mode to change between a whole-passage view and a passage and question view (you can see this in the attached Accessibility picture). So students can read an RC passage in full screen mode (Passage Only) and save some scrolling, then revert to passage-on-the-left view to answer questions, if they choose.
- The tools available within each question are as follows:
- Underlining. Select the U icon up top and drag over text (with finger or stylus) to underline it in black. This can be performed on any text on the screen, whether prompt, or question, or answers.
- Highlighters. Same as underlining. Three colored highlighters—yellow, pink, orange—can be used to mark any text on the screen by selecting the desired color up top and the dragging over the text you wish to mark. I believe these may also work in reverse, where you can drag along the text to select it and then click the highlighter or underline icon, but I'm not certain about that.
- All of these marks remain in place even when you click to other screens, and must be manually removed if you wish them to disappear. To remove them there is an eraser tool up top, so you click it and then click the highlight/underline you wish to erase. (Again this process may change in the final software version next month; stay tuned)
- Inside the answers you can obviously select the letter you wish to submit by just tapping it, but you can also cross answers out by tapping the slashed-through letter to the right of each answer, or collapse the text of an answer with the ^ icon to the right of each answer. The collapse is particularly useful as it reduces answers to a single line and minimizes scrolling. I found myself using these in a hierarchy of confidence, so to speak: if I knew an answer was wrong I collapsed it, if I thought an answer was wrong I slashed it, if I thought it might be right I left it alone as a contender until the end when I'd then select it as my choice.
- Finally, next to each question stem is a flag icon to mark a question for later review. If you click it it turns blue on the question screen and also places a small flag symbol above that question number at the bottom of the screen.
- At the conclusion of the test tablets and scratch paper booklets are collected.
Starting with the June 2019 LSAT, the writing sample will no longer be administered at the end of the LSAT on test day. This is great news since it will shorten the LSAT day (an already stressful event). There are a lot of FAQ's on their site (https://www.lsac.org/lsat/taking-lsat/lsat-writing-faqs) so we recommend checking it out for yourself. Here are the main points:
- LSAC is calling it a “proctored, on-demand writing exam that is administered online using secure proctoring software that is installed on the candidate’s own computer” (starting with the June test).
- It’s still a 35-minute timed writing prompt using the same decision-prompt structure that current tests are using, but it’s not done immediately after the test (I can almost hear the collective sigh of relief from students!).
- Students can now complete the writing up to a year after they take the test, but their application will not be complete until it’s done.
- Candidates now only have to have 1 writing sample on file (even if it’s from a paper post-LSAT version). So re-takers do not have to submit a writing sample unless they want to. Schools will still receive the 3 most recent writing samples.
- Cost—if students WANT to take the writing sample (but there’s already one on file from a previous LSAT), they’ll have to pay $15.
- Scratch paper is still allowed, but you'll need to show the camera both sides of the paper (see security info below)
- Proctoring interface and software—LSAC said they plan to have a practice environment available in May. It will have common work processing functions (spell-check, cut/copy/paste) plus a font magnifier, line reader, and speech-to-text compatibility.
- Security…this part is so interesting (and a little creepy), so we're copying it directly from the LSAT FAQ page:
The secure proctoring platform uses input from the webcam, microphone, and screen of the candidate’s own computer to ensure that the writing sample is the candidate’s own work, and that the candidate is not receiving any inappropriate assistance.
Prior to the exam, candidates will complete a video check-in process. As part of that process, candidates will be required to display a government-issued ID to the camera, and show their workspace to ensure that only permissible items are in that space. Both sides of any scratch paper must be shown, and the room will be scanned to make sure no other people are in the room. Candidates who require additional items in their workspace due to a disability may seek appropriate accommodations through the standard procedures for requesting testing accommodations.
The proctoring software will automatically close any messaging, word-processing, or web-browsing applications before the exam begins and prevent such applications from being opened during the exam. Audio and video from every testing session will be reviewed by trained proctors.
Oh, and this, too..
Input from the candidate’s webcam and microphone will be recorded, as well as everything happening on the candidate’s screen during the exam. No videos or images from LSAT Writing will be shared with any law schools. However, audio and video data will be retained in a secure location for later review in the event of a misconduct investigation.
We are deep into the process of creating our own software to perfectly replicate LSAC's platform and the new digital testing experience, and will make it compatible across all devices and machines: desktops, laptops, smartphones, and of course tablets. That way students who don't have a tablet aren't forced to bear the additional expense of purchasing one just for test prep—the tablet LSAC is using is over $500, for example—as they can get acclimated on any machine or device they already own or have access to. Having full control of our own software also means we can update and upload any questions, problem sets, or full tests into it, fine-tune both the appearance and controls as needed, and give students a tremendous amount of content without having to worry about what LSAC makes available (and when). In short, we aren't relying on LSAC's decisions about content and access, as those are often quite limited and prohibitively expensive, but will be offering our students far more freedom and practice material, all as part of their course cost.
Similarly, we are creating an entire suite of supplemental, instructional videos in our Online Student Centers that outline precisely how the digital interface operates and what students can do to maximize its benefits and mitigate any negatives (doing logic games separately on scratch paper, for instance, is a chief concern for a lot of people, but we'll explain exactly how to tackle that change). We're also updating all of our course books and Bibles to match the look of the new platform, and provide further guidance on how to best succeed within it. And because we've been in the digital prep space longer than just about anyone else—we've been doing Live Online classes for remote, virtual learning for over 12 years now!—we're extremely well-positioned to help students make a smooth, comfortable transition from paper to tablet, and by late spring we'll have created the full set of resources to achieve just that.
LSAC also updates their FAQ page fairly regularly, so it's a good idea to check there too.
If you have questions for us, please email LSAT@powerscore.com, or call 800-545-1750.