The digital LSAT is coming! Make sure you know what to expect this July and beyond.
What is the Digital LSAT?
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 test sections and questions will be exactly the same. The main difference is that 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 features a timer with a 5-minute warning and you’ll be able to interact with the test. Most notably, you’ll be able to eliminate answers, highlight text, and flag questions you want to revisit later.
There are free online tutorials on LSAC’s website. Anyone looking to take the digital test would be well-served to spend some serious time getting comfortable with the new platform and how to approach it. We’ve talked in length about the format of the digital LSAT, so it might be helpful to read our experience so far.
Why is LSAC Making This Change?
There are a number of advantages associated with digital testing, for provider and student alike. The benefits range from frequency and ease of administration, to security safeguards, to immediacy of results. Just as LSAC is mindful of its test taking audience, it’s 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!
When Will the Digital LSAT Be Offered?
LSAC is beginning the transition starting with the July 2019 test followed by a full switch to digital in September 2019. All remaining 2019 LSATs as well as 10 tests 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.
Why Would You Want to Deal with the Uncertainty of the July Test Format?
LSAC is easing the transition for anyone taking the test in July. Regardless of paper or tablet, July test takers will have the option of cancelling their score after seeing it upon release! We’ve confirmed that this is only an option for July 2019 test takers. It’s a rare opportunity to cancel only when you know with certainty that you didn’t hit your target. 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. There are two scenarios at play here.
- You receive the traditional paper test and have a perfectly transparent cancellation process available.
- You get a digital test, which you’ll have prepare for anyway, with the option to cancel after learning your result.
The cancellation will be on your official record, but this is the same as any cancelled test. As we’ve reiterated, schools don’t care about 1-2 cancellations when evaluating applications. One thing to note is that results might take a bit longer than usual to come in. This is because they will be processing and comparing test results from 2 delivery methods.
What Will it Be Like to Take the LSAT on a Tablet?
Here’s a rundown of the tablet’s functionality and other test day elements:
Taking the Test
- You are assigned a 10″ touch-screen tablet that is matched to your LSAC account number. It’ll even show your uploaded LSAC picture on the screen at the start, break, and briefly between sections. You’re given a sealed booklet of scratch paper about 14-16 pages long front-to-back. 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–it must remain on the desk at all times.
- Test proctoring is fully automated once the test begins. 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 as section 4, following the break.
- At the conclusion of the test, the tablets and scratch paper booklets are collected.
Controls, Menu Options, and Format
- A countdown timer is displayed in the top right corner. Presently, you aren’t able to hide it, but that may change. A large, manually-dismissed pop up occurs for the five-minute warning. The 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 use it.
- Along the bottom of the screen is a view of the full question count for the section divided accordingly in Logic Games and Reading Comprehension to show the number of questions in each game and passage. It shows what you’ve answered and left blank as well as any questions you’ve flagged. 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, etc. Text size, line spacing/separatation, and brightness are always available on the main screen at the top menu.
- Each question is displayed individually on the tablet in a split-screen (left/right) format as follows:
- Logical Reasoning: Stimulus on the left; answers on the right
- Logic Games: Scenario and rules on the left; question and answers on the right
- Reading Comprehension: Passage text on the left; question and answers on the right
- Both columns are scroll-able if the text runs beyond the bottom of the screen. Reading Comprehension has a toggle mode to change between a whole-passage view and a passage and question view. This allows students to read an RC passage in full-screen mode and to save on some scrolling then revert to the original format to view the answer questions.
What Tools Do I Have on the Tablet?
- 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.
- Highlighters: Same as underlining. Three highlighters–yellow, pink, orange–can be used to mark any text. Select the desired color and drag over the text you wish to mark.
- Flagging: 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 places a small flag symbol above that question number at the bottom of the screen.
- Eraser: All of the marks you make remain in place even when you click to other screens. They must be manually removed if you want them to disappear. To remove them, click the eraser tool from the toolbar then click the underline/highlight you wish to erase. Note this process my change in the final software version… stay tuned.
- Crossing Out Answers: inside the answers, you can obviously select the letter you wish to submit by tapping it. But, you can also cross answers out by tapping the slashed-through letter to the right of each answer. You’re also able to 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. You can use these in a hierarchy of confidence, so to speak. If you know an answer is wrong, collapse it. If you think an answer is wrong, slash through it so it can legible and left for consideration.
What About the Writing Sample?
This is the latest from LSAC:
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. We’ll share a couple of details below, though, including the interesting details about test security.
This is the latest from LSAC:
LSAT Writing will use the same decision-prompt structure that candidates and schools are already familiar with from previous LSAT administrations. This structure is specifically designed to elicit the kind of argumentative writing that candidates will be expected to produce in law school. Candidates will still be given 35 minutes to write an essay in response to the prompt with which they are presented.
How is test security managed for the LSAT Writing?
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.
How Will PowerScore’s LSAT Courses Change to Accommodate This New Format?
We are deep in 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.
Additional Resources Online
Similarly, we are creating an entire suite of supplemental, instructional videos in our Online Student Centers. They will 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. We’ll explain exactly how to tackle that change).
Updated Publication Materials
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.
We Did it First
We’ve been in the digital prep space longer than just about anyone else. Our Live Online classes for remote, virtual learning has been around for over 12 years now! We are 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.
Where Can I Get More Information?
Our LSAT Blog (you are here!) and the PowerScore LSAT PodCast will be updated with new information as soon as it is announced by LSAC with a full analysis from our experts. Make sure to subscribe to both!
LSAC also updated their FAQ page fairly regularly, so it’s a good idea to check there, too.
If you have any questions for us, please email LSAT@PowerScore.com, or call 800-545-1750