The Future of the LSAT - Part 1

    LSAT Prep

    230461728_454833a9e7_bThere's a natural tendency among test takers, and those who guide them, to speculate on what the future holds for the exam they face. This makes sense, as it's an undeniable truth that tests change. To name but a few examples, the GRE underwent a major revision in August 2011, the GMAT saw subtle but critical changes in June 2012, and the SAT is on the brink of the second massive revamp in just the past decade. The LSAT too is an ever-evolving creation, and arguably due for an overhaul.

    What I'd like to do here is discuss that evolution in two parts, exploring the path that's led us to the present, and then considering where the journey may take us in the years to come. Let's begin at, well, the beginning, as I highlight what I consider to be the most notable moments in LSAT history:

    • February 1948. The LSAT is born. This marked the first official administration of the LSAT, an exam marketed to law schools as an objective measure of candidate ability and predictor of first year success. Offered as an all-day exam, the LSAT had 10 total sections with 9 different question types. There's an incredibly (overly?) comprehensive analysis of the LSAT's genesis here if you're curious about its humble beginnings.
    • 1965-1970. Test taker numbers grow prolifically, from 44,900 in 1965 to 107,500 in 1970 (a volume nearly identical to that of recent years, although numbers were significantly higher in the 2000s). The LSAT has officially arrived.
    • 1981-1982. This was the timeframe during which LSAC took over full authorship of the LSAT, a test previously crafted by ETS (the group responsible for today's SAT and GRE). In June 1982 the scoring scale was changed from 200-800, numbers no doubt familiar to former SAT students, to a scale of 10-48. This "new" LSAT consisted of 4 scored sections--one Logical Reasoning, one Logic Games, one Reading Comprehension, one Dispute Characterization--of 35 minutes each, as well as two Experimental sections. This format was in use through February 1989.
    • June 1989. In a peculiar, and short-lived, experiment, LSAC reduced the test's sections to one Logical Reasoning, one Logic Games, one Reading Comprehension, and one unscored Experimental. Test takers had 45 minutes to complete each section, and the scale remained a somewhat limited (only 49 possible scores) 10-48. I call it "short-lived" as this format was only in place until February 1991.

    Theories abound as to the motivation behind these seemingly arbitrary alterations, but my money is on, for lack of a better word, desperation: in the late 80s the number of perfect scores began to increase dramatically, and the test makers needed to recalibrate. Put simply, LSAC had to fight back. One way to combat an improving audience is to change the test format, and that's exactly, albeit briefly, what they did. The fact that it lasted not even two years is a testament to its efficacy. Instead, recourse came in the form of a much more heavy-handed revision, one still in effect more than 20 years later.

    • June 1991. The modern era begins. The LSAT as you know it now--or at least very nearly--was first administered in the summer of 1991. This exam had four 35-minute scored sections comprised of two Logical Reasoning, one Logic Games, and one Reading Comprehension, as well as a single 35-minute Experimental section. The scoring scale was also revised to the current 120-180 format, increasing the possible score count from 49 (10-48 scale) to 61.
    • June 2007. This administration is notable for two reasons, one well-publicized, the other less so. The more obvious of the two was the change to Reading Comprehension: instead of four "single" passages (one author), there were three single passages and a fourth "dual" passage set dubbed "Comparative Reading." 
    The other event of note on this exam was that for the first time in the "modern era" (post-91) multiple sections were used for the experimental section. This is explained in some detail here, but in short up to this point all test takers had the same section as their experimental, however in June '07 multiple sections were used. So test taker A could have her experimental section first, while her neighbor test taker B might have an experimental as section 3. This probably did little to impact scores, but it wreaked havoc on post-test analyses.
     
    • October 2011. One more on the Experimental Section. This was the first administration during which the experimental appeared after section 3. For the 20 years prior the experimental had always been given as one of the first three sections (so as to be encountered before the break), however in October 2011 many test takers had the experimental as section 4. This increased variability has continued ever since, with some (admittedly dubious) reports of fifth section experimentals as well.



    And so we find ourselves with the LSAT of today. Five 35-minute sections (one Experimental of course) scored from 120-180, administered with a consistency worth celebrating. But if history tells us anything it's that this test is prone to revisions, both large and small, and the likelihood of it remaining in its current state forever is, frankly, nil. Change is inevitable. What that change may entail, however, is a matter of some debate, and in Part 2 I'll explore what I believe to be the most probable outcomes. Stay tuned!

     

    Image "Twisted" courtesy of Beyond Neon.

     

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