Once the LSAT is over, one of the most common complaints is that scores should come out more quickly. Given that we live in an era where tests are taken electronically, it sounds like a reasonable complaint. So, why does it take so long for LSAT scores to appear? Couldn’t they get them out a lot earlier? To best understand what happens once you finish the LSAT, let’s take a look at each phase of the process.
The first and most substantial delay actually comes before most students take the LSAT. Typically, we think of the LSAT as being given on a single day. However, that’s not the case when the exams are considered collectively. Sure, the domestic US and Canadian LSATs are administered on the same day, but there are also other administrations of the same test:
- Sabbath-observer LSATs usually occur two days later than the “main” administration, except in June.
- Accommodated LSATs take place sometimes up to a week later or even farther out.
Out of the starting gate, the exams are often spaced out over a week. Although some of these exams are different forms, LSAC has exams all over the place and so the delays can be significant. Just a week of delays are already built into the process if you are counting from the “main” administration date.
Then, when problems occur (looking at you, November 2019 LSAT!), there can be LSATs still being administered up to 17 days later. Thus, a big portion of the score release delay is to allow LSAC to administer all these different exams AND to account for problems. Because they can’t release scores until everyone has taken the exam, this big cushion they have won’t go away any time soon.
Typical Delay = Between 7 and 17 days
Processing and Analysis
Once they have the majority of the results in their system (usually on the main test day), LSAC begins examining the data and making sure the test results are as expected. This is a key phase of the process because they are attempting to make sure each individual question is valid. They also make sure that the test as a whole passes integrity checks. This process includes re-examining the integrity of each question and each section and looking for patterns of cheating. Then, they collectively look at any outlier results and make necessary scale adjustments. If there is nothing unusual, this process probably takes an afternoon. If there are red flags, again you could be looking at a few more days of delays.
Typical Delay = Up to 2 days
The Problem Student Phase
During every LSAT administration, there are some student problems, as opposed to problems with the actual test content. Those can range from test-takers creating a disturbance, to a stolen tablet, to simple identification issues, to outright cheating. Some of these issues will cause the disallowance of an LSAT score or a delay until they resolve the problem. While all of these other steps are occurring, the Test Security team works to resolve all these issues. While this shouldn’t, in most cases, cause a further delay of the score release, it’s something that requires manpower and takes time. Thus, it’s just one more moving part of getting your scores back.
Typical Delay = Up to 3 days (but runs concurrently with other issues)
Last, they double-check everything and dump it into the huge system that powers LSAC and student databases such as CAS. In this phase they make sure every single aspect of the test is squared away:
- Tablet counts
- Clearance of students that were flagged for issues and marking those not cleared
- Wording on anything going out to the public in conjunction with the test
- Preparation of the base test files that will go to licensees
LSAC needs to handle literally hundreds of small details that go into getting tests, processing them, and returning results to everyone.
Typical Delay = Up to 1 day
So, factor in the 17-day cushion for test administration and add in some delays. Now you’re looking at about 21 days from the main test administration to score release day. When you consider that the usual LSAT score release date is about 21-22 days after the main LSAT administration date, you can see how they use that time. A good portion of it goes towards parts of the process that won’t go away any time soon! Two final thoughts on the subject.
- Could they release scores faster? YES. We know they can process scores almost instantly for previously administered tests, but those use exams where they already know the test is valid. The big issue stopping faster release is the Test Administration phase discussed above, and the fact that some LSAT takers won’t take the exam for 7-10 days after the main administration.
- Is there anything they could do that would help get info back to test takers that speeds up the process? Again, YES! They could provide an unofficial raw score (not scaled score) immediately after the exam, which would really give test takers a reasonable idea of how well they did. It wouldn’t be exact or official, but it would go a long way towards soothing the frazzled nerves of examinees (and it’s something the GRE and GMAT already do, so why not?).
In the meantime, if you’re currently waiting for your score to come back, check out this blog to figure out what to do in the meantime.