Once the LSAT is over, one of the most common complaints is that scores should come out more quickly. Since we live in an era where tests are electronic, it is 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 these days. Consider the recent June LSAT:
- The main LSAT administration occurred over 6 days, with exams being administered on Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday.
- Accommodated LSATs typically take place later in the week, and were administered primarily on the Thursday of the week.
- Retesters were administered on Thursday of the week following the first week (this is just one week prior to the score release date).
Out of the starting gate, the exams are often spaced out over a week to two weeks. Although many of these exams are different forms, LSAC has exams all over the place and so the delays can be significant. At least a week of delays are already built into the process if you are counting from the “main” administration date.
Then, when problems occur, there can be LSATs still being administered even 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 = 7 days, but up to 12 days
Processing and Analysis
Once they have all of the results in their system, LSAC examines the data and makes sure the test results are as expected. The most recent format compounds this issue greatly because each test have multiple versions, with the October ’20 LSAT featuring 45 possible test forms being normal (and August ’20 had 54 possible forms!).
So, for 45 or more test forms, they must 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 3-4 days. If there are red flags, again you could be looking at a few more days of delays.
Typical Delay = Up to 6 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 connection issues, to proctor 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 and often must watch video of the individual test taker’s exam. 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 5 days (but should run 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 review every single aspect of the test:
- Reconciling test taker counts via ProctorU
- Final clearance of flagged students
- Wording on anything going out to the public in conjunction with the test
- Concordance of LSAT Writing takers against test takers to authorize score release
- Score preview preparation and set up
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 2 days
The Overall Picture
Adding all the above elements together, you arrive at a time frame of 15-20 days from the original test date. LSAT score release dates run about 19-20 days after the main LSAT administration date, so 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, and the extra few days are likely a cushion they keep in case of emergencies or unforeseen problems.
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 and Processing phases above.
- 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?). Score Preview helps a bit with this, but it’s not instant and has no effect on getting scores back earlier, so it doesn’t count for our purposes here.
In the meantime, if you’re currently waiting for your score to come back, check out this blog to figure out what to do while you wait.