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 electronically scored and the results are transmitted nearly instantly by email, 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 turn in your LSAT scoresheet, let’s take a look at each phase of the process.
Test Administration and Collection
The first 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 farther out.
- International administrations are sometimes on the same day as the US/Canada LSAT, but often one or two days later, sometimes more.
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, 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.
Typical Delay = Up to 7 days
But, of course, we’re not done with test collection delays yet. Once you return your test to the proctors, the second hurdle comes in: getting the scoresheets physically back to LSAC. Even with the introduction of the digital LSAT, you still have to consider the test-takers that are still taking the paper exam. The US and Canada are currently the only countries that offer the digital version of the test. That means every other country will have paper scoresheets. Even when things are going smoothly, this process takes a while. It could easily be a week or more for exams to come from certain spots in Asia or the Middle East, assuming everything runs perfectly.
But, as many of you know, that doesn’t always happen. On rare occasion, LSATs are lost, and this can delay the scoring process significantly. The test makers have to wait until they can certify that the exams are almost certainly missing. Often at that point, they will state that even if the exams are found they won’t be scored due to security issues. Of course, while we hear about the exams that are permanently lost, we never hear about exams that might have been delayed for a few days or even a week. Overall, this portion of the process is actually quite time-consuming, and that’s without any major issues popping up.
Typical Delay = Up to 7 days
Processing and Analysis
So, after roughly 10-14 days from the main test administration date, all of the tests should be at LSAC headquarters in Newtown, PA. As they arrive, the exams are compiled and prepared for processing via optical scanning. But, because there are anywhere from 19,000 to 35,000 tests for each administration, this process isn’t quick or easy. Each paper test comes with a test booklet a scoresheet. Processing these pieces and keeping everything straight takes a few days.
Typical Delay = Up to 3 days
After they process all of the scoresheets, LSAC begins examining the data and making sure the test results are as expected. This includes re-examining the integrity of each question and each section, looking for patterns of cheating. Then, they collectively look at any outliers and make any necessary scale adjustments. If there is nothing unusual, this process probably takes an afternoon. If there are any red flags, again you could be looking at a few more additional days.
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 test, 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 should be happening concurrently, so 0 days)
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:
- Test booklet counts
- Scoresheet 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 lincesees
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
When you consider that the usual LSAT score release date is about 24-31 days after the main LSAT is administered, you can see that a good portion of the time is actually used for important parts of the process. From this perspective, sometimes it amazes me that we get scores as quickly as we do! If you’re currently waiting for your score to come back, check out this blog to figure out what to do in the meantime.