Recapping the first digital LSAT test

By Ross Rinehart

Just recently — and over nine months since LSAC first announced this change — some law school hopefuls finally got their hands on the new digital LSAT. The Law School Admissions Council administered the exam in its new, digital, tablet interface to roughly half of all July 2019 test takers; the same test was administered in the traditional paper format to the other half.

Before the exam goes permanently digital for the September 2019 LSAT, test takers were divided up to run a comparative study on the results of the two exams — in its initial announcement, LSAC referred to this as “best testing practices,” though many test takers I spoke with didn’t quite see things that way. They were not informed in advance of which version of the exam they would receive, making the July exam more unnerving than usual.

But now that the dust has settled, one question remains: how did the rollout of the digital exam go?

Mission Accomplished

Overall, it sounds like the new digital exam went fairly well for both test takers and test administrators. Especially because we must consider how dramatic a change and how massive an undertaking orchestrating this exam was. Although we won’t get official data on the number of test takers for the July exam until this testing year is complete, some are estimating that there were around 26,000 people who signed up to take the July LSAT, far exceeding the 11,589 people who took the July 2018 exam. Training proctors to handle a new format of the test — one that requires the proctor to operate a device that controls when the tablets start and stop sections — couldn’t have been easy, especially at this scale. In many cases, it wasn’t.

Challenges Encountered

Multiple test takers reported it took awhile for the test to get started, with some claiming it didn’t start until 90 minutes after the check-in deadline. However, these kinds of delays aren’t uncommon on the LSAT, nor were they necessarily a result of the digital exam — I also heard reports that a test center that was administering the traditional paper version of the July test didn’t get started until nearly 2 p.m. either.

The most concerning reports were two test locations in Florida that had to cancel the LSAT altogether. For whatever reason, the tablets sent to those locations weren’t operational, so the test takers were dismissed without ever taking the exam. LSAC usually offers a make-up exam to such test takers, so hopefully those Floridians won’t have to wait too long.

Some proctors apparently had trouble connecting the test takers’ tablets to the proctor-controlled laptop that was used to start and stop each section. Another tried handing out tablets that were already low on battery-life, which required the proctors to delay the start of the test as they figured out how to charge the tablets.

Many also noted issues with the stylus provided. Apparently it wasn’t a good tool for highlighting or underlining the text, as the stylus would end up highlighting multiple surrounding words in addition to its target. At several centers, test takers were not even given a stylus. Although you could use your fingers to interact with the digital software, that apparently wasn’t always effective — someone reported having to use his knuckle to highlight the text, because his finger was too sweaty to do so.

On the ergonomic factors, some reported the glare from the overhead lights affected their ability to see the screen. Although the tablets are mounted to an adjustable stand, they were not quite adjustable enough.

Successes

At this point, you’d probably assume the test was a train wreck, but as I said in the beginning, that’s simply not true. Once the exam finally started, the majority of the tests went off without any major hiccups. Candidates were given a five-minute introductory video on how to use the digital format (tutorials on how to use the digital format, and full practice exams in the digital format, are also available on LSAC’s digital LSAT familiarization page).

Certain pre-digital instructions — where proctors tell test takers how to bubble in a bunch of arcane codes that will link their answer sheets to their test booklets — are obviated by the tablet LSAT. Test takers were given (or at least, should have been given) a stylus to make their selections, highlight or underline text, and cycle through questions. They also received a booklet of scratch paper. Barring the big catastrophes, most experienced little or no tech issues during the exam, leading to a decent enough test experience.

LSAC can’t deny there were major and minor issues on Monday, but it was by no means a failed attempt. Hopefully most of these issues will be resolved by the September 21st, 2019 LSAT, which will be given in its digital format to all test takers.

Is there anything students can do to prepare for the September LSAT, or any future date? Absolutely. Given some of the issues reported during this July test, it’s important to get as much experience as you can working with the digital exam interface. You should watch the tutorials and complete all the practice exams on LSAC’s digital LSAT familiarization page.

Ideally, you should try completing these exams on a tablet, with a generic stylus, since those are what you’ll be given on test day.Try completing the exam in a glary room, and play around with the brightness settings until you’re able to read the screen. Practice highlighting and underlining with your stylus — and maybe your finger and/or knuckle too, just in case — so this isn’t an issue on exam day. The more comfortable you can get with the digital interface, the easier your test day experience will be.

We hope, and are confident, that LSAC will iron out some of the problems reported on the July exam. If they don’t, however, it’ll be up to you. With a lot of exposure to the digital format before the test, you’ll be able to counter these issues, the first of many problems you’ll solve in your legal career. With a little practice and patience, the digital LSAT interface will soon become as easy to use as Snapchat.


Ross Rinehart is a veteran instructor at Blueprint LSAT Prep, and has taught the LSAT for over 10 years. He received his undergrad from UCLA and attended the USC Gould School of Law where he spent time working on the campus' Post-Conviction Justice Project.


 

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