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Here Comes the Digital LSAT

The digital version of the LSAT, which will debut in 2019, uses Microsoft Surface tablets. .

 

Aspiring lawyers will be taking the Law School Admission Test on Microsoft Surface Go tablets beginning in July.

The Law School Admission Council, which develops the LSAT, on Monday offered a sneak peek of the new digital exam, which by September will fully replace the 70-year-old paper and pencil version of the exam. Council president Kellye Testy unveiled the move to digital in this summer, but details have been scarce until now. Under the new digital system:

  • Scores will be available in a matter of days, rather than weeks.
  • Accessibility and user features will be standard, such as the ability to increase type size, control brightness, highlight and underline text.
  • The 35-minute writing portion of the exam will be separated from the rest of the exam, allowing test takers to complete it on their own computers at their convenience.
  • Custom security technology will protect the integrity of the exam.



“Legal education and the legal profession need to keep pace with technological advancements,” Testy said.

The move to digital will bring the LSAT in line with all other graduate program standardized admissions tests, each of which are taken by computer. It should also help the LSAT compete with the GRE, which many law schools also now accept alongside LSAT scores.

Opting for the Surface Go will give LSAT takers some added bonuses, according to Troy Lowry, the council’s chief information officer. For example, the tablet has a kickstand that allows users to find the most comfortable angle, he said. Microsoft has partnered with the council to extensively test the tablet, right down to the stylus that takers will use, he added.

“We allow people to do things like increase the font size considerably, increase the line spacing and brightness,” he said. “Those are things I don’t think any of the other test companies do at the moment, and it makes it easier for test takers to have things exactly how they want. It means that many of the things people now have to ask for accommodations for will just be built into the system.”

Half of the July LSAT takers will use the paper version of the exam, while half will use the tablets, allowing the council one final chance to ensure to two are comparable. It has been testing the digital LSAT since May, 2017. (Test centers will either be all tablet or all paper, and takers don’t get to choose. However, the council is allowing takers the option to cancel or retake the exam at no cost for the July test date only.) Only tablets will be used for the following administration in September.

Moving to the digital LSAT will require the council to purchase an estimated 30,000 tablets, though the council will spend the next year monitoring the volume of test takers to determine how many are needed to accommodate the most popular test date. Testy declined to say how much it will cost buy the equipment, but said it’s a “substantial investment,” noting that Microsoft is discounting the hardware.

The decision to decouple the writing portion of the exam from the in-person, multiple choice sections was also made with test taker preferences in mind, Testy said. That section does not count toward overall LSAT scores, but is provided to law schools. Going forward, takers will be able to complete the writing section on their own computers at their convenience. And they don’t have to redo it if they decide to retake the LSAT. This will be more convenient for takers and better for law school admission offices, which will not have to decipher handwritten samples, Testy said.

“We’re responding to feedback from test takers that having to complete a written essay in a large-group setting at the end of a rigorous examination is not conducive to doing their best writing,” said Lily Knezevich, the council’s senior vice president for learning and assessment.

Testy said test taker feedback led the council to decide not to immediately give takers their score once the complete the exam. Rather, test takers said they wanted a little space from the LSAT before learning their scores, hence the council will wait several days to deliver scores.

In addition to the digital exam, the council is working with Microsoft to improve its admissions offerings for member law schools. In July, it will debut a new admissions management system that will allow schools to boost their contact with admitted students and delve more deeply into their student data.

“With the breadth of their solutions and their commitment to privacy, security, accessibility, and inclusion, Microsoft will be a tremendous help to the legal education community as we navigate these accelerating changes,” Testy said.