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What to Know About the Digital LSAT

Daniel Waldman

While virtually every academic standardized test like the GRE, MCAT and GMAT has gone digital, the LSAT has stayed behind the times, opting for the traditional pen and paper method. But starting this July, the LSAT will begin its transition to digital administration.

Naturally, with this major shift comes many questions, so here are some things for law school applicants to know about this new method of taking the LSAT.

[Read: 3 Ways the LSAT Prepares Students for Law School.]

First, some bad news and good news.

The bad news is that if you're taking the exam on July 15, it might still be pen and paper, as only half of the exams will be digitally delivered on tablets. And there's no way for you to know which method it will be until you show up at the exam center, meaning that in essence you have to be prepared to take both versions.

To add to the uncertainty, due to the traditional and digital exams being administered simultaneously, scores won't be released until Aug. 28, a month and a half after the exam. This is double the current reporting time of three weeks.

However, you will be rewarded handsomely for this logistical nightmare: You will have a period of five business days after receiving the score to cancel your exam and retake it. That means you get an unprecedented opportunity to take an exam and only keep the score if you're satisfied with it.

[Read: What Is a Good LSAT Score?]

If you do choose to cancel, you can then retake the exam -- for free -- as early as October; keep in mind that it won't be feasible to take the September test, since the deadline for registering is Aug. 1, before you find out your score. Schools will see your July score as a "candidate cancel." Remember that this will be treated by schools just as any other LSAT cancellation, so strategize accordingly.

Oddly enough, there is a take-home portion. The writing sample -- that oft-forgotten, never-studied-for part of the exam -- now must be taken at home within a year of the exam. While it's nice to cut your day short by 35 minutes, this requires you to install software from the Law School Admission Council that will use your webcam and microphone to ensure that you are indeed the person writing. Applicants who wish to retake the writing portion will need to pay $15 per writing sample.

LSAC anticipates that more schools will use the candidate's writing sample, but this is debatable -- schools have much more informative pieces of your writing in your application, so treat the writing sample with the same stress-free approach that you would before the switch to digital.

[Read: Know the Ins, Outs of the LSAT Writing Sample.]

Law school applicants should also keep in mind that LSAC is trying to make the digital format user friendly. In addition to a built-in section timer, which means not having to bring an analog watch, the test-taker will be able to highlight, flag questions, rule out answers, expand and collapse them, and even control the font and color of the text.

The test itself will remain exactly the same. This is purely a change in form, not substance, meant to make your life -- and that of LSAC -- easier, and expedite the scoring process; while the first scoring period is longer, it is expected to shorten as the transition progresses. This also means that -- contrary to circulating rumors -- the LSAT isn't about to get any easier or harder.

Another thing to know: Test-takers will get scratch paper. If you were worried about having to diagram logic games on a tablet, fear not -- you will be handed a pen and blank piece of paper to use during the test.

And keep in mind that you can familiarize yourself with the software and get a couple of free practice exams through the LSAC website.

The coming LSAT will be more stressful than most given the uncertainty of which format the test-taker will face, but even that shouldn't worry you too much given the option to cancel your score later on. Ultimately, with all test-takers on the digital format, and all the kinks straightened out, we should see a more convenient, efficient approach -- no more "misbubbling" -- and faster scoring, which will benefit both LSAC and applicants.

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