Ready to take the LSAT online?
Last year, The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) announced that starting with the September 21, 2019 test date, the LSAT would be fully digital. Candidates now take the LSAT on Microsoft Surface Go tablets provided by testing centers. As part of the transition to digital testing, half of all July 2019 test takers took the LSAT on tablets, while the other half took the test on paper, as usual. July test takers did not know in advance which option their test center would be offering. The structure of the test and the test questions were and continue to be the same for both the paper and digital LSAT.
Feedback from LSAT tests takers in July and September helps reveal the ways in which the digital version varies from the paper version and more importantly how students can best prepare for the new digital format of the LSAT.
Where can I go to preview the digital LSAT?
The LSAC has created web-based software that you can use to practice the LSAT on a tablet. You can access this software at the website here via tablet, computer, or mobile. The website includes video explanations about the interface, as well as practice problems for each of the different sections of the test.
Isn’t it important to mark up the questions? How can I do that on a tablet?
Each candidate will have a stylus to use with his or her provided tablet when taking the LSAT. The software allows test takers to cross out wrong answer choices, flag questions for later review, underline and highlight text in the passages, questions, and answer choices, as well as hide longer answer choices. Additionally, scratch paper will be provided for the test. The students I helped prepare for the July LSAT who took the test on a tablet found it most helpful to use the underline tool and one of the highlighter tools. There are several colors of highlighter available, but trying to use a system with multiple colors and underlining could be overwhelming. Additionally, because you can no longer write annotations next to the passages on the Reading section, it is even more important to have a system of underlining (and now also highlighting) than on previous tests.
Is the digital version of the LSAT more difficult than the paper version?
Not really. The type and number of questions is the same, as is the distribution of difficult questions, the timing, etc. The digital version of the test is a format change, but there have not been any changes in the content. The software is feature rich enough that taking it digitally is different (but not that different) from taking the test on paper. The biggest difficulty my students have reported so far is on the reading section where test takers cannot see full reading passages all at once but must instead scroll up and down to read the full passage and find information. The digital software also allows you to see only one question at a time, which has pros and cons. It is easier to avoid fixating on a previous question when you cannot see it anymore, but harder to use information from previous questions to figure out answers to later ones. Another feature of the digital test is an on-screen countdown clock. While more anxiety-prone students might find this feature stressful, most test-takers I have spoken with tell me it is much better than using an analog watch.
Do I have to write the essay on the tablet or is that still on paper?
Interestingly, neither. The essay is now separate from the test day experience. Test takers are now able to write their essays on their own computers at a time of their choosing up to a year after taking the LSAT. The essay will continue to be unscored but will be submitted to schools along with the candidate’s application. Furthermore, students will not be required to retake the essay when retaking the LSAT as long as their previous scores and essay are still valid.
What kind of tablet does the LSAT use?
The LSAT is administered on a Microsoft Surface Go tablet (8.3” x 5.5” screen), which includes a stylus. Especially dedicated candidates preparing for the LSAT might choose to purchase this tablet to use as part of their prep work. As of this writing, these tablets retail for $400 and up, although refurbished versions can be found for less. Practice software is available for use on iPads, Android tablets, and laptops, although students practicing on a much differently sized screen or practicing without the use of a stylus on a touch screen will not be getting the same test day experience.
Will I be able to practice full tests on a tablet?
Yes, but not very many just yet. As of this writing, three full official LSAT practice tests are available in digital form (LSATs 71, 73, and 74), in addition to a handful of other practice questions. It is likely that the LSAT will release many more digital versions of practice tests for use in studying, but there is no public timeline for their release so far. You can certainly practice on paper tests, but when you do so, make an effort to practice in the same way you will be taking the real digital test. That means not writing anything on or near the questions. Instead, use scratch paper to take notes and graph out the Logic Games and the reasoning behind some of the Logical Reasoning questions.
For a suggested timeline to prepare for the LSAT, read our article, LSAT Preparation Tips: When to Start Preparing for the July LSAT.
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