The Law School Admissions Council announced awhile back that July’s LSAT would be the last to be administered, at least partially, in the old pencil-and-paper format. The announcement was made without a lot of fuss but the LSAT industry immediately posted a bunch of blogs that opined on how important the shift was and largely tried to move up potential customers’ test date by instilling a little bit of fear about the new format.
As a result, I got a number of calls, some people in a bit of a panic wondering whether they should switch their date, for two reasons. First, some people were nervous (or panicked) about the onscreen switch generally). Second, there is an expanded cancellation option for the July test, so some thought, Well, it’s basically a “free” test. Since I’m giving a lot of free advice anyway, I figured I might as well make what I’m advising public.
My short answer is, with very few exceptions, Change nothing.
One key to getting your best LSAT score is ensuring that you have significant blocks of time several months prior to the test. As I tell prospective clients, it’s difficult to squeeze in work on the LSAT between a lot of other obligations. You have a job, ok; you have classes, ok. But you shouldn’t have much else if you can avoid it. You want blocks of time. The test format has nothing to do with that. You should schedule your test for the best time for you, irrespective of format.
The “free” cancellation policy is also not compelling. (LSAC describes this policy fully, as well as the format change, on this page, and you should read it carefully.) As my clients know, I am a believer in preparing for this test correctly—and once. I’ve also had several blog posts on this, and won’t repeat them (one of them is here). What is worth repeating here is that if you go in with the attitude that this isn’t the real deal, that you can always just cancel, you’re less likely to do your best—it’s just hard to put out of your mind that it’s playtime, not real time. If you have to repeat the LSAT, that’s ok, but that’s different than planning to do that from the start.
I also don’t think that the format change changes much. Again, you should carefully review the changes on LSAC’s site. The new format does mean you should prepare a little differently. At the moment, there are a limited number of old LSATs available in digital, onscreen format, so it means that you will need to prepare with a mix of paper-and-pencil and digital materials. I am working out for my clients what I think is the best way to do that. I am also hoping that this will be a short-term problem and that LSAC will make sure that all tests are available in digital format soon.
The groups of people that I can imagine the digital format affecting adversely are older test-takers and those who are particularly susceptible to screen-induced eye strain. Older test-takers because some people (and they skew older) are slightly more comfortable doing serious reading on paper than in digital format (I count myself among those). But LSAT reading comprehension and logical reasoning are not, say, 20-page articles where flipping back and forth between pages is important. They are short passages, and you will be provided a stylus to mark what you need to mark.
The eye strain issue is more serious, in my view. It is another reason to prepare as much as you can in the digital format so that you can develop some eye endurance, in the same way that taking full 5-section tests is a way to build mental endurance.
Finally, there is an economic issue. That is, unfortunately, part and parcel of the test as a whole—can you pay for good LSAT preparation, all the test materials, etc.?—and this change does accentuate that. To practice the test on a tablet, you need to invest in a tablet. There are a lot of people who can’t, just as there are a lot of people who can’t afford high-quality LSAT preparation or committed law school admissions advising. It is an unfortunate fact, and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. You don’t need the recent college admissions scandal to recognize that the playing field is not balanced, and the shift to a digital format unbalances it a little bit more.
But that is a long way from saying that you should pick your best date based on test format alone. In the abstract, July is as good a date as any to take the LSAT. You should pick your test date based on when you will be able to study for the test with the most dedication and the fewest distractions. If that’s July, great, take it in July. But if it’s not July, don’t let the test format become a distraction. In the end, it’s just a new feature of the landscape. It may require small adjustments to what you otherwise would have done but it is the same test it has always been.