Everything you need to know to about the latest incarnation of the LSAT [Show summary]
LSAT prep expert Steve Schwartz returns to the Admissions Straight Talk to discuss the demise of the LSAT-Flex, the future of the LSAT, and essential test prep tips for law school applicants.
How to prep right and crush the LSAT! [Show notes]
LSAC recently announced new test dates, the demise of LSAT-Flex, and the return of the LSAT, but remotely. Let’s get the low-down from LSAT expert Steve Schwartz of LSAT Unplugged.
Steve Schwartz, of the LSAT blog and the LSAT Unplugged podcast and YouTube channels, graduated from Columbia University in 2008. In high school and college, he tutored students in a variety of subjects and also helped prep test-takers for standardized tests, including the LSAT. However, he really began to focus on the LSAT when he was applying to law school. He founded the LSAT Blog in 2008 and never looked back. Today, 13 years later, he has helped thousands master the LSAT, get into law school, and secure scholarships worth thousands of dollars.
We spoke almost exactly one year ago when the LSAT-Flex was new. COVID-19 was new. At the time we discussed the new and remote LSAT-Flex. Today, we’re going to discuss the demise of the LSAT-Flex. What gives? [2:02]
The Flex was always meant to be temporary. That’s why LSAC gave it the Flex name to distinguish it from the normal regular LSAT. But here we are, one year later, COVID-19 is unfortunately still with us to some extent, although hopefully things will be looking better later this year with the vaccine rollouts and such. But they can’t keep administering the LSAT without experimental sections. They’ve got to be able to test out future questions. So starting in August this year, they’re adding back in an experimental section, and they’re going to start calling it just the LSAT again.
How is the LSAT going to be different from the LSAT-Flex, given that they are both remotely proctored exams? [2:55]
It’s a very, very small difference. I don’t want people to get overly stressed about it. It’s still the same question types, the same difficulty level. You’re going to have logic games, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension like before. It’ll still be the same length of 35 minutes per section, but the overall test sitting will be longer by adding back in that fourth, unscored, experimental section. They’ll also insert a break between the second and third sections. So the length gets a little bit longer: a 10 minute break, plus another 35 minutes for that fourth section. So test-takers are looking at roughly a 45-minute longer exam, but as you said, it’ll still be online.
Are there any in-person testing centers planned for those who prefer that? [3:46]
Not currently. At the moment, I don’t think that we’ll see any for quite a while, but LSAC indicates they’re open to the possibility, although they still will keep the online option, we’re expecting. They’ve said it’ll be online through at least June, 2022. But this is still much shorter than the pre-COVID LSAT, which had five sections: four scored, one unscored experimental. The LSAT, for the foreseeable future, will have three scored sections plus one unscored experimental section.
With the GMAT, you have an option to take it in-person or remotely. MCAT, the medical aptitude test, is entirely in-person. The LSAT is entirely remote. So each one has a different approach? [4:25]
Yeah. There are so many logistical things for them to deal with that I can understand. On the one hand, I think it’s nice to give people options. On the other hand, it’s a lot of work to offer it in multiple contexts, and in-person. If I understand correctly, the GRE is virtually every day. The LSAT’s not even every month. It’s almost every month, so they don’t have that same level of regularity. Things are kind of ad hoc each time they’re doing it.
Will applicants know which section is experimental? [5:39]
They will not know during the exam. They will not know whether that unscored extra section is going to be games, reasoning, or reading comp, and they also don’t know where in the exam it’ll be. It could be your first section, and it’s unscored. It could be the last section, in which case, at least you’ve already gotten through the stuff that mattered to you, or it could be somewhere in the middle. And they don’t tell you which section it’s going to be, because if they did, you probably wouldn’t try as hard. And then that would affect their ability to benefit from the results of what you’re doing. They want to be able to see how you perform. So there’s going to be three types of sections, but one of them you’re going to get twice. So at the end of the test, you’ll know that one of those two is the test. After all is said and done, you’re going to know that if you had two logic games sections, one of those was the fake one. You’re just not going to know which one it is. But let’s say you do logic games section one, logic games section two. Then you know the reading comp and logical reasoning are going to be real.
Do you recommend that applicants take the LSAT-Flex, or should they wait for the traditional LSAT? [7:02]
All else being equal, I think anybody would prefer to do it without the experimental section and be done by June. But I would not recommend that you rush it if you’re not fully ready by June. And that additional two months could make a big difference. That is an enormous caveat that everyone should pay close attention to, in all of these contexts. I think people just want to be done with this stuff, and get on to the actual grad school they’re applying to or the law school they were applying to. This is just a means to an end, but these things are incredibly important. Your LSAT score matters a great deal. Don’t rush to get it done by June. Just to do the three section version, when an extra two months could make an enormous difference in getting a higher LSAT score, getting more scholarship money, and getting into better schools. That June versus August thing, with the August LSATs in mid-August, you get your results back at the end of August, so you can still apply at the beginning of the cycle either way.
How should applicants adjust their prep in light of the additional section and increased length of the LSAT versus the LSAT-Flex, if they’re not ready to take it by July? [8:33]
Practice like it’s going to be on game day. Do four section practice test sittings, splice in an unscored extra section from another exam, and place that extra section in any position, first, second, third or fourth. It’s kind of funny, actually, but the released prep tests from the past are all four section exams, because the exam used to be four scored sections plus that fifth unscored experimental section. So if you want to insert logical reasoning as your extra section for the new LSAT starting in August 2021, you’ve already got it built in with all of the previously released exams. There’s nearly a hundred like that. But you don’t want to only use logical reasoning as your extra section. You should also make some little Frankenstein exams, inserting logic games sections from other prep tests or reading comp sections from other prep tests. If you do that, you’ll be ready.
LSAC indicated it may need to adjust the score release date given anticipated higher volume for the August administration specifically. How much longer do you think it will take to get the score, if you take the August test? [9:54]
I would say you’ll probably get it within three weeks. It used to be a three week wait to get your score back with the Flex, so three weeks since you took it or three weeks of that testing period. It used to be, of course, pre-Flex, on a single day. It wasn’t like you had a whole week of Flex administrations, like we have now with the online LSAT. They wouldn’t even be precise about the day. They would have an estimated release date, but then release it randomly early, so everybody was super stressed about whenever it would come out. With the Flex, they’ve adjusted things. With the new LSAC president, Kellye Testy, who’s great, they’ve been much better at communicating with students. They’ve been saying, “Two weeks from now, you’ll get it.” They actually stick to the date. That’s very comforting for folks to not be frantically checking their LSAC accounts or their emails.
But as they’re changing things up a little bit, I think they’re giving themselves a little bit of wiggle room, a little bit of a buffer, because they also want to calibrate things a bit more with the longer testing sitting, the potentially higher volume of people. They might have some more work to do on their end. So they were saying maybe a little bit longer. I’m guessing three weeks at most, though. Also, law schools really want those scores. They want to get moving on applications, and LSAC is an organization meant to serve law schools. If law schools want something, and they’re all in the same boat on that thing, LSAC’s going to really work hard to deliver it. So I’d expect, at the very least, within like the first week of September. But I’m sure they’ll be working around the clock to get them out.
COVID accelerated programs going test-optional or to issuing test waivers. Do you see that happening in the law school world? Why or why not? [11:36]
There’s two questions here. One is, will they start taking the GRE as well? And then separately, will they go test-optional entirely? With regard to the GRE, I do expect that more and more law schools will take the GRE as a way to widen the applicant pool. They can, of course, evaluate folks on other criteria, like their GPAs, their application essays and such. They can choose very carefully whom they choose to admit with their GRE score as opposed to the standard, which is the LSAT. On a long enough timeline, virtually every law school will take the GRE as well, especially once Harvard made that big announcement. Many other schools followed suit shortly thereafter. Because if Harvard does it, then it must be okay. Also, I think they’d like to be able to widen the pool and take more applicants. That increases their selectivity if nothing else. There’s a strong incentive to do it simply for competitive benefit over other law schools. I think we’ll certainly see every law school or most law schools take it eventually.
Test-optional is a different story though, because in part, the American Bar Association requires schools to use a valid and reliable admission test. For most of the time that we’ve been around, it’s been the LSAT as the main game in town. The GRE is a fairly new entrance. Is it valid or reliable? That’s debatable, but it seems to be that they’re accepting that. No one’s going to shut down a law school for doing the GRE instead. But test-optional altogether, I think, is tough to sell.
I think there was a school in Arizona that said that they considered the first semester of law school to be the best possible test for how you would do in law school. They were actually accepting students provisionally based on their performance during the first semester of 1L. And they said, “Well, if you can cut it that way, then we will take you for the remainder of the three years.” I thought it was a very creative interpretation of “valid and reliable admission test.” They got away with it from what I’ve seen. I didn’t see anything saying that it wasn’t going to work. Of course, this was with a very small number of students. I think it might have been only for their own school’s undergraduates, so it was maybe like a pilot program or mini-pipeline of sorts. It wasn’t like they were opening this up to the entire world. I have my concerns about it though, because if you don’t do well, then you just spent the first semester’s tuition and have nothing to show for it, if you don’t get taken for the rest of it. So I have some concerns regarding that, and I’m not sure that a lot of schools would go that route. But that could be one pathway to standardize test-optional, while still technically falling within what the ABA requires, under, again, what I consider a creative interpretation there.
There are a lot of students who, for whatever reason, they just don’t do well on standardized tests. It could be nerves. It could be anxiety. It could be any one of a number of factors, but they’ve demonstrated their aptitude and their ability to succeed in law school, based on some other factor. It could be work experience. It could be their GPA. And so if they can show, for example, that their SAT or ACT performance did not accurately predict how they would do in undergrad, and they killed it in undergrad and got a great GPA, then why wouldn’t we think they could do similar in law school as well?
The one concern I have, which I think is why the ABA requires this test, is bar passage rates. If the bar exam exists and it’s required to practice as an attorney, then we want to make sure you’re going to do well on that. The LSAT has some correlation with first year law school grades, which in turn can translate into bar passage to some extent. But these aren’t the strongest correlations in the world, so I could see why in many, many cases, it wouldn’t line up. I actually think there’s far too much emphasis placed on standardized tests in general. To some extent they’re a necessary evil, but I’d love to see alternatives.
It’s kind of putting your money where your mouth is to the student: “If you think you can do well in law school, show us and we’ll admit you.” [17:19]
At the same time, I still wonder about how the law school gets that money, so they have incentive to offer that program. And secondly, a lot of students desperately, desperately want to go to law school, and then they’re taking out big loans. I could see some of these bottom of the barrel law schools, and I’m not going to name any names here, but there are certain schools that don’t have the student’s best interest in mind as much as they have their tuition dollars in mind. They need those students to make their overhead, and some schools are in trouble. They’re looking to get dollars wherever they can get them. And that’s where you have certain things like these Masters of Legal Studies degrees, for example, that I’m not sure are a good substitute for getting a JD.
What are your top tips for people taking the LSAT remotely? [18:13]
My biggest tip is to really simulate the testing environment as much as you possibly can, making sure you’re taking your practice tests in the same room you’ll take the actual thing, making sure your internet connection is strong, and if not, reaching out to LSAC about getting an alternative place to take it. They’ll reimburse you if you want to take it out to a hotel, for example, with good internet. I’d say, wired internet, if possible, and make sure no one else is using it at the same time. Make sure it’s strong enough, because there’s nothing more frustrating than getting kicked out in the middle of a timed exam setting on the real thing. So simulate, simulate, practice, practice. Make sure that you’re used to the online LSAT format. LSAC created LawHub, a.k.a. official LSAT prep plus, where you can take the majority of LSATs with the same look and feel the same style you’ll do on actual test day. Don’t do the majority of your studying in books, when the exam has changed format completely.
Somebody can do everything you said, do practice tests, take the exam, work on a wired internet connection, and still something will happen, like their internet goes down. What happens then? What do they do? [19:27]
That’s the worst thing because you could do everything right, and then something happens with a totally external factor that just ruins it for that day. What you do is reach out to LSAC, immediately, and ask the proctor to make a note of it as well, if possible, depending on what happened. In some cases, LSAC will set up an alternative date in the short term, so maybe you could take it a week or two later. Alternatively, you might not be able to take it until the next sitting, which is typically going to be a month later, maybe two, but that’s really the best they can do for you, unfortunately, in most cases. They can’t undo what happened already. A power outage of course is out of their control. There are things that go wrong on ProctorU’s end as well, and ProctorU, by the way, is the organization administering and proctoring the online LSAT. There could be things that happen that are at their fault as well. Either way, reach out to LSAC. Reach out multiple times if necessary. Hopefully, they’ll make it right. They don’t always get back to people quickly though, just because of the volume of people they’re dealing with. But keep following up, keep calling. Call first thing in the morning, if you can, because that’s the best chance of getting through to them without a long wait time.
Where can listeners and LSAT test-takers learn more about your coaching service? [21:11]
Again, I’m Steve Schwartz. I run the LSAT Blog and the LSAT Unplugged YouTube channel and podcast. I’m pretty easy to reach through all of these platforms. I’ve also got a free, easy LSAT cheat sheet folks can download at bit.ly/lsatcheatsheet, and that’s the best way to get started.
- LSAT Blog
- LSAT Unplugged podcast
- LSAT Unplugged YouTube Channel
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- What to Expect From the New LSAT-Flex
- Making the LSAT Learnable with Blueprint Prep
- The Test Prep Experts’ Guide to the LSAT
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- Acing the LSAT
- Law School Admissions: What You Need to Know