Show summary: LSAT expert Steve Schwartz shares how to prepare for the new online LSAT exam.
Steve Schwartz, who’s spent 12 years helping thousands master the LSAT, breaks down what test-takers need to know about preparing for and taking the new online LSAT-Flex.
Show notes: What test-takers need to know about the LSAT-Flex!
The March and April LSATs were canceled. What are applicants to do? Take the GRE? No way. LSAT-Flex to the rescue!
Our guest today is Steve Schwartz, of the LSAT Blog and the LSAT Unplugged podcast and YouTube channel. Steve graduated from Columbia University in 2008. In high school and college, he tutored various 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 for law school. He founded the LSAT Blog in 2008 and never looked back. Today, 12 years later, he has helped thousands master the LSAT and get into law school and sometimes secure scholarships worth tens of thousands of dollars.
How is the LSAT-Flex different, in format and delivery, from the old LSAT? [2:01]
The biggest difference is that it’s online and students are doing it from home. The main reason for that, of course, is we’re speaking during COVID-19, stay-at-home orders, quarantines, shelter-in-place, and so it wasn’t possible to do it in person, so they’ve moved pretty quickly to allow students to do it from home.
And what about the content of the LSAT-Flex? [2:24]
The content is the same, except the amount of content is different. So you still have your logic games, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension, but now on LSAT-Flex, you have only one section of each, whereas in the old in-person LSAT, whether paper and pencil or digital, you had five sections—four scored plus one experimental, and the four included two logical reasoning sections rather than one as we have now in the LSAT-Flex.
Are they changing the scoring as a result, or keeping the same scale? [2:52]
It will still be the same scale. So students will still receive a score on the band of 120 to 180, but there are fewer scored questions—only 75 scored questions rather than 100 scored questions, so each question is worth more.
Are they going to count the logical reasoning section twice somehow because there are now half the number of those questions? [3:13]
That was my big question as well, and fortunately LSAT did tell us that, in fact, they will not double-weight logical reasoning. So each section will be worth approximately the same, which leads you to ask, why was logical reasoning ever half the exam if they’re willing to do an exam that does not include that? I think it’s simply the requirements of the platform, the requirements of administering a remote exam, and shortening the length of it from five sections to now only three sections, which can be done in about two hours.
Should applicants adjust their preparations if they’re taking the LSAT-Flex? [3:49]
They certainly should. You’re doing it two hours, three sections, not five. Logical reasoning has diminished in importance. Logic games and reading comp have relatively increased in importance. Endurance matters a little bit less, but it’s a lot more important to be warmed up and ready to go the second it starts, because every question counts more.
Does that mean it should be faster? Should applicants focus more on the games than they did on logical reasoning before? [4:16]
Yes, it does. If logical reasoning was not your strong suit, the LSAT-Flex will be more up your alley. Regardless of where you are, spend less time on reasoning than you otherwise would have, more on games and reading comp, and also simulate your practice tests with three sections back-to-back, no break, only two hours, and make sure that all your test day prep is based on taking it at home: at your comfortable desk, the same place you’ll do the actual thing, on the same device. Make sure that your internet connection is really strong, and make sure that whoever you’re quarantined with or sheltered-in-place with, that they’re not going to interrupt you for two hours. So they’re watching the kids, they’re watching the pets, no one’s going to walk in on you during the exam.
The LSAT-Flex is only available for those whose April 7th test was canceled, so this is not an option that’s going to be extended, at least at this point in time. [It was later extended. See here] Do you recommend that applicants sign up for the earliest LSAT they could be possibly ready for, in the hope that it too will be canceled and they can take the shorter LSAT-Flex? [5:05]
Yes, that’s a reasonable suggestion, but I wouldn’t suggest students take it significantly earlier if they wouldn’t be ready in time. So if you were thinking of taking it in either June or July, and you think you could be ready by June, then I would say yes, definitely register for June because the June 8th LSAT almost certainly won’t happen, given that Virginia, for example, has the stay-at-home order till June 10th. So I don’t see how the June LSAT’s going to go forward. I believe it will be rescheduled as a Flex, some time within the next month. And if you have a good home environment, and a good internet connection, the Flex is certainly a more pleasant test day experience and removes a lot of the anxiety around going to take it in-person, booking a test center, traveling for it, and such.
Given that some states or cities could keep their stay-at-home orders in place while others loosen them, is LSAT’s policy going to depend on where you’re located? [6:14]
I suspect that they will only administer the LSAT-Flex if most, if not all, states have removed stay-at-home orders. I think only then would they administer it in-person. I think it gets too complicated and messy, and of course allegations of unfairness, if some can take it, others can’t. And then you have people who might want to think about traveling to take it, which is obviously not a great idea, traveling across state lines and such. So I imagine that if the world looks anything at all like it currently does as we speak now in mid- to late-April, I suspect that it will not go forward in June, and possibly not even July, who knows? My personal prediction is that the LSAT-Flex will be around for quite a long time because it’s hard to go backwards on technology and because, given all the ambiguities around a second wave or a third wave of COVID, it might just be easier for them to stick with online.
What about the writing sample portion of the LSAT, that’s now gone? [7:22]
As we discussed last year when the LSAT went digital last July, they moved the writing sample online actually in June, and the writing sample has been online since June, 2019. It’s still online, so that doesn’t change at all, and actually that’s international as well. LSAT-Flex is only in North America right now. But I suspect that if the June international LSAT is canceled, currently scheduled for late June, they’ll administer that as an LSAT-Flex also, because those folks already had their March LSAT canceled, and there’s only so many months that the world’s going to go forward with international students not being able to take the LSAT and apply, and law schools want them too. And as long as they have a good device and good internet, there’s no reason not to allow them as well. I think that the May LSAT-Flex is simply like an initial pilot they’re trying to keep small. As you said, it’s only for those who were taking March or April in North America. But I think beyond, they’ll open it up. And if anyone wants to take it relatively soon, register for June, like I said, because that’ll probably be canceled and moved online.
This is a stressful time, and test-takers by their very nature are stressed individuals. How do you advise test-takers to manage nerves leading up to and during the exam? [8:40]
That’s a great question. I think first and foremost, proper preparation can at least reduce some of the anxiety. So the more practice tests you do in a similar method to the way you’ll do the actual thing (same environment, same testing conditions, same length of exam, all of that), the better. At least you run through the motions enough that the actual test day experience is like just another practice test. And if anything, LSAT-Flex is easier to simulate because you always have access to your home. In fact, you have too much access to your home these days. You’re always there, versus taking it in-person at a test center. It’s not always easy to simulate getting together 50 of your best friends into a room, all taking an exam for three hours. That rarely happens, with some exceptions. So that’s one thing: Simulate it at home, at the same desk, with the same device.
Second thing is: Remember that while the LSAT as a whole is incredibly important, no one particular test day will make or break you. You can always retake, and as you know, law schools don’t average multiple scores. They only take the highest. That should at least lend some comfort.
And the last thing I would say is meditation, mindfulness, focus training, whatever you want to call it. Also pretty easy to do even while you’re isolated and quarantined. Five minutes a day of that focus and strengthening your focus like a muscle can help you if your mind is wandering, if you’re getting bogged down in a question. At least recognize that it’s happening and note it and kind of break out of that cycle or that spiral.
Do you have any tips that are specific to the day before the LSAT-Flex or to the day of the exam? [10:27]
The day before, I wouldn’t do any studying at all. I would relax, take it easy, take a hot bath, watch a movie, go for a walk if you have a suitable environment to do that. Just try to clear your mind and relax. Trust at that point you either know it or you don’t. And then have a good comfortable morning routine for the day of the exam itself, and also try to replicate that even on your practice test dates. Do whatever you would normally do. Drink coffee, don’t drink coffee, exercise or don’t, go for a walk or don’t. Whatever makes you feel good and ready to go.
The last thing I would say about the day of the exam is that, actually, you can select your time of day on LSAT-Flex, which is a really nice perk because not everybody’s a morning person and some test dates were always going to be in the morning. This way you can choose, do you want morning or afternoon? There may even be evening options too. We’ll see what they open up. But having that level of customization to your personal preference could be really nice too, and help you shape your day the way you want it to be.
When will applicants get results from the LSAT-Flex? [11:38]
For the May LSAT-Flex, they’re saying by June 5th, so it’ll be within two weeks, approximately. It used to be three weeks with the in-person, so they’re shortening it already, which they’ve always been able to do but for whatever reason they like to hold on to things and continue doing the number crunching. I’m hoping that with time they will release results faster and faster. My dream is for them to at least give students an estimated or rough approximation of where they stand based on their raw score, which they really should be able to do since it’s a multiple choice test. They should tell you how many did you get right, and they could say, “This might be around a 161 to a 164,” and give you a rough range at least.
Now let’s move away from the LSAT-Flex and talk about the larger situation for law school admissions, and specifically application volume. How do you see COVID-19 affecting law school admissions and specifically application volume? [12:26]
That’s a tough one. We have to think about the extent to which this mirrors previous situations, like most notably the 2008 financial crisis when we saw a massive surge in grad school applications across the board, followed by a tank. So it’s hard to say. I think if this looks to be roughly similar to ’08, then we may see a similar spike as applicants look to wait out any ensuing recession or depression for at least three years. So if this is similar to that, then I think we’ll see a spike in applications for next cycle beginning this fall.
If this is totally a new animal beyond anything else, then it could just lead people to stay home and do nothing. Even if they can’t find a job, they may choose not to invest in law school either. It’s really an open question, but I continue to see engagement among my audience and my students that people are still interested in going. Amidst all the uncertainty right now, I am seeing people holding off on applying this cycle finishing up now, because they don’t want to start law school online in the fall, most of them.
If you’re graduating as an undergraduate senior now, what are you supposed to do? It’s going to be hard to find a job, right? It’s going to be hard to find a job in the middle of 2020, so at least apply, kill a year and study for the LSAT, maybe take it this fall, and then apply, do well in law school, and hopefully the situation will be different. And I think at least amongst the top 14, especially if you’re the top of your class there, you may still have many options available because there are always jobs for, at least, the cream of the crop lawyers.
Alternatively, if you can go to law school for free, or avoid significant debt, it may not be a bad option either. If you get a top LSAT score above the medians of the school and they give you a full ride, that may be a good option.<!–[if lte IE 8]><![endif]–>