Bar Exams, LSAT, Reader Polls, Technology

Will LSAC Ever Stop Killing Trees?

Which one of these is not like the others? The CPA exam, the GRE, the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, the Series 7 exam, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the GMAT, the Dental Admission Test, and the LSAT. All of these exams are administered by computer except the LSAT.

Why the peculiar persistence — in 2013 — of the No. 2 pencil for LSAT takers? Last week, in partnership with our friends at Blueprint, we surveyed current LSAT prep students on their views and preferences regarding test-taking technology.

There were strongly held opinions in both the traditionalist and high-tech camps. Here are the results….

The traditionalists took the vote by a landslide. In response to our question about which format is preferable for taking the LSAT, a full 80 percent of our respondents told us that they preferred good old-fashioned pen and paper rather than an online test. As for the reasons underlying this preference, there were two broad themes:

1. Staring at a computer screen for hours is hard:

My eyes start to hurt after I am on the computer for too long and I can’t focus

[I]t’s a pretty mind numbing test and staring at a computer for three hours makes it even worse.

2. For LSAT test-taking techniques, the old technology is simply better suited for the task:

It would be easier to underline the conclusion and separate the premises than having to do that online! We’d be able to circle, cross out, etc. much easier. We’d be able to whatever we’d want with our lovely pencil.

In order to understand each part of the logical reasoning stimulus I need to diagram and write notes. I also prefer to tag the passages in the reading comprehension section to allow quick reference to each passage when answering questions. Further, diagramming is necessary for the logical games to be completed efficiently and accurately.

For the most part, those students who preferred an online LSAT did so for these broad reasons:

1. Technology would improve the test-taking experience (aka “Who uses lead pencils anymore?”):

Bubbling answer choices is more time-consuming than clicking on a radio button. Those few, precious seconds could easily add up to a minute or more over the course of any given section. Taking the LSAT online would also make the written sample a better experience by removing hand cramping, broken lead, etc.

I would imagine it’s faster and it would rid students of the burden of having to bring pencils that we already dislike using and sharpening. It also takes a bit longer to fill in a circle with lead than it does to click a button. It would just alleviate some minor burdens for students.

2. Test results would be instantly available.

3. It would be better for the environment.

Irrespective of their preferences, we also wondered whether the students thought that the LSAT would actually change to an online test within the next three years. Another lopsided result: 76 percent of respondents felt that it would remain a paper test for the foreseeable future. Many respondents cited some of the aforementioned reasons why a paper test is superior for the logic games and other question types unique to the LSAT. Other students pointed to what might be called “cultural” traits endemic to LSAC (and arguably by extension to the legal world generally): “Traditionalistic, conventionalism, rigidity…” or “It just isn’t the way of LSAC. They keep it old school.” Additionally, some respondents expressed skepticism that there were technical and cost issues that could not be resolved:

First, the risks of network problems and security problems seem, in my opinion, to be greater in an online format.

It would require LSAC to equip each test taker with a test-specific computer (i.e., no Internet capabilities) at each testing location, which could be expensive.

I don’t think the LSAT will change to an online test because it doesn’t seem likely to me that LSAC is willing to move in that direction, nor that in just 3 years they could set it up in a way that would provide equal testing facilities and security all over the country.

Thanks again to Blueprint and the more than 400 students who took our survey. And of course, best of luck to all those out there taking the LSAT next Monday.

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