July 2019 — the brand new digital LSAT.
We all know that unfamiliarity and uncertainty is the LAST thing you want for an exam that demands complete concentration, calm determination, and laser-like focus.
So if you’re not exactly sure what to expect with the new digital LSAT, or you’re worried about getting thrown off your game by something you didn’t anticipate, I’ve got you covered.
I took a gamble and signed up for the July 2019 rollout of the new digital test. Even with a 50-50 chance of getting the last paper test, I hoped to be a guinea pig for the first digital LSAT so that I could share my experience.
We’ll talk here about what matched my expectations, what didn’t go so smoothly, and what seemed confusing even to the proctors. (Of course, this post will NOT discuss test content, as that is strictly prohibited.)
It’s important to keep in mind that my experience reflects what happened at my testing center in Seattle. Students had slightly different experiences at other testing centers with other proctors, but I expect that my experience was pretty run-of-the-mill.
At the end of this post, I’ll list out some of the major issues that some other locations had with the rollout, but for the most part, we’ll stick to my own experience as an example of a fairly mundane and (hopefully!!) typical digital LSAT administration.
Although the July test date had a report time of “no later than 12:30pm,” our test center didn’t even START checking people in until about 12:45pm.
Partly, this was because a last-minute location change required the proctors to post notices at the originally scheduled building to let us know where the new building was. They posted signs on the new building, and one of the proctors walked back and forth rounding up any students who looked lost roaming around campus with their plastic baggie.
No word on whether the location change was at all due to the digital format, but since the new room had huge desks, I’d say it was worth it.
After we all made it to the new building, we waited outside for check in to start. One proctor told us that the others needed some extra time to get the digital test set up.
Takeaway: Anticipate possible delays. Don’t schedule anything for immediately after your test is supposed to end, and make sure your transportation home is flexible.
Check-in: Baggie check
Once we started checking in, one proctor checked our baggies, admissions tickets, and IDs, while another funneled us into the testing room. LSAT proctors sometimes vary in how strict they are with the baggie check, and our proctors were strict. Some students had to throw away what they hadn’t realized was contraband or stash it in another test taker’s car.
Examples I witnessed:
- The box the pencils came in
- Vitamin Water (Only clear liquids are allowed. Our proctors were definitely against anything caffeinated.)
- Map of campus
Highlighters ended up being a point of confusion. You can use them on the pencil and paper test, but the proctors weren’t sure about the digital version. After some debate, the proctors decided to confiscate all highlighters until the end of the test. But later in the check-in process, they reversed their decision and gave people back their highlighters.
I was surprised that our proctors actually allowed hoods, although any student wearing a hood had to tuck it inside their sweatshirt. Maybe that reflects how ubiquitous hoodies are as a Pacific Northwest fashion choice, though.
Takeaway: Read the instructions carefully about what is and what is not allowed. Be zen about anything you didn’t realize was contraband. It’s not worth letting that throw you off.
Check-in: Tablet and seat assignments
After baggie check, we entered the testing room and were issued our devices. One proctor scanned the admission ticket, our shiny new Surface Go tablet, and our scratch paper booklet. The computer then assigned our seat. Another proctor gave us a stylus pen and a screen wipe as she showed us to our seats. She told us that we could keep both afterward if we wanted.
The proctors emphasized that they were not allowed to touch our devices at any time during the test, even if we were just asking for help adjusting settings.
Takeaway: Familiarize yourself with the settings menu. You won’t get help making those adjustments.
Getting set up
Without any answer sheets, we were free from the tedious step of bubbling in our names and ID numbers. Instead, once we were ready to start, the proctor read us a cheesy letter from LSAC, then advanced our devices to a short (one question) survey. After that, we clicked to agree to the honesty policy. We then watched a tutorial video about the digital platform. There was no way to fast-forward the video.
Most of us were halfway through the video when the proctor told us he actually had wanted us to stop at the one question survey so that we could all advance together through the setup stages. Whoops…
Of course, the proctor didn’t actually know what happened in the setup stage, so he just kept asking us what we saw on our screens… A bit of chaos, actually. Eventually, we all caught up to each other on a settings menu where we could change our brightness, font size, and colors (to accommodate color blindness).
At some point in there, the proctors informed us that we had two options for our devices:
- We could use them flat on our desk, or
- If we wanted to use the kickstand, the device couldn’t be more than 3 inches above the desk, which meant fully extending the kickstand.
I ended up using my device flat the whole time. Partly, I didn’t want to raise eyebrows by lifting the device to adjust it mid-section.
Points of confusion
- On the paper test, students have to write out and sign a certifying statement promising to maintain the integrity of the test. Our proctors weren’t sure whether clicking to agree to the statement on the device was enough, so they ended up having us print and sign the certifying statement on our admission ticket during the 15 minute break.
- Scratch paper booklet: There’s a space to write your name on the booklet. Our proctors never directed us to do so, but we all ended up deciding on our own at some point during the day that we should probably fill it out.
Hopefully LSAC irons these things out by September.
- LSAC may not have fully updated the proctoring script for the first digital LSAT, but anticipate that proctors may still be a bit unsure about some things. Try to go with the flow.
- Tedious bubbling of your information is out, but a new tedious tutorial video is in!
- Unless you only use a desktop computer, try taking digital practice tests with your screen flat or nearly flat on your desk.
Actually taking the first digital LSAT
Before each section, the proctor read a brief statement followed by a “you may begin” statement. He then triggered all of our devices to jump to the directions screen for the section.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The timer starts on the directions screen, so click out of it as fast as possible.
My impressions of the digital interface, tools, and scratch paper:
- The LSAC stylus is terrible. I was way more accurate and faster using my finger to highlight, underline, select answers, and navigate the section.
- The scratch paper booklet had sufficient pages, but there’s a big LSAT watermark in the middle of each page. It’s dark enough that I avoided doing any of my sketches for the games in the middle of the page. We could use a pencil or the pen side of the stylus for our scratch work.
- Since there’s a pop up when 5 minutes remain, the proctors did not give a verbal warning.
- When time is up, you get immediately popped over to a different screen where you wait for the proctor to read the script again.
Takeaways: Practice on the LSAT digital familiarization site using a touchscreen. Finger is best, and if you want to practice with a stylus, use a cheap pen stylus.
Since the proctors weren’t allowed to touch our devices, we kept our tablets on our desks during the break. The proctor controls the advance to the next section, so it didn’t cause any test security issues. I was surprised that they didn’t collect our scratch paper booklets during the break though.
The net result was a more streamlined start to the break (and therefore a slightly shorter break) since paper-based tests require you to wait for the proctors to collect test booklets at the beginning of the break and redistribute them at the end.
I wasn’t sure at first if they would trust us with food and drink around the shiny new tablets, but it turns out that LSAC views us as adults! We could eat our snacks and drink our water in the test room or in the walkway immediately outside.
As is usual, proctors watched over us outside the room and along the path to the bathroom.
Takeaway: Break is exactly 15 minutes, with no extra admin time on either end.
Finishing the test
At the end of section 5, the proctors directed us to sit quietly while they collected our devices and scratch paper. Row by row, we walked the materials up to the proctor, who scanned both. Another proctor placed the devices into intense-looking lockboxes. Afterward, yet another proctor walked around collecting our admissions tickets. They then counted everything to make sure they had collected it all. We were then free to go! And free to take our LSAT stylus as an expensive $200 souvenir.
Takeaway: Hang tight. This step goes pretty fast.
Overall, the digital test wasn’t nearly as unusual or problematic as people had been anticipating. Sure, some people will always prefer paper, but the actual administrative side of the digital test was more streamlined than the paper test. Or at least it has the potential for being more streamlined…
More serious issues with the digital LSAT rollout
I want to make sure not to discount any of the more serious issues that arose in July with the digital test. These weren’t necessarily typical but are definitely worth mentioning. As test day progressed, reports rolled out of various glitches and problems:
- Some students didn’t receive a stylus as promised.
- In some places, delays drained tablet batteries, leading to worries about the batteries running out before the test finished.
- Some proctors gave inaccurate information about cancellation policies.
- Students in testing centers with small tests reported difficulties juggling the tablet and the scratch paper.
- A student at one center reported losing testing time because the proctor didn’t realize he had launched the next section.
- And worst of all, a few test centers couldn’t hook the devices to wifi, resulting in massive delays and eventual cancellations!
I don’t want you to read this list and start to panic.
First of all, rest assured that LSAC is currently working hard to prevent similar issues in the future. Second, remember that many of the issues for the first digital LSAT happened at only a few test centers. Other issues were relatively minor. (Not getting the stylus is probably a benefit, actually!)
Plus, it’s not like paper-based tests don’t have issues too. In order to help my students prepare mentally for worst-case scenarios, I sometimes tell them the story of my sister’s SAT. She took it in the cafeteria of a nearby high school, and the proctor apparently left the answer sheets at home… A cafeteria full of nervous high schoolers had to wait nearly an hour for the proctor to drive home to get the answer sheets. Meanwhile, another proctor tried to entertain them by telling jokes. In her words: “They weren’t funny.”
Crazy things happen sometimes in standardized testing, so it’s important to be prepared for what you can anticipate and to let go about the rest. Sometimes easier said than done, of course.
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