An Open Letter to the New CEO of LSAC on the Future of the LSAT
- May 15, 2017
Dear Ms. Kellye Y. Testy,
Mazel on the new gig, Kellye! May I call you Kellye? Or I could go with Ms. Testy, if you’re nasty. Anyway, that’s very exciting, being named the new President and CEO of the Law School Admissions Council. I’m sure you’re going to do great!
I know you are. I mean, first of all, love the name. Your first name imagines a celebrity portmanteau from some alternate reality where Kanye West married Kelly Rowland. And your last name! Testy, for the new CEO of an organization that administers the LSAT, a widely-taken standardized test! It’s too perfect. I’m not saying they just hired you just for your name, but I probably would have hired you just for your name.
Second, you did great in your two years as dean of the University of Washington Law School. You helped the university set fundraising records (sure is nice to have the Gates and Ballmers as neighbors, I bet!) and increased diversity among the faculty and students. Sure, the school took a little tumble in the U.S. News & World Report rankings in the last couple years. But, between you and me, we know those rankings are mostly nonsense anyway.
But being named president and CEO comes with big responsibilities, you know. Not least among which is managing the future of the LSAT. The test’s been through a lot recently, but finally rebounded with an increase in test takers these last few years. But then came Harvard Law School, which threw 200 years of academic prestige on the table when it declared that it would start accepting the GRE in addition to the LSAT. Apparently, Harvard wanted a test that was more inclusive and accessible. And now people are wondering if this is the end of the LSAT as we know it.
But you’re not going to let that happen, are you? The LSAT is your test now. The LSAT is going to come back so strong its acronym will heretofore be the Law School Admissions Testy. But how are you going to do that? Well, I have some opinions on how to make the LSAT more accessible and inclusive. I’d love to share.
1. Change the schedule of exams
First, let’s talk about when the exams are administered. You only administer the tests in February, June, September or October, and December. Just four times a year. The GRE, your competitor now, gives the test all the times a year. You can take it whenever you want. You can see the competitive imbalance you’re facing, Ms. Testy.
We know the LSAC is looking into a digital LSAT that could maybe be given year-round, but that’s a ways off, I’m willing to gamble. In the meantime, why don’t you at least change the current schedule of LSATs?
I mean, you have the February test, which is either so close to end of the current year’s admissions window or so far off from the opening of the next year’s admissions window that no one takes it. Then you have the June test, which is either immediately after or during most universities’ spring finals. The September/October test is the one test that makes sense for most current students’ schedules, so it’s the one that the most test takers sign up for, leading to impacted test locations. And then there’s the December test, which is also given around most universities’ winter finals, but which many students are forced to take if they want to retake the exam after the September/October exam.
Why not change this? Hear me out—what if we switched the June exam to late March. It’s a couple months away from finals, plus all the nerds you’re trying to court to your exam can spend their spring breaks studying for the exam. We could then have two exams that people could study over the summer, one in late July and the other in late October. And then the winter exam could be pushed to early January. That way people can still take it and apply to law school in the current year’s admissions window. Plus, they could use their winter breaks to study.
2. Let the kids have scratch paper
Look, I get LSAC’s policy on scratch paper. Not allowed on the test, since it … could encourage cheating? Or what? I guess I don’t get the policy on scratch paper. You’re very curt about it on your website. You allow it on the writing sample portion on the test, but not on the others? Real [thinking face emoji] situation, huh?
So you’re making test takers take the portions of the exam that require the most writing—the logic games and reading comprehension sections—without the aid of scratch paper. This is forcing test takers to squeeze their writing into tiny spaces, for reasons that are unclear.
And we’re talking Millennial test takers, for the most part. Kellye, have you seen these Millennials’ handwriting? It’s enormous. It’s like a lifetime of being told they’re special has inflated their handwriting, in addition to their self-worth. Or a lifetime of texting has hindered the fine motor skills that allow you to write small. Either way, these test takers are struggling. You can either expect these Millenials to change their habits—good luck—or just allow them some scratch paper.
You could administer this scratch paper like PricewaterhouseCoopers administers the Oscar votes. OK—bad example after this year. But you get the point. Just give these kids some scratch paper. I’m not sure how being able to diagram a syllogism in the small margins of a test booklet prepares one for law school. Plus, if you do go digital, you’ll probably have to give kids scratch paper anyway, so why not start preparing now?
3. Do away with some of the excessive fees
You’re running an organization with some overhead, I get that, Ms. Testy. You gotta write the test, secure a bunch of testing locations, hire proctors, score the test, return the score reports. And that’s to say nothing of the law school application process. You need to charge money, I get that. And, credit where credit is due, you have a pretty good fee waiver program.
But these excessive fees and costs! It’s like you’re the strawman in a cell phone provider commercial. You only provide the test four times a year, but if someone has to change their test center or date because of an unforeseen emergency, they have to pay an additional $100. C’mon, Kellye. If someone wants to drop out, they have to figure it out at least a month in advance, and even then they only get $50 back from the $180 initial deposit? Really now?
I can’t tell you how LSAC’s finances work. But I can tell you some test takers see these as cost prohibitive. You want to expand the LSAT’s reach? Maybe don’t nickel and dime your students this way. These kids are cutting cable, Ms. Testy. Don’t test their frugality.
4. Less formal logic, more argument evaluation
Now let’s get down to the actual test. We all love the test. It has some hits we all cherish. Ordering games? Great stuff. Just when we thought you ran out of new material, you hit us with the comparative passages? The LSAT is just full of surprises.
But should you make some changes to the test? Because I hear murmurs, and a lot of people are whispering that the LSAT doesn’t have much to do with law school. I’m dubious about that claim, I really am, Kellye. But I think I know why they’re making it.
These students remember learning conditional statements, transitive deductions, formal logic—all the stuff that is definitively not part of the law school curriculum. They forget about the careful reading they were required to do in the reading comprehension section. They forget that they learned how to evaluate arguments in the logical reasoning section. They don’t realize that these are things that are really helpful in learning to read case law for a torts class, or to construct a cogent brief in a legal writing class.
So why not emphasize these skills, and de-emphasize formal logic? Place more prominence on flaw questions, disagree questions, strengthen questions, weaken questions, and crux questions—the questions that most strongly correlate to the things these test takers will be doing in law school. They’ll look back on the LSAT with, well, maybe not fondness, but at least not mild disdain most have for it.
It’s your test now, Ms. Testy. You can make it more open and accessible if you want to. You can crush the GRE, and make those dandies at Harvard Law look silly. I believe you’ll do the right thing.
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