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Taking a Closer Look at the October 2011 LSAT

We offered a brief recap of the facts Monday, so now it’s time for a little analysis.

Three things jump out at me from the comments around the web and from students:

1. The experimental was all over the place, including an unheard-of fourth section experimental
2. The curve was significantly more lenient than usual
3. The curve was significantly more lenient than expected

So let’s take a look at each one and see what it means for future test-takers:

1. The experimental was all over the place, including an unheard-of fourth section experimental

Before this administration of the LSAT, the experimental was standardized to the first three sections. While you could never be 100% sure, it was sometimes possible to narrow down which section was experimental. If you had two Logic Games section in the first three, you knew one was experimental. If you had one Reading Comp section third, and another fourth, you knew the third was experimental.

And therein lies my opinion on the reason for the change.

Before, if you had a breakdown of sections that allowed you to tell which was your experimental, you might have a mental advantage over someone else. If you bombed the experimental games third, but had another section fourth, you’d quickly figure out you were still on solid ground. By switching the “first three sections” rule up, LSAC now only allows you to narrow it down to which type of section was experimental. Expect this trend to continue.

Also, I’m glad none of my students ever took me up on the bet I always made about the experimental remaining in the first three sections…

2. The curve was significantly more lenient than usual.

As mentioned Monday, the -13 curve was very lenient. This curve suggests that the LSAT from October 2011 was more difficult than other recent LSATs.

While I have no solid information to back up this speculation, I believe people are now viewing the LSAT as more learn-able. The legal market is notoriously difficult to enter right now, and people are aware of the importance of the LSAT. As such, I believe that the LSAC has been slightly increasing the difficulty in a variety of ways to counteract the increased levels of preparation. They need to keep the scores standardized, and if people are more prepared, the difficulty has to ramp up to keep everything even. I would expect this trend to continue as well.

3. The curve was significantly more lenient than expected

The TLS prediction thread had the curve -11/-12. The students I spoke to felt it was a pretty straight-forward LSAT. Sure, there were some complaints about a game (bikes?), but that’s almost always the case. On top of that, I barely heard any chatter complaining about a Reading Comp passage, which is a rarity.

So, in short, this test ended up being a lot harder than people thought it was.

Which means that test-takers are over-estimating how many questions they answered correctly. To me, this plays into the second point — the LSAT is not only getting harder, but it’s putting forward more sucker choices. These sucker choices are the questions of which you’re 100% certain, until someone points out why it’s incorrect. They’re notoriously difficult to see in the middle of the test, and they give you a false sense of security.

I also think that they’re putting a lot of these in the Reading Comp passages. Most of the students with whom I talked had much lower-than-predicted RC scores.

In the future, I expect this trend to continue as well. While students should still use the Rules of Thumb we teach in class, they’ll have to apply them intelligently instead of in a brute-force manner. Use them to guide you to possible answers, and then consider them fully before selecting your final response. Which is what you should be doing anyway, but who here hasn’t picked B before reading the rest of the answers after the 5-minute call on LR?