The LSAT Enters the Digital Age

Mia Carpiniello, Associate Director

After 71 years, LSAT-takers will put down their #2 pencils for good. Starting this summer, the Law School Admission Test will transition from a paper-and-pencil test to a digital exam administered on the Microsoft Surface Go tablet. To familiarize applicants with the digital format, the Law School Admission Council has created a Digital LSAT Tutorial. In addition, there is an extensive list of FAQs about the digital LSAT on LSAC’s website.

When is this High-Tech Change Happening?

The first digital exam will be administered at the July 2019 test when approximately half of test-takers will be assigned the tablet test and half will be assigned the traditional pencil-and-paper test. After July, all exams will be digital.

To accommodate this transition with the July 2019 LSAT, those who take the July test will be given the opportunity to cancel the test after viewing their score. (Normally, you can only cancel a test before receiving a score.) If a July test-taker decides to cancel their score, they may take one additional LSAT through April 2020. Note that as with all cancellations, a July 2019 cancelled score will be reported to the law schools as a cancelled test.

Beginning in September 2019, all LSAT exams administered in North America will be digital.

What About the Writing Sample?

You might be wondering how the writing sample – the unscored, written section of the LSAT – will be affected by this transition to digital format. This section is changing in two ways starting with the June 3, 2019 test – so even before the digital LSAT is introduced. First, as you probably already guessed, the writing section will no longer be hand-written. Test-takers will now type their essays in a secure, online platform. Second, the writing sample will no longer be administered on test day. Instead, test-takers will complete the writing sample on a computer or laptop on their own, up to one year after their LSAT test date. For more information on the writing sample, check out these FAQs.

If you want advice about when to take the LSAT, we’re here to help! Schedule a pre-law advising appointment through Handshake or by calling our office at 215-898-1789.

Practical Learning At Its Best

Josh Oppenheimer – COL’13, MPA ’13, L’16

It’s usually hard waking up at 4:30 in the morning. But, not when you have to catch a train from Philly for a meeting in Washington . . . at The White House.

During the fall semester of my 3L year at Penn Law, I enrolled in an administrative law class that examined how the various federal agencies in our government operate, and what – if anything – could be done to make them more efficient. My class had previously spent a day in Philadelphia, meeting with Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) from the Social Security Administration and counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 3. Now, we were off to meet with policy leaders in our nation’s capital.

While I knew that the administrative state was large and bureaucratic – cue the presidential candidates listing which agencies they would eliminate if they were elected President – I never knew how large it really was. Our first stop was on Capitol Hill, where we met with staffers working on administrative reform bills. Sometimes, sweeping change needs to come from the top, which is why Congress is currently debating how best to reign-in what some call “rouge” agencies.

Sometimes, though, effective change must arise from within.

After our meetings on Capitol Hill, we traversed Pennsylvania Avenue and – once passing through the black gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – met with an official in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. OIRA – as it’s more commonly known in the “alphabet soup” that makes up the D.C. lingo – is itself an agency that oversees and keeps in line the countless other federal agencies. That’s right, there’s an agency for the agencies! Like a coxswain on a crew boat, OIRA is tasked with making sure agencies’ policies line-up with one another and that the federal bureaucracy stays in-sync with itself.

As we finished up our day and headed back to Union Station to catch our train, I (almost literally) ran into a man whose old office we had just left. Peter Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), used to supervise OIRA’s day-to-day activities. An agency overseeing an agency overseeing lots of agencies…Oh, Washington.

Though it looks like it will take more than a simple nudge to reform our administrative state, I am so fortunate that Penn Law appreciates not only the need for theoretical-based classes where we learn through textbooks, but also practical, hands-on experiences that come when we get outside the classroom, whether that be through scheduled meetings or serendipitous occurrences waiting for our train.

Josh and Orszag

The USNWR Rankings Are Out Tomorrow – The Top 14 List

Except it’s not what you think.  🙂

So, it is indeed that time of year again – when pre-law students, law school applicants, current law students, and law school admissions officers and administrators anxiously await the new U.S. News & World Report law school rankings.  As many of you know, there are rarely any seismic shifts in the results as evidenced by the ever-unchanging, more-certain-than-death-and-taxes Top 14 (“T-14” for those who speak the Law School Admissions dialect) list of fourteen schools always landing in the top, year after year.  While subtle movements occur within the Top 14 and elsewhere throughout the rankings list every year – after all, you have to give the readers (and online posters) something to worry/debate/obsess about – I am amazed at how thoroughly predictable the rankings are, by and large.  Well, at least I used to be.  So in honor of the 2012 rankings being published tomorrow – for more precise timing, the USNWR staff has graciously provided a clock, ticking down the days, hours, minutes, (and yes) seconds until their online publication – here is Top 14 List of what you should keep in mind when the clock strikes zero.


1. In response to a great deal of outside pressures, compelling appeals, and legitimate questions about reliability from myriad constituencies, the 2012 USNWR rankings have apparently been modified in how employment rates are calculated.  The details about the specific changes remain nebulous prior to publication, but the issues of transparency and accuracy and the desire to collectively “eliminate some of the gaming that seems to be taking place” all seem to have gained traction.  USNWR even wrote a letter to all law school deans, insisting on more honest reporting:

2. In addition to these improvements in the computations, it seems like USNWR will also make more robust and more detailed career data available than they ever have before to paint a broader, but also more nuanced picture of the current state of the legal market for prospective students.  Stay tuned!

3. USNWR recently surveyed law firm recruiters and hiring partners at the top US law firms and created an alternate “Top 25” list, which adds a slightly different perspective to the rankings game:  However, caveat emptor – according to USNWR, the survey “was sent last fall to 750 hiring partners and recruiters at law firms who made the 2010 Best Law Firms rankings produced jointly by U.S. News and the publication Best Lawyers.”  And also, “the response rate was 14 percent.”

4. In addition to the overall rankings, don’t forget to review the Law School Specialty rankings as well, particularly if you are interested in attending law school with a specific field/area of interest in mind.  Though based solely on votes by legal educators, these are still interesting lists to consider.  The specialties listed are: Clinical Training, Dispute Resolution, Environmental Law, Healthcare Law, Intellectual Property Law, International Law, Legal Writing, Part-Time Law, Tax Law, and Trial Advocacy.  And guess what schools in the 2010 Specialty Rankings weren’t #1 on any of those lists?  I’ll give you a hint, they rhyme with Yale, Harvard, and Stanford.

5. Did you know that 40% of what determines the rankings each year is what USNWR refers to as “Quality Assessment?”  Quality Assessment is determined by sending a survey to a variety of constituencies: Peer Assessment (representing 25% of the total rankings) is comprised of law school deans, law school faculty, and deans of academic affairs, while Assessment by Lawyers/Judges (representing 15% of the total ranking) is comprised by law firm hiring partners, selected judges, and other legal professionals.  And what does the survey ask?  One thing: Please “rate programs on a scale from marginal (1) to outstanding (5).” After that, “a school’s score is the average of all the respondents who rated it,” with “responses of ‘don’t know’ count[ing] neither for nor against a school.”   That’s it.  That’s 40% of the overall rankings.  Even scarier?  Last year, for Peer Assessment, only 65% of those surveyed responded… while only 21% of those surveyed for the Assessment by Lawyers/Judges responded.

6. Bar passage rate only accounts for 2% of the total rankings.  The main (and only) indicator as to whether or not you will be able to practice law in a given state after graduating from law school accounts for 2% of the law school rankings.  And just to reiterate, the one-question survey asking for Peer Assessment accounts for 25%.  Just saying.

7. Even the USNWR editors themselves declare that “many other factors that cannot be measured also should figure in your decision, including the course offerings and culture of departments that interest you, the advising or mentoring you can expect to receive, and the location and campus life.”  They even explicitly say this: “the rankings can inform your thinking—but they won’t hand you an easy answer. We urge you to use them wisely.”  Something to think about, huh?

8. There are many, many other resources for you to consider when researching law schools, even though none of them might have the ticking-down clock (See #9-12).

9. The Law School Admission Council –

10. The websites (and printed materials) of the individual law schools themselves

11. Our very own Career Services Pre-Law Website –

12. Our very own Career Services pre-law advisors – Anne Reedstom and Yours Truly – available for individual appointments and weekly pre-law walk-in hours

13. Notice that the litany of law school online forums and “boards” is not mentioned here.  With very good reason.  Please try to refrain for spending time on these websites.  They are unregulated, mostly mean-spirited, and often wildly inaccurate and exaggerated.  Again, please refer to #9-12 before you ruin your day.

14. And now with my caveats in tow, here you go and happy (judicious, well-reasoned, and non-obsessive… promise?) clicking (since we’re rapidly approaching the zero hour):

It’s Only One Number… I Promise (And I Know That You Don’t Believe Me)

by Todd Rothman

Since the results from the October 2010 LSAT exam were released this past weekend – just in time for celebrating and/or self-medicating through Halloween candy – I thought this would be a good time to put this into some perspective.  The LSAT exam is one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of the law school admissions process, sending even the most calm and reasonable applicants into a tailspin of self-doubt and irrationality.  In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I heard one of the following statements uttered in my office – “I know that the LSAT is the only thing Admissions Committees care about” or “If I don’t get a [insert absurdly high LSAT score here], I know I don’t have a chance at being admitted to any “good” law schools” – well, let’s just say that I could be writing this blog entry from a café in Paris.

(c) King Features Syndicate

As a former law school admissions officer, and one of Penn’s pre-law advisors, I have more than six years of experience witnessing the range of reactions associated with “getting back the score.”  Usually though, these reactions fall into three distinct categories: (1) unqualified joy and relief, (2) utter devastation and panic, or (3) frustration and bewilderment.  Let me try to explain why all of these reactions are at least somewhat (to very) misguided.

1. Unqualified joy and relief…. or the “Now I Have Nothing To Worry About” Misconception. While nobody, myself included, is going to tell you that your LSAT score is unimportant or a non-issue, it is almost never the deal-breaker… or, in this case, deal-maker… that applicants believe it to be.  The fact is, an LSAT score is the single-best predictor of first-year law school performance.  Let me repeat that: An LSAT score is the single-best predictor of first-year law school performance, according to annual LSAC correlation studies on first-year grades in ABA-accredited law schools.  However, it is widely known (and widely accepted) that LSAT scores have little definable correlation with second-year or third-year law school performance, selection to Law Review, bar passage rates, post-graduation job offers… and the list goes on.  With that in mind, law school admissions officers view LSAT scores as a useful, but limited tool in evaluating their candidates for admission.  Sure, if you have a strong LSAT score, coupled with an otherwise strong and attractive application – a rigorous academic curriculum, consistently strong academic performance, a well-crafted and effective personal statement, compelling and detailed letters of recommendation, a history of unfailing extracurricular involvement and leadership, not to mention a host of other factors – then that LSAT score will speak to a candidate with a great deal of potential.  If some or most of those other factors are not present though, a high LSAT score in a vacuum will not move mountains.  Even worse, Admissions Committees might wonder (and rightly so) why a student with clear intellectual potential based on that high LSAT score was so underwhelming in other areas of life.

2.       Utter devastation and panic… or the “Now I Need To Find Another Career” Misconception. If your results of this exam for which you (hopefully) spent a lot of time preparing did not pan out as you had hoped, there is certainly cause for some degree of disappointment.  However, in light of what was just discussed, you need to have faith in the fact that law school admissions officers will still read and carefully evaluate your application with equal attention.  The truth is, the LSAT is a snapshot of who you are as an applicant – on one day (maybe two days… hopefully, not three days) – and Admissions Committees always review applications in their relative context and in light of every other aspect of your application.  I know of no law schools who employ cut-off scores for LSAT performance and, while 25th percentile, median, and 75th percentile information is readily available for any ABA-accredited law school, they are not indicative of the full range of scores of successfully matriculated students.  In fact, those numbers speak to the middle 50% of a law school’s incoming class – nothing more, nothing less.  Though a lower-than-expected score might result in refining your current list of schools, you do not need to find another career.

3.       Frustration and bewilderment… or the “But I Scored A 172 On One Practice Exam Back In August” Misconception. As I have previously stated, taking the LSAT is an anxiety-producing experience.  With that in mind, very few students have their best day, score-wise, on the day of the actual exam.  The truth is, most students score between 1-3 points lower when they take the LSAT than on their earlier practice tests.  While sitting for full practice LSAT exams under “simulated test conditions” is strongly advisable in your preparation, it would be impossible to simulate the actual real-world stress of that particular day.  Whether it’s the heightened communal angst of your fellow test-takers… or getting finger-printed for identification… or experiencing a last-minute room change… the pressure of that particular experience is unique and almost always affects your score.  And more than likely, it affects your score negatively… usually to the tune of 1-3 points lower than your typical practice exams.  The good news?  This is a shared experience of anxiety for the majority of test-takers on a curved exam, which in some way actually corrects for this.

To reiterate, it’s only one number… I promise.  And yes, I know that you still don’t believe me.