Tackling the LSAT: Experimental Section Q&A

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As you hit the home stretch of your preparations for the upcoming LSAT, you should be considering how to keep yourself in the best possible state of mind before and during the exam. One major area of consternation, confusion, rumor, and anxiety centers on the Experimental Section. To be perfectly frank, this section is something you just shouldn’t think about a great deal, but that’s easy to say and terrifically hard to do, so let’s break down the facts about this legendary section. Once you know what is true and what isn’t, make the choice to simply put it out of your head until the exam is finished!

Experimental Q&A

Q: Wait, there are FIVE sections?

A: While the published PrepTests contain four sections (2 Logical Reasoning, 1 Reading Comp, 1 Logic Games), all official administrations of the LSAT will contain a fifth section — the experimental section. This section will not count toward your score, nor will it be released if/when the exam is published. Remember, February exams are typically undisclosed (i.e., no sections will be available for review when scores are released).

Q: Why are they doing this to me?

A: Well, like so many irritating things in life, it’s not really about you. The LSAC needs data on the difficulty level of questions and sections they are currently writing and plan to use on future exams. Where better than to get that data, then from all of you willing test subjects! So, while your performance on the experimental has no affect on your score at all, the LSAC is still very interested in the results for their own construction of future LSATs. This is the way that the LSAC is able to “pre-equate” each administration of the LSAT and ensure that scoring is fair and even-handed across multiple administrations.

Q: Where will it show up?

A: The conventional wisdom used to hold that the experimental section would only appear in one of the first three sections. Up until a few years ago, that was true, and as a result test takers could sometimes use the ordering of their sections to determine (usually after the fact) which section must have been their experimental. At the very least, they could be certain that their final two sections would be scored.

However, beginning with the October 2011 exam, some test takers have received exams with an experimental section in one of the final two sections of the exam (sections 4 or 5). So you can no longer simply trust your section lineup to tell you which section is experimental. You need to give every section your best effort.

Bottom line: in the current LSATs, the experimental can potentially show up in any section!

Q: What will it look like?

A: The experimental could be an extra section of any of the sectional formats. So, you might find yourself with 3 sections of Logical Reasoning, or 2 sections of Logic Games, or 2 sections of Reading Comprehension. One of these may sound like a dream come true, and one may sound like your own personal nightmare, but unfortunately, you can’t sign up for your preferred experimental format–it’s randomly assigned and you may have a different experimental format than your neighbor. You need to be mentally prepared for any lineup.

The experimental section will look and feel just like any other scored section. It has to, or the LSAC wouldn’t be able to gather useful data from your performance on it. Occasionally test takers report seeing slightly different wording on questions, or unusual question types, but those things appear just as frequently in the scored sections, so they are not a reliable indicator of which sections will be scored and which one will not.

It may feel easier than other sections, or harder, or exactly on par. Experimental sections range the gamut in difficulty levels, as do scored sections. Also, a particular exam might have an above average difficulty Logic Games (scored) section, and a below average difficult Reading Comprehension (scored) section, or any other combination. Don’t assume in the middle of a particularly difficult section that it must be the experimental, and decide to not give it your all!

Q: So how am I supposed to figure out which section is the experimental??

A: Well, during the exam, you aren’t. Seriously, since the LSAC can’t just scan your brain (yet), they are very invested in you performing at your peak during the experimental. As a result, they aren’t interested in making it easier for you to figure it out during the exam.

And what would you do if you figured it out? Take a nap? First, that’s probably not a great idea even if you were able to identify it accurately–keeping yourself mentally limber and active is more valuable. But consider the absolutely devastating consequences that would follow if you incorrectly concluded a particular section was experimental and decided to take that nap. Those costs are entirely too high, and whatever minimal benefit you might have gotten from a break is not worth that risk.

Q: But I heard you can figure it out by….

A: Probably not. Whatever rule you heard has exceptions, and you might fall into them. Do you really want to risk your score on that?

Q: So, what’s the upside?

A: Well, the fact that the experimental section could be anywhere, and anything, can be a valuable psychological tool for test day in limited circumstances. Let’s say you just got the Logic Games section to end all Logic Games sections, and you are feeling downtrodden, demoralized, and discouraged. But the proctor is telling you to pick up your pencil and start the next section. You have to pick yourself up and brush yourself off and GET BACK IN THE GAME!

How do you do it? Lie to yourself. Tell yourself that the section you feel like you just bombed was TOTALLY the experimental, OBVIOUSLY. Make yourself believe it. And get back to business. Who knows? It might even turn out to be true!

Q: So, for the most part, I should just ignore the fact that there is an experimental, and treat this like an exam with 5 scored sections?

A: Exactly!

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