This post was written by Laura Damone, a Manhattan Prep LSAT instructor.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news: Like everything else in the world, the LSAT is going digital.
It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. The paper LSAT, with its Scantrons, #2 pencils, and analog watches, was decidedly behind the times. The other graduate and professional school exams—the GRE, GMAT, and MCAT—have all been digital for years.
We know change is hard. And we know the LSAT is hard. But these 2019 LSAT changes? They don’t have to be. In most ways, the test will be the same old LSAT you know and love…or know and loathe…or know and…well…tolerate. Look at everything that’s staying the same:
- The content
- The timing
- The number of sections
- The scoring
In other words, pretty much everything is staying the same except the physical format of the test. And over here in our nerdy little corner of the world, we’re actually really excited about the digital LSAT, and we think you should be too.
Why? Let us walk you through it step by step in this comprehensive guide to the digital LSAT changes in 2019.
What Changes When the LSAT Goes Digital?
As of September 2019, when you arrive at your LSAT testing center, instead of a test booklet and a Scantron, you’ll be given a touch-screen tablet, a stylus, some scratch paper, and a pen.
Because the testing center will provide a pen, you will not need to bring a set of LSAC-approved pencils. This is good news because pencils break, erasers shred test booklets, and shopping for anything LSAC-approved is a pain.
Because the testing tablet has a built-in timer, you will also not need to bring an analog watch. This is great news because timing yourself using an analog watch, or worse, the clock on the wall of the testing center, is distracting. It also takes brain power. The new built-in timer is a countdown timer… So you don’t need to do any math to figure out the time remaining in a section.
The last thing that’s changing is the writing sample. Starting in June, the writing sample will no longer be completed at the testing center on test day. Under the new system, the writing section will be separate from the LSAT. It will be administered via an online platform so you’ll get to type your essay instead of handwriting it (welcome news for those of us living in the 21st century!).
Your access to that platform will begin the day of your test. But that doesn’t mean you have to do the writing sample on the day of your test. This is a clear advantage over the old system because a shorter test day is definitely a better test day. The other advantage of the new digital writing sample is that, if you choose to retake the LSAT, you won’t need to redo your writing sample. You only need one on file for your Law School Report.
When is the LSAT Going Digital?
On June 3, 2019, the final paper-only LSAT will be given. After that, the transition to the digital LSAT begins.
The July 15, 2019 LSAT will be a “transitional” test. For this LSAT, half the students will be taking a paper test and half will be taking a digital test. You won’t know until you arrive at your testing center which group you belong to.
Let me guess what you’re thinking: “That sounds super stressful. Is anyone even going to sign up for the July LSAT?”
The answer is yes! And you should, too. Really. We actually think that everyone should take it in July. More on that in a little bit.
The next LSAT, on September 21, 2019, will be the first purely digital LSAT. For September and beyond, it’s digital or nothing!
Here are some important dates to be aware of regarding the digital test changes:
- Wednesday, April 24, 2019: the last day to register for the all-paper June LSAT
- Monday, June 3, 2019: the last all-paper LSAT
- Tuesday, June 4, 2019: the last day to register for the transitional July 15th LSAT
- Monday, July 15, 2019: the transitional LSAT (half the test-takers get a paper test, the other half go digital)
- Saturday, September 21, 2019: the first all-digital LSAT
Are you considering taking the June or July exam? If so, register now. As in, literally, right now. We’ll wait.
Why? Because demand for these tests is extremely high and slots are filling up fast. Not sure whether either of these exams is right for you? Keep reading—we’ll help you decide.
Can I Take a Practice Test in the New Digital Format?
You can! LSAC has published two digital practice tests on its special site dedicated to the digital LSAT format, with several more tests coming soon. That site also has tutorials and practice sections. To make sure you get the most out of that practice, check out our tips about the new digital features and the best ways to use each one.
Should I Take the June 2019 LSAT?
If you’re ready for it, yes. But don’t rush your preparation just because it’s the last paper and pencil test. I think Manhattan Prep instructor Misti Duvall said it best: “When you’ve mastered the test, you’ll be able to transfer that mastery to digital. It’s still the same test, just a different format.”
If you’re already preparing for the June LSAT, by all means carry on! But if fear of the digital LSAT is your primary motivator here, don’t let that stand in your way. You deserve complete preparation on a timeline that works for you. Trust us: You will perform better on a digital test that you’re fully prepared for than you will on a paper test you’re only kind of prepared for.
That said, even if you haven’t begun your LSAT prep yet, it’s not too late to prepare for June, provided you have the time and reasonable expectations.
You could sign up for an accelerated LSAT course that meets two or three times a week, in-person or online. But be forewarned: These are high-intensity classes! Between class time and study time, we’re talking 25 hours a week for a twice-a-week class. Bump that up to 35+ if your class meets three times a week. If you want a full course and that’s too much for your schedule, don’t take it in June 2019.
If you’re not sure you need a full LSAT course, you might be able to get away with a quick pre-test refresher course that reviews just the must-knows so they’re fresh in your mind on test day.
There are also plenty of ways to study on your own. Our best advice: Most companies offer some free material or services. Take advantage of that! Check out whatever you can for free so you can find the best classes, study platforms, and materials for you. At Manhattan Prep, we let people sit in on the first session of any of our courses for free; you can also do some free lessons on LSAT Interact, our interactive self-study platform. Our free email series THE BRIEF can help you prep on any timeline that suits you. Sign up for the twice-per-day option and you’ll get all the goods in just 31 days.
Should I Take the July 2019 LSAT? (Spoiler Alert: You Should!)
Yes. Everyone should take the July 2019 LSAT. Everyone. Why? Two reasons.
First, for the July 2019 LSAT (and the July test alone), you can do something unheard of in the LSAT world—you can see your score before you decide whether to keep or to cancel.
Yes, you heard that right. If you take the July 2019 LSAT, the one where half the test-takers will be given a digital LSAT and the other half will be given a paper LSAT, you will get your score back first and then have a full five days to decide whether it’s a score you want to keep.
But wait. It gets even better. The second reason everyone should take the July 2019 LSAT? A free retake. If you take the July LSAT, get your score back, and decide that you want to cancel it, you’ll get a one-time free retake, as long as you take it again by the end of April 2020.
So, what does this mean for you? You’re going to take the July LSAT… But the rest of the details depend on where you are in your LSAT prep.
If You’re Planning on Taking the June 2019 LSAT, Retake the LSAT in July
How many of us really have our best day on test day? Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe the unfamiliarity of the testing environment, but many test-takers experience a test-day dip.
Consider this, though: Along with your actual LSAT score, LSAC reports what they call a score band. The score band is a range of scores intended to estimate what you’re truly capable of—typically a 7-point range, with your actual score falling smack in the middle. So if you get a 152, they think that on your worst day, you could’ve scored a 149, but on your best day, you could’ve scored a 155.
Well, if that’s the case, why not go for that 155 in July? Since you can cancel your score if it doesn’t top your first one, you’ve got nothing to lose by trying. Yes, you’ll have to pay another $190 test fee. But for what you could gain in scholarships by increasing your score by even a couple points, it’s worth it.
If You’re Planning on Taking a Later LSAT, Make the July 2019 LSAT Your Dry Run
How cool would it be to preview the test-day experience? Students taking the LSAT a second time around know what to expect at the testing center, and that can lead them to feel more calm and centered during the exam.
Well, if you’re planning to take the September 2019 LSAT (or any test after that), you can use the July LSAT as a preview—and a free preview at that! Even if you’re not fully prepared in July, go! Take the test as a dry run, cancel your score, and retake the LSAT for free when you had originally planned to take it (in the September 2019 to April 2020 timeframe).
If you’re lucky enough to get a digital LSAT in July, you’ll get the added benefit of experience with the digital testing platform. And if you’re extra extra lucky, you might even nail a score worth keeping. Hey…it could happen…and you won’t know unless you try!
If You’ve Already Taken the LSAT But Aren’t Applying to Law Schools until the Fall of 2019, Retake the LSAT in July
That is, of course, unless you got a 180. Assuming you didn’t (you are reading an LSAT blog, after all), you might as well try to eke out a couple of extra points in July. A couple of points can make a huge difference. So aside from $190 and several hours of your life, there’s really no reason not to. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and if you don’t top your first score, you can always cancel.
If You Didn’t Get into a School You Want to Attend, Retake the LSAT in July
Rejections happen. If you happen to be the unlucky recipient of a law school rejection letter (or three) but you’re not ready to throw in the towel, retake the LSAT in July. Bumping your score by even a couple of points can be the difference between acceptance and rejection… So you might as well go for it. If you get a score that will help you fare better during the next application cycle, great. And if you don’t, cancel and take advantage of the free retake before the next round of applications are due.
So If Everyone Should Take the July 2019 LSAT, How Do I Prepare?
So far, LSAC hasn’t released much in the way of digital LSAT prep material. But that’s okay, because remember—the content of the test isn’t changing. At all.
If you’re taking the July 2019 LSAT, be ready for whatever format the LSAT throws at you: paper or digital.
The Road to July—Prepping for the Paper/Digital/Who Knows Transitional Administration
You’re going to learn all the content in the same way that everyone has for years. None of that changes.
You do, though, have to be ready for either format—paper or digital.
Okay, let’s get the easy one out of the way first. To make sure you’re ready for a test booklet and a Scantron, you’re going to be prepping the same way that every student in the history of the LSAT has prepped. No news there. Still, let us offer you two quick pieces of advice.
- Practice bubbling in an answer sheet. This seemingly simple task can come back and bite you if you’re not prepared—don’t skimp on this. Getting a question wrong because you misbubbled the answer is something all of us have been through. Talk about frustrating! To help you avoid this frustration, every official LSAT PrepTest comes with an answer sheet, no matter where you buy them or in what form. If you have one of LSAC’s official books of 10 PrepTests, the Scantrons are all the way in the back.
- Some students find it helpful to have their own timing device during the exam. If you’re in that camp, you’ll need to go get an LSAC-compliant analog watch. Get the kind that’s easy to reset and practice this timing hack: As you take a proctored exam, reset the watch to noon right before each section. That way, your watch works like a countdown clock. When it’s 12:17, you know you’re 17 minutes into the section. This will let you channel all your brainpower where it belongs—the test!
First, if you haven’t already, take a moment to check out the platform on LSAC’s website. You’ll see that LSAC released 3 tutorials, 3 short tutorial practice sets, 3 full timed sections, and some full-length LSAT practice tests.
You’re probably going to want to skip the tutorials; they consist of a robot voice narrating a standardized test being taken. Go straight to the tutorial practice sets instead and make sure to practice each of the following tasks:
- Adjusting the screen preferences in toolbar at the top
- Using the annotation tools
- Selecting, unselecting, and eliminating answer choices
- Scrolling, collapsing, and uncollapsing answers on longer questions
- Flagging questions
- Moving between questions using the navigation bar at the bottom
- Switching between “passage only” and “passage with questions” view in Reading Comprehension
What did you think? I was skeptical at first (maybe it was the robot voice?), and it took me a little while to get accustomed to the platform, but once I did, I found a lot of advantages. Built-in question flagging, no more Scantron bubbling, returning to skipped questions literally at the touch of a finger…it’s kind of my LSAT dream come true. Nobody’s law school aspirations should be tied to squinting at answer bubbles or shuffling through test booklets!
One of the biggest test changes with the digital LSAT? You’ll be doing your scratchwork separately from the question or game that you’re working on. While the digital LSAT platform lets you highlight, underline, flag questions, and eliminate answers, you can’t make freehand annotations onscreen.
To get a sense of what this feels like, try completing PrepTests with scratch paper next to you. Allow yourself only the following markings in the test booklet: underline, highlight, cross off an answer, flag a question. Anything else (Conditional Logic diagrams, notes about passage structure, game setups) will have to be done on your scratch paper. Paper tests completed like this are the best way to simulate the functionality of the digital LSAT as we all wait for more digital LSAT practice tests to be released.
You’ll also want to test out different angles for your tablet. LSAC tells us that the tablets will have a built-in stand so they can be “angled slightly” on your desk. Since your tablet can’t be visible to the person behind you, we’re banking on this angle being very slight. Try doing a short practice set like we described above with your PrepTest flat on your desk. Then try doing another one with your PrepTest propped up. See which you like better!
If you happen to have a tablet or can borrow one for half an hour, you could try this experiment with the sample sections from the LSAC website, too.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Screen Preferences
It’s July. You showed up at your testing center. Someone handed you a tablet. Now what?
Well, if you’ve practiced with the samples released by LSAC, you know that step 1 is to set up your screen preferences. The proctor will give everyone time to do this before the test begins. If you haven’t already, go practice with those samples and figure out which settings you’ll use on test day.
It’s also important to know that you’re not locked into your screen preferences. You can change them at any time throughout the test. In fact, there are three scenarios in which this can be particularly helpful.
For all sections of the LSAT, instructor Daniel Fogel says, “Put the timer in time out! Hide the timer (by clicking the countdown clock) until it automatically pops up with the 5-minute warning. The timer counting down onscreen will only increase stress and detract attention from the question at hand.” And if you do want to check your time before the 5-minute warning, just click the space where the countdown clock was and it’ll reappear.
Second, when you use the digital LSAT annotation tools, you may want to adjust font size or line spacing. We all found the tools to be a little imprecise with the default settings (though this might improve by July?). Thankfully, instructor Scott Miller figured out a hack: Increasing the font size from “default” to “large” results in a significant improvement in the precision of both the highlighter and the underline tool.
The underline tool can be made even more precise by increasing the line spacing from “default” to “medium.” If you’re like me, when you go to underline, you place your finger or stylus under the text you want to underline. This confuses the system and sometimes results in underlining the text beneath the text you actually want underlined. With more space between the lines, the system can more easily decipher which line you’re intending to annotate.
Third, you may want to adjust font size in order to see an entire Reading Comp passage onscreen at once. Reducing the font size from “default” to “small” will often make this possible in “passage only” view. Some passages, particularly the comparative set, may be too long for this hack. But it works on three of four passages released by LSAC, so this should work more often than not.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: What’s Your Stylus Style?
Every digital LSAT-taker will be given a stylus. So does that mean everyone should use the provided stylus for every section? Not necessarily.
On Logic Games, you may not want to use the stylus at all. Since all the work will be done with a pen on scratch paper, fussing with another writing utensil will only slow you down. Hold your pen like you always do and use whichever finger you can to make your onscreen selections and eliminations. This is something you’ll want to experiment with, so grab some scratch paper and a pen and pull up the Analytical Reasoning practice section on a touchscreen device: a tablet is ideal, but even your phone will work in a pinch.
For the first game, do whatever comes naturally. For the second, try something different. See which you prefer. If you’re not sure where to start, try gripping your pen between your middle finger and your thumb, freeing up your pointer to interact with the screen. If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even try using your non-writing hand on the touchscreen.
On Reading Comprehension, if you’re going to annotate, the stylus is the way to go because it helps you use the annotation tools more precisely. If you want to jot down some notes on scratch paper too, try to do it between paragraphs or at the end of the passage to minimize any disruption to your thought process that switching utensils may cause.
For Logical Reasoning, it really depends on the test-taker. If you rely more heavily on highlighting and underlining, you’re going to want to use the stylus. But if you rely more heavily on Conditional Logic diagrams, it’s probably better just to hold your pen so you can easily transition to scratch paper and use a free finger to interact with the screen.
For all sections, remember, the stylus is a tool. It’s there to help you, not hinder you. If you find yourself holding your stylus and thinking something to the effect of Hmmm, normally I’d draw this out, but I guess I’ll just keep it in my head, the stylus isn’t doing its job and you should punish it by putting it down, picking up your pen, and getting the work out of your head and onto the paper where it belongs. Trying to keep work in your head is one of the biggest time-killers and mistake-creators on the LSAT. Don’t let the new format trick you into thinking otherwise!
Things Worth Knowing about the Digital LSAT Platform that the Tutorials Didn’t Cover
Unless you’ve spent as much time tinkering with the digital LSAT interface as we at Manhattan Prep have (and frankly, for your sake, we hope that you haven’t), you may not have noticed some of the more subtle functions of the platform. This section is dedicated to pulling back the veil on the items the tutorials just didn’t cover.
First up, the scrolling function for longer questions. This applies to longer questions in any section of the exam. If you’ve scrolled down to look, for example, at answer choice D, and you eliminate it or collapse it, your screen might automatically scroll back up to answer choice A. This means you’ll have to scroll back down to read E.
Now, hopefully this is just a bug that will get worked out before the July 2019 LSAT, but just in case it isn’t, there’s a hack for that. As you go through the question, collapse A, B, and C as soon as you’ve made the call to keep them or get rid of them. Then you can evaluate D and E without your screen jumping around. If you eliminate D, E, or both, collapse them. You can then uncollapse your contender answer choices and look at them without being distracted by the eliminated ones… hopefully without scrolling, too!
Next up, the un-annotatable. You can mark up almost everything on the digital LSAT platform, but you cannot annotate an answer that has been eliminated or collapsed. If you want to annotate an answer that you plan to collapse, annotate it first. You also can’t annotate the same piece of text in more than one way simultaneously. In other words, you can’t both underline and highlight the same word.
And now, the scrolling function for Reading Comprehension passages. This is another quirk that we’re hoping will be worked out before you take the July LSAT, but just in case it isn’t, here’s what you need to know: When you scroll through the passage to answer a question, your passage will stay in that position until you scroll back up. That’s true when you advance to the next question. That’s even true when you advance to the next passage. So if you suddenly find yourself reading the middle of a whole new passage, just scroll back to the top and start reading again.
And finally, you’re going to see some blue highlighting on certain Reading Comprehension questions. On the digital LSAT, some Reading Comprehension questions will ask about a particular concept and will highlight that thing in blue in the question stem. For these questions, the corresponding portion of the passage will also be highlighted in blue, but you may have to scroll or switch passage views to see it. These are equivalent to questions on the paper LSAT that reference a particular line number. Because there are no line numbers on the digital LSAT, they highlight the relevant text instead. This is a cool feature that can really ease the burden of relocating information quickly, but these are just like any line reference question—the answer might come from the lines preceding or following the highlighted portion, so don’t be tricked into taking too narrow a view!
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Question Flagging on the Digital LSAT
Two of our favorite things about the digital LSAT test platform are the ability to flag a question and the ability to jump back to that question using the navigation bar. This is such a time-saver over the old system of flipping through a test booklet and squinting at your answer sheet. To get the most out of this feature, though, you have to flag strategically.
You know that feeling where you can just sense that you’re missing something—that the key to unlocking the problem is just beyond your grasp—but the seconds are ticking past and you’re already a minute and a half in? Flash back to that lecture in college about the law of diminishing returns—sometimes you shouldn’t spend any more time on a question because what you’re putting into it isn’t worth the single point that you’ll get out of it. These are the questions to flag because these are questions you can reasonably return to and get right the second time around.
To maximize your chances of a quick and successful second look, be sure to physically eliminate all the answers that you’re confident aren’t contenders so you don’t waste time rereading them on your second pass. Instructor Patrick Tyrrell points out, “One of the coolest platform features is that when you eliminate an answer choice, it marks the answer with a slash AND turns the text from black to grey, essentially ‘watermarking’ the eliminated answers into the background, making the final contenders really pop!”
And if there’s something about a contender that seems fishy but you’re not sure if it’s grounds for elimination, highlight the part that seems not-quite-right! When you return to a flagged question, all your work is saved, so leaving yourself a little reminder or two can help you pick up where you left off. One caveat: You can’t annotate an answer after you’ve collapsed or eliminated it, so if you want to leave yourself a reminder, do it before you take any other action.
Okay, so we just looked at a scenario where flagging a question is a good move. You’ve done some work, made some eliminations, and you’re stuck between a couple of answer choices.
But what about this all-too-familiar LSAT scenario? You’re reading a question, and you’re pretty sure it’s in English, but you cannot for the life of you figure out what any of it means. This is a question you should probably not be flagging.
Why? Because the chances of getting it right on your second pass just aren’t high enough. Even folks who always finish with time to spare can usually come back to just a few questions per section. So unless you’re the exception, you only want to flag questions where you’ve got a good shot at victory.
Now, if you are the exception, meaning you have extremely high accuracy on at least one section and consistently finish it with time to spare, then you should take a different approach to flagging—flag everything that you’re not 100% certain about. On Logical Reasoning, you may even choose to do the entire section in two passes. On pass 1, do everything that’s easy for you and flag everything else. On pass 2, do the flagged questions. The advantage of this approach is that you’ll know exactly how much time you have to dig into those flagged questions, allowing you to spend way more time than you otherwise would if you had questions still to address for the first time.
But what if you’ve flagged 5 questions and you’ve only got 3 minutes left on the clock? Prioritize questions that are likely to be easier! The hardest questions on Logical Reasoning tend to appear between 15 and 22, so if you flagged a question before or after that block, start there. If you flagged one in the first 10 questions, do that one before questions in the teens or twenties.
On Reading Comprehension, you’re more likely to recall the passages you read most recently, so prioritize flagged questions in passages 3 and 4 (or, if you did your passages out of order, whichever two passages you read last). On Logic Games, prioritize flagged questions in games you otherwise understood. Remember that the last question of a game is where the dreaded Rule Replacement and Determines Positions questions lurk. If you prefer to leave those alone, prioritize flagged questions early in your games.
Before we move on, let me offer you one final tip about question flagging—since you might not get to return to every question that you flag, always pick your best guess on your first pass. Even if you don’t have time to return to the question, you’ve still selected an answer.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Strategic Skipping on the Digital LSAT
The vast majority of test-takers don’t consistently finish every section, so strategic skipping is an important way to maximize the points you can get with the time and skills that you have. Ready for some good news? The navigation bar of the digital LSAT makes strategic skipping easier than ever. Here are some skipping strategies to consider.
On Logical Reasoning, 15-22 contain the hardest questions. So what should you do if you’re on question 17 when you get the 5-minute warning? Zip ahead to the last few questions of the section. Chances are they’ll be easier than the ones you’d be working on otherwise.
On Logic Games and Reading Comprehension, the navigation bar lets you quickly assess which games and passages have the most questions. If you typically only get through 3 games or 3 passages, skip the game or passage that has the fewest. This strategy works best for test-takers who perform pretty evenly across game type and passage topic.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Annotation in Logical Reasoning
Perhaps the single greatest test change to the LSAT as it goes digital is the move from freehand pencil-and-paper annotation to highly-restricted digital annotation. Now, we don’t recommend annotating much on Logical Reasoning. That was true when the test was all paper, and it remains true now that the test is digital.
That said, if you find that underlining or highlighting the conclusion of an argument really helps you focus on the right things when evaluating the answer choices, or you want to leave yourself some clues to jog your memory on a flagged question, go for it. Just don’t expect it to be perfect, because the annotation tools can be imprecise. Using the stylus as opposed to your finger helps, but sometimes the tools still highlight or underline more than what you were trying for. Other times they highlight less. As discussed in the screen preferences section, there are two quick hacks to make the tools more precise—increasing your font size and increasing your line spacing—but neither is foolproof, so you need to be open to some degree of imprecision.
Hopefully by the time the July 2019 LSAT rolls around, LSAC will have worked the kinks out and improved the precision of the annotation tools. But just in case they haven’t, there’s also a nifty trick you can use to highlight a single word without having the tool grab extra words (or the wrong words!). In fact, this trick is so nifty that we try to structure our annotation around it as much as possible.
So here it is: Start your stylus on the single word you want highlighted. Then, go against all your instincts and drag your stylus over the remainder of the line. As you do, you’ll see the whole line highlighting, but if you keep dragging your stylus beyond where the line ends, the highlight will magically revert back to the first word only.
This hack works on every section of the test, and it even works in the answer choices. It also works well with the underline tool, provided you’ve increased your line spacing. Just be sure to keep your stylus moving on an even plane. If you move too far off that plane, you may temporarily underline yet another full line of text. If this happens, just keep your stylus on the screen and move it back to the original line. Then move it off into the distance as you intended.
The flip side of this hack is also pretty cool. If you do want to highlight an entire line of text, or multiple lines of text, then don’t drag your stylus beyond the end of those lines. Going off the rails, so to speak, will cause your highlight to revert back to the word you started on. If you want to highlight a block of text, you need to color inside the lines!
But what about annotations that you can’t make using the tools provided, like conditional statement diagrams? You’re going to have to do these on scratch paper. Your testing center will provide you with scratch paper and a pen. The scratch paper will be an entire blank test booklet, so you’ll have plenty of room to work. This is welcome news. Gone are the days of tiny illegible margin notes! With all this new room to maneuver, make sure to keep your work neat and labeled. That way, if you flag a question with scratch work, you can easily relocate it for your second pass.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Annotation in Reading Comprehension
Annotation in Reading Comprehension is both a blessing and a curse. Over-reliance on underlining or highlighting in Reading Comprehension is something that our instructors see a lot. That was true on the paper LSAT, and we expect it to continue to be true as it goes digital. And we get it—you had to read a lot of information in college, and when you went to study for exams, you had to be able to relocate the important stuff. The not-so-great side effect of this habit is that highlighting can become a way of saying to yourself, “This is important, so I’m gonna come back and think about it later.”
But this process isn’t rewarded on the LSAT, because on the LSAT, there is no later—the exam is today! If you want to remember something, you need to do it now. So instead of highlighting or underlining big chunks of text, pause to process important information on the spot.
In our experience, when students underline or highlight lots of text, more often than not, it’s serving as a substitute for actual thought. But pausing to process information, putting it into your own words, and thinking about why the author shared it—that’s active reading, and that’s the type of reading that the LSAT rewards.
You might be wondering whether you should be annotating your digital Reading Comprehension passages at all, and rightly so! We suggest trying a few passages (on paper) with limited annotation and a few with none at all, and then comparing your performance. If you find that limited annotation improves your performance, go for it…for now. But after prepping for a while longer, try the exercise again to reassess. We find that, as our students get better at reading actively, they rely less on annotation. So much so, in fact, that it can eventually become unnecessary. As instructor Patrick Tyrrell put it, “Remember, Dumbo never really needed that feather to fly.”
Now, let’s talk about what we mean by “limited annotation.” Because passage structure is so important, highlighting a word (using the one-word annotation hack!) to denote the subject or function of a paragraph can be helpful. Some instructors like to mark a paragraph’s main point.
Transitions within and between paragraphs also give us important information about passage structure. You might consider highlighting transitional words or phrases (think “but,” “however,” “additionally,” etc.).
If a paragraph introduces a viewpoint, you might consider a brief annotation that tells you what the view is, who holds it, or both. Just keep it minimal—highlighting the name of a theorist and a keyword from their theory should suffice. Regardless of whether you physically note it, keep your reading active by considering how each viewpoint relates to the author’s.
There are also certain passage features, such as examples and comparisons, that tend to be the subject of questions. Highlighting a keyword to help you relocate the example or comparison can be helpful… But remember, don’t let this stand in for actual thought. As you notice an example, make sure you understand what it exemplifies and why it’s there. As you notice a comparison, take a moment to consider the two things being compared and in what way they are said to be similar or different.
In legal passages, it’s common for problems to be expressed and resolutions to be explored. In these passages, we like to highlight a word or phrase to denote where these features are mentioned, too.
When you look at passages with these minimal notations, you’ll often notice that they act as a kind of roadmap. You can frequently see the structure of the passage just by looking at a few highlighted words. Having this sort of map is really helpful, so if you choose not to annotate your passage, or your annotations just never seem to come together like that, take a moment to jot down a passage map on your scratch paper.
Limit yourself to a few words per paragraph and try to hit both the subject and function of the paragraph. “Intro anonymity requirement” is an example of a nice concise passage map entry. “Author refutes Clark: anonymity unnecessary” is a slightly longer but equally nice way of describing what might be the second paragraph of that passage. But any longer than 5 words or so is pushing it. A passage map written on your scratch paper should be clear, concise, and quick.
Reading in this way; actively engaging with the passage; understanding not just what was said, but why it was said and how it functions in the passage—this is the way to set yourself up for success on the Reading Comprehension section no matter how the test is administered. Digital or not, when it comes to annotation, a little goes a long way.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Reading Comprehension—Passage Views
On the LSAT digital test platform, the default view in Reading Comprehension is to see the passage on the left and a question on the right. But you can also click on “passage only” view to see…well, only the passage.
In “passage only” view, instead of scrolling, you’ll touch the “next page” button to advance your screen. But be forewarned—if you expect this to be like turning the page of an e-reader, you’re going to be disappointed. Instead of turning to two new pages like a book or an e-reader would, the page you just read, which used to be on the right, just moves to the left, making room for one new page to be displayed on the right.
For some of us at Manhattan Prep, this was really disconcerting at first. But we get it: LSAT passages are three pages long with default text settings. The whole point of “passage only” view is to show you as much of the passage as possible. Turning from pages 1 and 2 to a short page 3 and a blank page 4 would NOT accomplish this goal. Still, that’s one strike against “passage only” view in our book.
The other tricky thing about “passage only” view is the page numbering. We suggest ignoring the page numbers, because they’re potentially confusing. For example, if you’re viewing pages 2 and 3 of a three-page passage, the page numbers will say “page 2 of 3” (emphasis added). Since this numbering is in the middle of the two-page spread, you’d think this would imply that you’d have to advance one more time to see the end of the passage; that’s actually not the case. The page number that you see in the middle of your two-page spread actually corresponds only to the page shown on the left.
The workaround? In “passage only” view, don’t rely on the page numbers to tell you when you need to advance your screen. Instead, rely on the navigation buttons. When you’re on the final page of the passage, the “next page” button’s contrast will be lowered and it’ll appear greyed-out and unclickable.
Now, if you really want to see the whole passage at once, you can use the hack mentioned in the screen preferences section and it’ll work for most passages. Decrease your font size from default to small. For all but the longest passages, this should get you down to a single screen in “passage only” view. If you try this, you may notice a line of text, only half visible at the bottom of page 1. Don’t worry—that line will be repeated and fully visible at the top of page 2.
Now, we really like to see the whole passage at once… But you’ve got to weigh that against the eye strain and the potential annotation issues. If small text doesn’t bug you and you don’t mark up your passages much, go for it. The value of smoother annotation and a more comfortable read outweighs the value of a bird’s-eye view of the passage.
As far as “passage only” view vs. “passage with question” view, we stick with “passage with question” view. We don’t mind scrolling as we read. And unless you can see the whole passage in “passage only” view, we really don’t think there’s an advantage there. It’s really all about how you feel most comfortable, though… So we suggest you practice with both and go with whichever you prefer. If you decide for any reason that you want to switch views midstream, that’s not a problem! All your annotations will be preserved, no matter how many times you switch.
Do note, however, that in “passage with question” view, when you’ve scrolled through the passage to answer a question, your passage window will stay in that position until you scroll back up. This isn’t a problem within a single passage, but it’s troubling when you move from one passage to another. To avoid potential confusion, scroll to the top of each new passage that you face.
Tips for Taking the Digital LSAT: Logic Games on the Digital LSAT
For many test-takers, the most concerning part of transitioning to a digital LSAT centers around the Logic Games section. In some ways, Logic Games is the most affected by the transition, but in other ways, it’s the least.
It’s most changed in that you can no longer diagram the games right beside the game prompt and the questions. Without a freehand drawing tool, the annotation functionality of the digital LSAT isn’t very helpful for Logic Games.
But because of that, Logic Games is also the section least changed by digitization. The only thing you have to do differently is play the games on scratch paper. This scratch paper, along with a pen, will be provided by your testing center. Plus, you can have it right next to the screen, so it’s really not that different at all.
Onscreen, you’ll see the game scenario and rules on the left side and the first question on the right. The scenario and rules will remain visible throughout the entire game. That means if you want to, say, peek at game 4 before you start game 3, you can do so by clicking any of game 4’s questions. It also means that if you annotate on the game itself, that annotation will remain visible. Instructor Daniel Fogel points out, “Sometimes there’s a rule that’s tricky to diagram, but that you know is important (mauve dinosaurs, anyone?). Highlight that rule to keep it in mind throughout the game; it’ll stay highlighted as you progress through the questions.”
The real work in Logic Games will now be done on scratch paper, so let’s take a moment to look at some examples (scratch work page 1—it’s a hot mess). This is an example of some pretty haphazard scratch work. Which is the master diagram? Which of these hypotheticals are valid and can be referenced for subsequent questions? Which of these hypotheticals should you go back to if you want to double-check question 12?
Now, let’s take a look at a much nicer example (scratchwork page 2—so fresh and so clean). The master diagram is in the upper left-hand corner of the paper, clearly labeled with the game number. Beneath the master diagram are clearly-labeled diagrams for individual questions. See question 12? It must have introduced a new rule that this test-taker used to generate a hypothetical. It looks like question 13, on the other hand, did not introduce a new rule. All the diagrams for that question are labeled by answer choices, meaning these were answers that the student was testing out. Finally, notice how the answer choice C hypothetical in question 13 is totally crossed out? That means it’s an invalid hypothetical that can’t be used to help answer other questions later.
Keeping your scratchwork neat, organized, and labeled, as this test-taker did, will keep your process smooth and efficient. But this, like everything else on the LSAT, requires practice. That’s why, from here on out, we recommend you do all of your games on scratch paper, even when you have a paper test at your disposal. As a bonus, this will let you keep your paper tests pristine so you can replay tough games without getting bogged down by how you did it the first time.
One last tip for the digital LSAT Logic Games section. Since you’ll be using a pen on your scratch paper for pretty much every question, we recommend ditching the stylus for this section. Hold your pen as you normally would to do your scratch work, and use a free finger to make your selections and eliminations onscreen.
The Final Word on the Digital LSAT
Let’s end this tome on the digital LSAT with a little meditation mantra. Take a deep breath and repeat after us: The only thing constant in life is change. The world is evolving, and the LSAT is too. This is a good thing. I am not afraid.
The digital LSAT was designed to correct things that were wrong with the paper LSAT. Nobody should be penalized for bubbling a Scantron incorrectly. Nobody should even have to spend time bubbling a Scantron. Ditto for flipping pages to return to questions you flagged. Bubbling and flipping easily cost you a minute per section when you take a paper test. Think about what you can do with an extra minute per section. That’s an extra question per section—maybe 2 in Logic Games.
No wonder we’re all so excited for the LSAT to go digital!
Happy studying! 📝