November 2021 / Episode 3 / About 20 minutes
The October LSAT and the Law School Forums
Welcome to the Keeping Up to DataSM podcast, a new space in which we discuss, analyze, and contextualize trends and perspectives in the current law school admission cycle by taking a deeper dive into the most up-to-date data and making sense of the complicated world of legal education.
SUSAN KRINSKY: Welcome back to Keeping Up to DataSM. I'm Susan Krinsky, LSAC's executive vice president for operations and chief of staff. And I'm happy to be joined once again by Josiah Evans, LSAC's director of assessment science, to talk about the October LSAT scores. Later, Gisele Joachim, our executive director for education and ambassador programs, will be joined by Katya Valasek, one of our ambassadors, and by Kat Espiritu, of Fordham University School of Law, to update us on LSAC Law School Forums, which are happening both in person and digitally this year. But first, let's take a look at the data driving law school admission at this early stage of the 2022 admission cycle.
As of this time last year, just under 25% of the eventual 2021 applicants had applied. And for the two years before that, only 20% had applied. So, it's still early in the cycle, and we know that these early numbers can be volatile. When we recorded the last podcast, about a month ago, applicant and application volumes were up just under 10% and 15%, respectively. As of the middle of November, those numbers have leveled off, and we are now looking at increases of about 2% for applicants and about 4% for applications as compared to last year. Remember, though, that these small increases are on top of last year's 37% increase in applicants and 59% increase in applications. We typically see a spike in applications during the last week of each month, and we certainly saw that jump during the last week of October, with over 20,000 applications submitted.
However, that was a few thousand less than we saw during the last week of October 2020. So, that was the first week this cycle during which application volume did not exceed the prior year's volume. On the other hand, the first week of November saw more applications submitted than the same week a year ago. So, based on the applicant and application volumes we are seeing, this is a strong admission season, even a little stronger than last year at this time. The daily application volume summary report on our website provides information about the score bands in which applicants fall.
Through mid-November, with about 16,000 scores posted, we are seeing about the same number of applicants with scores in the 160-to-164 band; a small decrease, under 3% in the 165-to-169 score band as compared to last year; and decreases of 5.4% in the 170-to-174 band and 21.6% in the highest score band of 175 to 180, accounting for about 185 fewer applicants. We are currently seeing increases of 11-12% in the 155-to-159 and 150-to-154 score bands. As for LSAT test takers, October test volumes were slightly ahead of last October's volume, but with a larger percentage of repeat test takers. And in a moment, Josiah Evans will talk with us about the October scores.
The November test administration has just begun, as of this month's podcast being recorded. Volumes appear to be a little behind last November, but ahead of this October. Remember that you can find current volume summaries, updated daily, on our website, LSAC.org. For our member law schools, we will continue to provide a detailed preliminary informational guide and score distribution report after each LSAT administration through the June 2022 LSAT. We will also be providing monthly high-level updates through this podcast, as well as periodic webinars for our community.
And now, I am happy to welcome Josiah to talk with us about the October LSAT scores. Thanks for joining us once again, Josiah.
JOSIAH EVANS: Thank you, Susan.
SUSAN: Josiah, I mentioned earlier that the October test volume was a little larger than last October's, but with a higher percentage of repeaters. How did the 2021 October LSAT scores compare to the October administrations from 2020 and 2019?
JOSIAH: So, the mean LSAT score in October 2021 was very similar to the October 2019 mean, and a bit lower than the October 2020 mean.
SUSAN: When you say "a bit lower," was it a meaningful difference?
JOSIAH: No, the difference between October 2021 and 2020 were quite small. And the difference between October 2019 and October 2021 were very small indeed.
SUSAN: Any theories as to why the scores change from administration to administration?
JOSIAH: Sometimes we get different populations testing, and sometimes we get different levels of preparation in that population. And a little bit later on, I think we're going to talk about preparation.
SUSAN: What would you say to someone, and we do hear this from time to time, that the October 2020 scores — that is, a year ago — were, and I put this in quotes, "too high"? So, we made the test harder for this October's test takers?
JOSIAH: Well, that's just not the case. We do not make the test harder based on what we see. The test is developed very carefully by our team of assessment specialists to have the exact same amount of difficulty, as much as possible. And any differences that are there, we can use a process called equating. And that process allows us to make sure that the scores are the same from one administration to another in terms of comparability.
SUSAN: So, is that another way of saying that we don't curve the LSAT scores?
JOSIAH: That's right. We don't curve the LSAT scores. There's no such thing as a curve that we use. And we don't change the difficulty of the test from admin to admin. Our focus, in fact, is to make the test as similar as possible from one admin to the next.
SUSAN: So, historically, how does the October test compare to other test administrations throughout the year?
JOSIAH: Typically, the summer and fall test administrations have the highest means. And many of the highest-proficiency test takers choose to test at that time. October tends to have the second- or third-highest means for each testing year, right behind the summer admins, like August.
SUSAN: Any other insights you can share about the scores and the high score bands?
JOSIAH: The percentage of test takers earning scores in the 165-to-180 range continues to be high, but not quite as high as it was last year. Hence, the slightly lower overall mean for this October compared to October 2020. Interestingly, this trend directly follows the October post-LSAT survey results we've been seeing. Test takers are indicating elevated mean prep time of 14 hours per week over an average of 16 weeks. Last year, test takers indicated they prepared for an average of 15 hours for 15 weeks, whereas in 2019, they indicated they prepared for 13 hours over 13 weeks. So, the October 2021 mean parallels test takers' reported levels of preparation.
SUSAN: Josiah, I hope you'll join us again after the November scores and beyond. Are you expecting to see anything different?
JOSIAH: Well, we're looking forward to seeing how the pattern works out this year. So far, it's certainly reflecting more of a 2019/2020 pattern. So, we're looking forward to finding out more information as the testing year goes on.
SUSAN: Do you think that any of the differences we're seeing have to do with the pandemic and how test takers have used their time?
JOSIAH: Certainly. Last year, that increase from the October post-LSAT questionnaire does show increased levels of preparation. The fact that this year it's reduced somewhat does indicate that people may be using their time differently this year. Certainly, having a pandemic and lockdowns last year meant people had lots of extra time to study with online preparation options such as Khan Academy and LSAC's LawHub.
SUSAN: Josiah, thanks so much for joining us. We look forward to talking with you again after the next LSAT score release.
As many of you know, each year, LSAC hosts the LSAC Law School Forums. These events are invaluable opportunities for those who are thinking about law school to connect directly with schools and learn more about the admission process. Just as the LSAT was forced to pivot to an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, so were our Forums. But for the current Forums season, and as COVID restrictions have eased around the nation, we've returned to some in-person events in addition to hosting digital Forums. It is my pleasure to welcome Gisele Joachim, LSAC's executive director for education and ambassador programs, to talk with two extremely knowledgeable colleagues about the current Forums season.
GISELE JOACHIM: Thank you, Susan. It is a pleasure to join the Keeping Up to DataSM podcast. The 2021-2022 forum season kicked off in September with a digital event attended by more than 4,500 aspiring law students and more than 100 law schools from the United States, Canada, and Australia. Since then, we've had in-person events in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, New York, and Los Angeles, and we will close the season with digital events in December and February. Joining me to talk about all that has happened are Katya Valasek, from LSAC's Ambassadors. And it is a pleasure to welcome Kat Espiritu, director of admissions at Fordham University Law School. Welcome.
KATYA VALASEK: Thank you so much, Gisele. Kat, welcome. Thanks for joining us here.
KAT ESPIRITU: Thank you so much for having me today. What a joy.
KATYA: Well, it has been fun catching up with you where I've seen you here and there on the road. But why don't we start by giving everyone a big picture of what Fordham has done in terms of recruitment events. What in-person Forums have you attended or will be attending, and what digital events have you attended?
KAT: So, like last year, Fordham will be attending all the digital Forums. And this year, we were so excited to send representatives to all in-person LSAC Forums as well. This was definitely a reflection of our regular recruiting, where we did hybrid this year of both in-person and virtual recruiting throughout September, October, November months.
KATYA: And, Gisele, is this what we are seeing from other schools as well?
GISELE: We are seeing a lot of schools, certainly most schools, the vast majority of schools are attending all of the digital Forums. And more than 100 law schools have attended every single in-person Forum, with a good number participating, as Fordham has, in all of them. So, we are seeing very strong interest across the board, in both the digital events and the delighted return to the in-person events.
KATYA: Wonderful. It has been nice to reconnect with people on the road, in person. Now, Kat, I want to circle to how you use the in-person Forums and the digital Forums, and to see if there's a difference in the way you use the format to interact with the students who are in attendance.
KAT: In-person Forums have been a great way to connect and interact with applicants on a very real level. There is a natural, conversational cadence that occurs when you are face to face, even when it's behind a mask. And I think that is unmatchable in a digital format. However, the digital Forum format is a great way to engage with students that you would not have access to at in-person Forums. Over the last five digital Forums, Fordham has been able to engage with anywhere from a thousand to 400 prospective students. We would never have that much connection power at a live event, except at the New York Forum, where we saw over 400 students this past weekend.
KATYA: And, Kat, how do you try to mimic that engagement with the digital Forums? How do you try to re-create that opportunity for that face-to-face interaction? Do you use the chat? Do you have to Zoom?
KAT: We are all hands on deck for the digital Forums. So, we have multiple admissions people on the chat, and then we have someone manning a live Zoom room throughout the entire digital Forum. So, it is like the in-person event. Someone has the opportunity to talk face to face with someone for the admissions team.
KATYA: And, Gisele, what can you share about what some other schools are doing to use the digital Forum to compliment the in-person recruiting Forums? Do you know if people are using the chats or Zooms or other modes of connecting with the candidates who are in attendance?
GISELE: So, I think for the digital Forum, as Kat has suggested, it is a very "all hands on deck" kind of approach, with opening up of Zoom rooms and the chat is being used. I think also, similar to what Kat has said, schools are finding that in the digital context, although there are certainly some terrific advantages to the digital platform, that you lose that face-to-face feeling. Which, again, and I love the way Kat said it, even behind a mask, that translates the in-person experience, just offers that in a way that can't be achieved in a digital platform.
That said, every candidate who comes to an in-person Forum, we are also providing them with access to the digital platform, so that even if they enter the digital platform on a non-Forum day, they have access to all of the booths that are in there and all of the wealth of information that both the schools and LSAC have loaded into the digital platform in terms of links and downloads and videos. And what we're hoping to achieve over time is that the digital experience and the in-person experience will be seen as complementary to each other and not necessarily interchangeable — so that you would have a student who would come to the in-person Forum, get to meet Kat and the staff at Fordham there at the Forum, but then go home and enter the digital platform and get access to all of that extra information. So, this was the first year we sort of stepped into that, but the hope and the plan is that, as we truly get to what we hope is our post-COVID future, that we will see much more of that over time.
KATYA: Well, I think that's a nice segue to my next question for Kat. And, Kat, I'm going to ask you to look into your crystal ball for a second. What do you envision an ideal situation for Forums in the future: a combination of in-person, digital, maybe something else we haven't thought of yet?
KAT: How often do we say that? If only we had a crystal ball! You know, pandemic restrictions are slowly easing; we saw that as we resumed in-person learning this fall for our students and in-person recruitment. However, I do think that COVID-19 has forever altered how many of us do our jobs. And I think it's in a good way; I think that it's forced us to look outside the box and explore new ways to interact with students. I see LSAC-sponsored Forums continuing to be a hybrid blend of in-person and virtual events. The broad reach of the digital space has proven to be very important for our students. But, as shown by the popularity of the in-person events, human interaction will be impossible to ever fully replace.
KATYA: I can absolutely agree with that last sentiment about the importance of in-person contact. Gisele, do you have anything to add about what you envision for the future of LSAC Forum recruitment?
GISELE: Well, let me say that I feel like that's a good thing: If there's nothing that can ever replace in-person contact, I do feel like that's such an important aspect of recruitment and admissions in general. And so, LSAC, of course, wants to be in the position to help our community, both the law school community in reaching their goals and recruiting students who are good fits for their schools, and also helping students find the law school that's right for them.
So, I do believe that we're entering sort of into this next phase of how all of these different recruiting methods work together. And LSAC looks forward to working with Kat and other community members on trying to get it right. Thank you so much for joining us, and a special thank-you to Kat for taking time out of her busy schedule at Fordham to share some of her insights about the Forums.
SUSAN: And thank you, Gisele, for leading such a great conversation. To our listeners, thank you for joining us at Keeping Up to DataSM. We look forward to your joining our next episode, when we will continue to take a close look at the data from the current admission cycle and at the final matriculant data for the class that entered law school in 2021. Until next time, stay well.
Thank you for joining us. Keeping Up to DataSM is a production of LSAC. If you want to learn more about the current law school admission cycle and the latest trends and news, visit us at LSAC.org.