November 2022 / Episode 2 / Under 20 minutes
The LSAC Analytical Reasoning Field Study
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 Data. I’m Susan Krinsky, LSAC’s executive vice president for operations and chief of staff. We are several months into the 2023 admission cycle, and after I review the data I have for you today, I’m going to be joined by two of my colleagues from our assessment science group, who will answer questions about the upcoming Analytical Reasoning Field Study happening in just over a month from now.
At this point in the cycle last year, we had about 27% of the eventual total number of applicants and about 24% of the total number of applications. So, we are about a quarter of the way through the cycle when we look at volumes. We continue to see applicant volumes that are lower than 2021 and 2022, but significantly higher than 2019 and 2020. Right now, the number of 2023 applicants is about 9% below the number of 2022 applicants at this time last year. Just a week ago, the number of applicants was down 14%.
However, the release of the October LSAT scores on November 2 resulted in the predicted mini-surge in both applicants and applications. With respect to applications, as of November 9, we are seeing just over 92,000 applications to ABA law schools, down 11.5% from last year and down 7.2% from the year before, but up significantly, in the vicinity of 40% up, as compared to 2019 and 2020. Again, there was a 5% jump in applications during the week after October scores were released. We are likely to see a similar effect when the November scores, typically our highest-volume test, are released on November 30.
As the last two years have shown, early trends can change over time. Two years ago, the 2021 cycle started relatively slowly but heated up dramatically over time. On the other hand, last year, cycles started very strong, likely due to early applicants who had opted out of the 2021 cycle, but then cooled over time. So, at this point in the 2023 cycle, we’re not making any end-of-cycle predictions. The proportion of applicants of color continues to be slightly below, but roughly in line with, the past five years. Currently, about 36% of this year’s applicants identify as a person of color.
The proportions of female applicants and gender-diverse applicants continue to be larger than any of the past five years. Currently, about 54% of this year’s applicants identify as women. Over 1% identify as gender diverse. Naturally, the diversity trends comprise an area that we monitor closely, and of course we will continue to do so.
There are a few more data points in which you’ll likely be interested at this point in the cycle. The number of first-time test takers is always of interest, because it’s an early indicator of interest in applying. As of November 9, we are seeing about the same number of first-time test takers who took the August, September, and October LSATs as we had at this time last year for the two fall LSAT administrations, in August and October. As I record this podcast, the November administration has not yet begun. Once we add in the first-time numbers from last November and what we project for this November, we are likely to be down by a couple thousand first-timers. The October first-time percentage was unusually low this year, at 43%.
Another important indicator of near-term volume is the number of Credential Assembly Service, or CAS, accounts created. Between July 1 and October 31, there have been about 1,600 fewer CAS accounts than we saw during the same period last year. That’s about a 7% drop in new accounts created. Of course, it’s important to note that many current-year applicants created their CAS accounts several years ago.
Back to the LSAT again: As I record this podcast, we are two days out from the start of the test and are looking at just over 25,000 registrants. As I noted last month, for the fall test administrations, we’ll probably see about the same number of fall test takers as we did last year — probably about 70,000.
LSAC continues our digital engagement campaigns to help build interest in legal education and bolster the pool of prospective law school applicants. These efforts are employed across multiple platforms, including email and social media, with targeted messaging designed to help individuals consider a career in law, learn about the path to law school, sign up for the LSAT, and take advantage of a variety of supportive tools and resources.
We also have deployed digital campaigns and other outreach efforts specifically designed to attract prospective students from communities that are underrepresented in the legal profession. Beyond our digital outreach efforts to expand and diversity the pipeline of prospective students, we are seeing solid engagement with our LSAC Law School Forums.
We continue to work to build the pool of candidates in many different ways. Remember that we refresh the current volume data on our website every night. If you have questions about the data, don’t hesitate to write to me at podcast@LSAC.org.
A few weeks ago, LSAC announced the launch of a study which aims to research and develop alternative ways to assess analytical reasoning skills — AR, for short. This study is part of a broader review of all question types to determine how the fundamental skills for success in law school, especially critical reading and critical reasoning skills, can be reliably assessed in ways that offer improved accessibility for all test-takers. Titled the AR Field Study, this research will take place on December 16 and 17 of this year. It was important for us to launch this field study in such a way that participants could experience and benefit from actual test-taking conditions. We also wanted to offer participants an opportunity to practice their analytical reasoning skills, which are key to success on test day.
Joining me to talk about the AR Field Study are Jason Miller, LSAC’s director of online testing, and Anna Topczewski, assistant director of assessment science here at LSAC. Anna and Jason, welcome to the Keeping Up to Data podcast.
ANNA TOPCZEWSKI: Thank you very much.
JASON MILLER: Thank you very much, Susan. Nice to be here.
SUSAN: Jason, let me start with a question for you. Could you talk us through the AR Field Study and how it will be implemented?
JASON: Sure, absolutely. First, let me say a little bit about what the content of the questions on the field study will be. Every participant in the field study will receive three test sections. Those will be roughly the same length as our standard test sections on the LSAT. One of the three sections will be composed of traditional, standard analytical reasoning questions of the type that we currently use on the test. The other two will be newly designed question types that are intended to assess the same analytical reasoning skills as those standard questions.
The order of the sections might vary. That standard analytical reasoning section, that could be either first, second, or third. But everybody will see those three sections in some order. As to the format of the test itself, what we’ve tried to do here is to make this as much like a typical scored LSAT administration as possible, so we’re partnering with ProctorU. The field study will be conducted through them, which means participants are going to see an experience that is a lot like what they would see on a standard LSAT. You’ll log in, you’ll go through the same typical check-in procedures, and all of that. The appearance of the questions on your screen will be the same.
I think there are two main differences from a scored administration. One, as I mentioned, is that this is three sections, rather than four. It’s a little bit shorter, and correspondingly, you will not see the 10-minute intermission between sections two and three. The other difference is we’re doing accommodations a little differently. The way we’re going to do this is, when participants register, you’ll see a drop-down list of accommodations that our test-takers typically receive — things such as extra time, stop/start breaks, that kind of thing. The registrant should select those accommodations for which they believe they would be eligible in a scored LSAT administration.
Doing it that way, if you choose the accommodations that you would get under scored conditions, you’re helping to ensure that your experience in this field study is as much like it would be in a scored LSAT administration as possible.
SUSAN: Thank you. Anna, how can people benefit from being a participant in this study? That is, why would someone volunteer to participate?
ANNA: Absolutely. There is a number of benefits that we’re having a part of this field study. In particular, there’s going to be a feedback report that describes test-takers their performance on the traditional analytical reasoning questions, so that they can use this information to help with their learning and future studies of the traditional analytical reasoning section. Second, as Jason mentioned, you get to experience the test-day experience. Test day is stressful, and so if you ever have those questions of "How do I do this? What I do I need to prepare for that? What is the check-in process like? What is the stress that I’m going to be under while I’m taking this test?" You get to experience that all in a no-risk situation. In summary, you get to have your feedback report on the analytical reasoning section. You get to experience the test as you would as a normal LSAT test, but without any of the stresses of getting your score or having it contribute to your test-taker limits.
SUSAN: That actually sounds really appealing. Given the questions that we see from test-takers about those sorts of things — what’s it like to check in, how do I log on — I think it sounds like a terrific opportunity. Back to you, Jason. Will participants in this research study receive any kind of an incentive for their participation?
JASON: Yes. Yes, they will. If I’m thinking about this as a test-taker, I think, like you and Anna said, the primary benefits for me, I think, would be having the experience of doing this and going through it, knowing in advance what it’s going to be like before I take a scored admin down the road. In addition to that, we’ve actually put a couple of incentives together. We actually have four of them, and participants will be able to select any one of the four, which we’ll provide to them as an incentive for taking the field study.
The first of those is a Score Preview for an upcoming LSAT administration. I’m guessing most of your listeners know what a Score Preview is, but just in case, this would give you the ability to know how you scored on a scored administration before you have to decide whether you want to keep your score or cancel it. That’s one option you could select. Another is a Law School Report — we would send your application materials to the law school of your choice.
A third, and actually I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but this is kind of my personal favorite: You can receive a one-year subscription to a new program we’ve got going called Law School Success. This is designed for first-year law students to help them get the skills that they need to do well in law school and to think like a lawyer. By the way, if you want to learn more about that, there’s some more information on our website at LSAC.org.
The fourth option that we’re offering is SuperPrep I and SuperPrep II. Those are two of our most popular published prep material books. We’ll bundle them and send them to you. Each book includes three practice tests with full explanations for each item. Actually, I can say that when I was a new test developer here just starting out, I actually helped write some of those explanations for SuperPrep II. In my opinion, they’re excellent. But if you would like us to send you those books, I guess you can be the judge.
SUSAN: Thanks, Jason. Those do sound like great options. Anna, in what way is this AR Field Study a good opportunity for a participant to practice AR skills?
ANNA: That’s a great question, Susan. The wonderful part about this study is that it’s going to have an actual AR section that’s being administered as a part of the study, so that the AR section you’re getting is in a lot of ways almost identical to the other AR sections that you’re going to be getting on past or future LSATs that you take. Another great benefit, and let me expand on what I said earlier about the feedback report, is that as a part of the feedback report you’re going to be getting your answers that you had to the questions, the correct answers themselves, and then we’re actually going to be providing you all the items on the test for the AR section. You’ll be able to look at that AR section, look at how you answered, look at the correct answers, and use it as a learning opportunity for your studies.
SUSAN: Terrific. But tell me, does this study mean the analytical reasoning section in the LSAT is going to change soon?
ANNA: Susan, no. The December study is just one of many studies that we have completed and will be completing for quite some time. As a part of the research, we’re collecting a body of evidence to make our decision.
JASON: Right, and just to follow up on what Anna was saying there, we certainly have no plans to change the content of the LSAT anytime soon. If something were to materialize where a decision was made to assess analytical reasoning skills with different questions or by a different route, we would absolutely communicate that many, many months in advance, at the absolute latest. Not only would we make sure that we were giving plenty of advance notice of that, we would also put preparatory materials out there in advance so that registrants could study, so that they would have an opportunity to take a look at some of the questions of the types that they were going to see in advance of test day and practice using those question types. All of that would be out there well in advance of any potential change to our LSAT as we all know it.
SUSAN: So, in other words, individuals taking the LSAT in January or February, or frankly going forward after that, don’t have to wonder if they’re going to encounter a new and unfamiliar question type in an actual LSAT that’s going to be scored?
JASON: That’s correct, yeah. No worries about that. Everyone will see the three item types that we are all intimately familiar with.
SUSAN: The AR Field Study sounds like a great opportunity for prospective test takers. Thank you to both of you for joining me and for providing so much great information. I know you are excited to be a part of this study, and I know we all look forward to the results. Thank you.
To our listeners, thank you for joining us at Keeping Up to Data. We look forward to your joining our next episode, when we will continue to take a close look at the data and other developments from the current admission cycle. 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.