As those who have taken or are preparing for the LSAT know, the exam is composed of five multiple choice sections plus a writing sample, but only four of the five sections are scored – the writing sample is also not scored.
There is a lot of not-so-credible information on the Internet about the unscored, experimental section. The following are some insights into its purpose and the unique challenges it poses, as well as the techniques prospective law students can use to try and identify it. This way, you will have a clearer picture of what to expect on test day.
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1. What is the experimental section? The experimental section enables the Law School Admission Council to test out future potential multiple choice questions.
In the past, the experimental section was always one of the first three sections, making it easier for students to identify, but now it can be anywhere, allowing LSAC to more successfully disguise it.
LSAC can judge the difficulty of the questions based on student performance under real testing conditions and can ensure that all students are fully applying themselves, since the students cannot know for sure which section is experimental. Each student's results factor into LSAC's research, but will not affect his or her LSAT score.
2. What challenges does the experimental section present? While the experimental section does not affect your LSAT score, it can have negative consequences for a student if a test-taker becomes flustered by seeing the new or different question types that can sometimes appear in the experimental section.
In addition, the energy that goes into trying to figure out which is the unscored section is an unnecessary distraction that can cause students to lose focus during the exam.
If you start to get nervous because you are seeing unfamiliar questions, try to convince yourself that you are in the experimental section and have nothing to worry about.
On my LSAT over 10 years ago, I hit a game I just could not solve and took this approach. By not allowing this game – which may not have had any viable solutions – affect the other sections, I secured a 179.
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3. When should I identify the experimental section? It is understandable that students are, at the very least, curious to know which of the sections will not count toward their LSAT score.
The appropriate time to deliberate over the experimental section is after the exam is over, when you have time to reflect. If you know that you missed points on a particular section, but after the test, you determine that section was experimental, you'll know your chances of reaching or exceeding your target score.
For example, I had a Stratus Prep student who did horribly on a section, but after deducing it was likely experimental, she kept her score and earned a 176. Determining which section is experimental can thus help you decide if you should cancel your score. Remember, you have only six days after the test to notify LSAC of your desire to cancel.
If you know you missed more questions than usual on a section that was not the experimental section, you may choose to cancel your score as it is unlikely that you reached your full potential.
4. How do I identify the experimental section? It is easy for students to be misled about which section is experimental. For example, test-takers often jump to conclusions if they find a section that appears to be significantly easier or more difficult than the others, believing that it must be the experimental.
Not only is this assumption often inaccurate, but it is far too subjective to be reliable – what seems harder to some students may be easy for others.
There will always be two logical reasoning sections, one reading comprehension section and one section of logic games in the graded LSAT. So, if there are three logical reasoning sections or two reading comprehension sections or two sections of logic games, one of these must be the experimental section.
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Further narrowing the choices requires the eye and experience of an industry professional who can utilize the specific types of questions asked, as well as the number of questions asked, to suggest which section is likely experimental. For example, the graded sections of the LSAT usually have 101 scored questions, so a section that would deviate from that norm is likely experimental – though there are a couple of tests with 100 and one or two with 102 real questions.
If you have worked with a tutor in preparation for the exam, reach out to him or her for help determining which section is likely the experimental one on your test.