A Guide to the LSAT Experimental Section & How it Works
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The LSAT experimental section has a long history of puzzling test takers. This section is unlike anything you’ll find in other standardized tests. “Experimental section” doesn’t refer to the question topics. Instead, the phrase names an unscored section whose results are used as experimental data. Even though your experimental section results don’t impact your score, they’re still valuable. LSAC will use your responses to benefit next year’s LSAT test takers.
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About the LSAT Experimental Section
One of the most unusual components of the LSAT is the experimental section. Every LSAT has five sections and test takers will complete all five sections on LSAT test day, but only four sections receive a score. The last oddball section is called the “experimental section,” otherwise known as the variable section. LSAC says the purpose of the section is to do pretesting for updated test items and potential new test forms. What this means is that the questions don’t count on your LSAT, but they will count on the LSATs of future students.
The testers creating the scoring algorithms will analyze your performance, along with the average performance of other students, to determine what scoring scales are most fair. The good news — or possibly bad news, depending on your performance — is that this section has no impact whatsoever on your overall score. But the statistical data that you give to LSAC is invaluable.
LSAC uses your year’s test takers as their variable group, pulling statistical analysis about average performances. That way, when they reuse the questions in the future, they have a baseline expectation for how most students will perform.
When Is the LSAT Experimental Section on the Test?
When the experimental section was first being used, the number remained the same for each test taker. If your experimental section was Section 1, then you knew that every other test taker in the nation also had Section 1 as their experimental portion. However, this method changed in 2007. Between 2007 and 2011, LSAC used test forms that semi-randomized the experimental section number for students. The one qualification was that the experimental section always appeared somewhere in the first three sections.
In October 2011, LSAC decided to throw every test taker for a loop and reinforced the practice of giving different students different experimental section numbers. They removed their limitation regarding the first three sections, making the experimental section truly randomized. This means that you have no way of deducing which of your sections was the experimental one. Another factor impacting the deductions is the fact that individual students receive different experimental section content.
If you’re told that either the Logical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension section is experimental, then about half of the students will be given an experimental Logical Reasoning section, while the other half have an experimental Reading Comprehension section. The randomized nature keeps you from being able to guess or glean additional information from your fellow students.
How To Tell Which Section Was the Experimental Section
You can use some basic information to narrow down the sections in hindsight. Every LSAT only has 1 Logic Games Section, 1 Reading Comprehension Section, and 2 Logical Reasoning Sections. So, if you end up taking 2 Logic Games Sections on the LSAT, then you can deduce that one of those Logic Games Sections was experimental. But you will never be able to deduce which of the two was experimental.
Perhaps more helpfully, if you know that Logical Reasoning is experimental, you also know that Reading Comprehension and Logic Games are not experimental. Your scores in them will count no matter what. The inverse is true when the opposite section is the experimental one. In a way, gathering information about the test is a logic puzzle of its own.
The LSAT is meant to test the logical capacity and critical reasoning skills of the test takers. It makes sense that the people behind the test would take care with their released information. They keep you guessing. If every student was told or could deduce which section was experimental, the answer pool would be flawed.
Why Determining Which Section Was Experimental Matters
As you reflect upon how you did on the LSAT, you can consider whether you felt like you did well on the section that you determined was experimental. Doing so helps you to realize your chances of reaching or exceeding your target score. This can ultimately lead you to deciding to cancel your score. Keep in mind, however, that you only have six days after taking the test to notify LSAC of a score cancellation.
The good news about the current state of the LSAC is that you aren’t limited to 3 LSAT retakes in 2 years. Read on to see how many times you can take the LSAT today.
Why is There an Experimental Section?
Knowing the section won’t be scored can cause students to perform differently. In the end, you shouldn’t spend time obsessing over which part of the LSAT is the experimental section. It’s a waste of valuable brain power that you should be putting toward your answers. Even though one of your sections won’t count toward your score, you should still try your hardest on all of them. It’s better to get a good score on every section than to get a bad score on a section that counts.
The randomized nature of the LSAT experimental section frustrates students every year. Your section results aren’t scored, but they are submitted as part of a data analysis framework. No matter what section is experimental, though, it’s important that you make your best effort throughout all the test sections. If your hard work contributes to a higher score, that’s great! And if the section isn’t scored, then your hard work provides data that will benefit future LSAT test takers.