When tens of thousands of aspiring law school students sit down next summer to take the Law School Admissions Test — the high-stakes exam better known as the LSAT — they’ll be doing so on Microsoft Surface Go tablets for the first time.
Microsoft is supplying the Law School Admission Council with thousands of Surface Go devices that will be locked down from a security standpoint and loaded custom software for the LSAT as part a move to transition the test from paper and pencil to digital. Microsoft and LSAC wouldn’t say how many Surface Go devices are included in the deal, but LSAC CEO Kellye Testy said upwards of 30,000 students take the test on each available date, so there would need to be at least that many plus backups.
LSAC announced its plan to digitize the LSAT earlier this year. Next July will mark the first time students take a digital test, though some paper and pencil tests will remain. By next September the LSAT will be administered entirely on Surface Go tablets.
“The Law School Admissions Test has been administered for almost 70 years now thru the paper and pencil methodology, and what really held us back in going with an electronic format, was that our test is so important in terms of security and quality that we needed to make sure we had the right hardware and the right design and the right applications so that we could keep the integrity of this gold standard test,” Testy said.
Testy, before joining LSAC, served as dean of the law schools at the University of Washington and Seattle University. She’s worked with Microsoft on a number initiatives, though she says her history with the company wasn’t a factor in this deal.
LSAC talked to just about “everybody under the sun,” to find the right tablet maker for the job, said CIO Troy Lowry. Accessibility features within Windows — such as high contrast colors, color correction, larger text options and talk to text capabilities — made Microsoft a front-runner. The lightweight nature of Surface Go — it runs the stripped down Windows 10 S mode — and Microsoft’s eagerness to help in other ways put the company over the top.
“Most of the other places were more than happy to sell us a lot of hardware, but Microsoft has been with us at every step of the way,” Lowry said.
The partnership between Microsoft and LSAC goes beyond the Surface Go arrangement. The two organizations will work on a wide range of projects to use data and digital technology to make legal education more affordable, accessible and efficient.
Digitizing the test makes sense because it allows students to get scores faster, Testy said. LSAC’s logic says this generation of students grew up using tablets and other devices both in their education and in free time, so they should be comfortable with the format.
The device starts at $399 and includes the frequently requested USB-C port in addition to the Surface Connect port, a headphone jack, SD card reader and a built-in stand. With a 10-inch display, Go is Microsoft’s smallest and lightest Surface so far. But it doesn’t lack for power, featuring a 7th Generation Intel Pentium Gold Processor 4415Y and a nine-hour battery life.
Megan Solar, director of Surface commercial marketing, said the LSAT is exactly the kind of education-oriented use that Microsoft envisioned when it was building the device. Its lightweight operating system should mean that the device itself shouldn’t add to the stress that comes with taking the LSAT.
“When you get the technology right it does disappear into the background. In this testing scenario, you’re at a point of high pressure, the emotion that goes into it, the person who is taking it has worked for a long time to get to this point, and they want it to go well,” Solar said. “The last thing you want is a distraction.”