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May 15, 2009

The Case of the Secret LSAT PrepTests

LSAT Blog Case Secret PrepTestsThis week's posts consist of a 5-part series on "The Case of the Secret LSAT PrepTests."

The Case of the Secret LSAT PrepTests - Part 1
If you've looking into getting recent LSAT PrepTests (past LSAT exams - the best material for studying), you've probably been annoyed that the only way to purchase the exams after PrepTest 38 is to pay $8/exam. ($6/exam if you buy in multiples of 4 on Amazon. They're all linked in Best LSAT Prep Books.)

You've probably wondered why the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) hasn't published another book of 10 exams containing PrepTests 39-48 and called it something like "The Next 10 After the Next 10 Actual, Official, LSAT PrepTests" or "Even 10 More Actual, Official, LSAT PrepTests." That would've been the next logical step, given the trend thus far. After all, I figured one purpose of publishing books of 10 exams was to lower the barrier to affordable preparation by allowing students to pay $2/exam.

This mythical book of 10 should have come out after December 2005 (when PrepTest 48 was administered).

I recently called LSAC at 215-968-1001, pressed 0, and spoke with Pat, a sweet woman who didn't have many answers for me. The below excerpts of our conversation are not word-for-word, but they're pretty close.

Steve: When does LSAC plan to publish another book of 10 exams?

Pat: They have no plans to publish a follow-up book of 10 actual LSAT exams. It hasn't been discussed.

I'd also learned through LSAC's website (click on "The Official LSAT PrepTests") that it was no longer selling PrepTests 39, 40, 41, and 42. This meant that not only has LSAC failed to publish another book of 10 exams, forcing students to pay $8/exam, and not only is its shipping incredibly slow, but now it's made PrepTests 39-42 difficult to obtain.

Me: Were these exams not selling well?

Pat: They were selling fine. They [the Publications Department] just decided to stop publishing them because new exams were coming out. Next year, they'll probably stop publishing PrepTests 43 and 44 as new exams are released.

If students want the exams, and if a drop in demand for these exams is unlikely to happen anytime soon, LSAC shouldn't stop publishing them. Given that students need several recent LSAT PrepTests in order to adequately prepare, there's no reason to impose scarcity. PrepTest 39 is already out of stock on Amazon. The same will eventually happen to the others.

Me: If LSAC isn't going to sell these exams, why not release them for free download?

Pat: They haven't made that decision. I don't know why.

If LSAC isn't going to sell them, and distribution cost is virtually zero, why not?

I'm sure LSAC cares about:

-increasing diversity in the legal profession
-closing the achievement gap
-reducing the barriers for low-income future law students

However, its actions (lucrative licensing agreements with prep companies) speak louder than its words (DiscoverLaw.org and the Pipeline Diversity Directory).

What licensing agreements? LSAC gives prep companies the right to reprint LSAT PrepTests, but for the right to reprint these exams, LSAC charges the companies quite a bit. With 61 released PrepTests, 60 of which are available for licensing (supposedly - several companies print the 61st exam, the February 1997 PrepTest, anyway), those numbers add up.

I emailed LSAC at LSACInfo[at]LSAC[dot]org to ask about this (under a pseudonym). Emails below are edited for brevity.
Steve: A few questions for the publications department:

1. Does LSAC allow prep companies to reprint exams 1-6, 8, 17, and 39-42 for their students? [Ed: PrepTests 1-6, 8, and 17 also aren't directly available to students.]

2. How much do prep companies pay LSAC for the right to reprint them?

3. If members of the public can only acquire these exams through a prep course, this appears fairly discriminatory to those who cannot afford to take a prep course. How do you respond?

Publications Dept. Representative: Attached is a copy of our test-question licensing policy for your review. It should answer most of the questions you have. [Ed: See Part 4 for details.]
The rep was apparently so excited to see someone interested in the licensing process that she forgot to read my 3rd question. I continued emailing the conversation to see what else I could learn.
Steve: Is it possible to license PrepTests 47-56?
Publications Rep:
Yes. All PT are available to be licensed.

Why You Should Care About the Secret PrepTests

PrepTests 1-6, 8, and 17
were administered in the early 1990s, so they're less relevant than newer ones. The main reason to do them is if your goal is to complete every LSAT PrepTest (admirable, but certainly not necessary). So why else should you care? It's the principle of the thing.

However, PrepTests 39-42 are recent (2002-2003), so they're relevant (and, in my opinion, required) prep material.

To paraphrase an old saying, "When PrepTests 39-42 are outlawed, only outlaws will have PrepTests 39-42."

I hope the irony isn't lost on LSAC. Many students will break the law (by downloading PDFs of these "secret PrepTests") in order to become lawyers.

Differences in the Cost of PrepTests
I did some calculations using LSAC's licensing policy and additional emails from Felicia.

If you're a prep company, you can get 60 exams for a total of $194. If you're a student, you can only get 49 exams, but you have to pay $208. (See Part 3 for my calculations.)

Students pay LSAC more than prep companies but get less in return. Is it just me, or this is backwards?

***
Read on for Part 2, "Official LSAT PrepTest February 1997."

Photo by mwichary / CC BY 2.0



7 comments:

  1. I was surprised about LSAC not selling these exams, so I am glad you wrote this blog.........I had no idea. I am glad someone is asking these questions.

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  2. This should get more publicity. There is no justification for witholding free prep tests from those who want to study on their own.

    I'm a recent law school grad, who long ago prepped on my own for the LSAT by using practice tests, and did well. It's so important not to move to a world in which everybody has to take an LSAT prep course.

    A little public pressure and scrutiny might yield a change of policy from LSAC (hopefully).

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  3. This is unconscionable...

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  4. wow, your blog is so thorough.
    it's a shame that i cannot sign up to attend your workshop, since i'm residing overseas.
    i'm considering LSAT this December and have looked around your blog for study plans. though i don't know whether i can actually stick to it..
    nevertheless i am grateful that you have such a resourceful blog! thank you! you are truly interested in future lsat-taker's welfare and fair treatment in preparing for the test.

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  5. Investigative reporting--I love it. Wish I could live in LSAT world for another month or two but alas, my time's run out...are they ever going to computerize the exam? Or perhaps you've already addressed this elsewhere on your blog? J

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  6. Hey Joanna,

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    I just did an article on computerizing the LSAT.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Lol I recognize this post is like a billion years old. But for those just now reading it... the answer to your question: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_monopoly .

    Same reason De Beers hoards half its diamonds in a vault—in free market natural monopoly conditions, scarcity and inaccessibility are more profitable.

    ReplyDelete