Computer Usage and Access Patterns of Actual and Potential LSAT Takers (CT-97-10)
by Susan M. Jenkins
Samantha D. Holmes, University of Michigan

Executive Summary

As part of a larger study exploring the advisability and feasibility of administering the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) by computer, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is investigating the computer usage and access patterns of actual and potential LSAT takers. Some previous computer usage research indicates that systematic differences in computer usage, comfort, and access by gender, race/ethnicity, and age may exist. However, other research indicates that when basic computer skills—such as word processing—are examined, differences across gender, race/ethnicity, and age are nonexistent. Similarly, results from studies specifically focused on the use of computerized tests suggest that if test formats are kept simple and test takers have sufficient preparation time, there is little reason to expect that members of any particular demographic group would be disadvantaged.

Preliminary data collected by LSAC staff indicated that there are few differences across demographic groups with regard to the use of basic, Windows-based computer software. However, in order to determine whether computerizing the LSAT might possibly create an undue burden to any group of LSAT takers, definitions of computer usage and access needed to be refined. For example, preliminary data indicated no significant differences across demographic groups with regard to computer access. However, this general level of data does not address specific issues such as where participants have computer access and whether that access may be limited in ways that could interfere with using the computer to prepare for a computerized LSAT.

The five surveys used for this report included samples of convenience, as well as representative samples of LSAT takers for a total of 2,836 participants. Because two of the survey projects were designed to include sufficient numbers of racial/ethnic minority group members to allow statistical comparisons, the racial/ethnic distribution in the final sample includes larger percentages of members of racial/ethnic minority groups than are present in the actual LSAT-taking population.

The results of this study indicate that, as expected, more than 85% of participants reported being at least somewhat comfortable using a computer, using a computer at least once a week, and having at least weekly access to a computer. With regard to specific types of computer usage and location of computer access, there were some significant differences by demographic group. By gender, there were no differences in either general or specific types of computer usage or general levels of computer access. However, with regard to location of access, men were significantly more likely to report home computer access than were women. By race/ethnicity, there were no significant differences across groups with regard to general computer comfort, although there were small differences with regard to frequency of computer usage and location of computer access. Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino(a)/Chicano(a) respondents were slightly less frequent computer users and were slightly less likely to report having home computer access than were members of other racial/ethnic groups. By age, there were no differences across groups with regard to general computer comfort or frequency of use, although respondents over 40 years of age reported slightly less comfort using Windows-based programs or a mouse to control screen features. With regard to location of computer access, the only significant age-related difference was that younger respondents were more likely to have computer access at school, while older respondents were more likely to have access at work. Finally, by student status, there were no differences in general computer comfort or frequency of use. The only meaningful difference reported for specific kinds of computer usage was that participants out of school for more than three semesters were significantly more likely to be comfortable using the right mouse button to control screen features than were current students or recent graduates. Another difference was that while graduates were significantly more likely than students to have computer access at work, students were significantly more likely than graduates to have computer access at school and at home.

In summary, these data indicate that there are few overall differences by demographic group with regard to computer comfort, computer usage, and computer access. However, as there appear to be differences across demographic groups related to specific types of computer usage and locations of computer access, more work needs to be done to determine the size, nature, and practical implications of these differences. For example, while there are indications that test takers over 40 years of age—particularly women—may have some barriers to computer usage, a larger sample needs to be surveyed before generalizations can be made. In addition, because data from both volunteer participants and those randomly sampled to provide representative data were combined, care should be taken in generalizing these results to the LSAT-taking population as a whole.

Computer Usage and Access Patterns of Actual and Potential LSAT Takers (CT-97-10)

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