In Defense of the LSAT

Posted in Uncategorized on February 7th, 2010 by bl1y

You don’t have to poke around sites that talk about law school very long to hear complaints about the LSAT.  They’re mostly some variation on the theme that the LSAT isn’t great at predicting law school performance, or how someone will ultimately perform as a lawyer.  Then, they follow up with some anecdotal evidence, acting as though it completely invalidates the test.

First, let me couch all this by saying that the LSAT should be understood as being merely probabilistic in regards to law school/practice performance.  It doesn’t say that someone with a 170 will do better than someone with a 160, but rather that they are more likely to do better.  It’s an aptitude test and gives schools an idea on the likelihood that you will perform well.

Second, let me also remind you that there is no perfect test.  If you wanted an incredibly predictive test, you’d take law school applicants and put them into a firm’s summer associate program and let them try their hand at doing real life legal work.  This would of course be incredibly expensive, time consuming, and very difficult to evaluate.

Schools are interested in getting students with a high chance of meeting their standards, and they need a test that conveys that sort of information in an efficient way.  So, let’s look at what exactly the LSAT tests.  I think they may have changed the names of the sections recently, but the questions are Logical Reasoning (50%), Reading Comprehension (26%) and Logic Games (24%).

Reading comprehension is a pretty basic skill for a lawyer to have.  So is logical reasoning.  People sometimes think the logic games are completely disconnected from the law school experience, but they’re not.  The logic games are close to pure logic problems and are a test of your deductive skills.  The section called Logical Reasoning is not really logical reasoning, but rather a blend of logic and reading comprehension.

The fact that the LSAT tests the very types of intelligence lawyers rely on is not the real reason it’s a good test for law schools to use.  The LSAT tests skills, not knowledge.  Skills must be developed over time through practice and self-analysis.  So, for the vast majority of the population, performing well on the LSAT is an indication of your ability to do tedious, boring tasks for long periods of time.

Spending your time doing tedious, boring shit, shit that no one’s really that interested in?  That’s exactly what you’ll be experiencing in law school and in the legal profession.  If you can’t sit down and hone your LSAT skills, what makes you think you’re going to be able to sit down and analyze case law for hours on end, or memorize civil procedure rules?

Of course, doing well on the LSAT doesn’t mean you have a great work ethic.  For instance, I majored in analytical philosophy, so I had basically two years of very relevant training before I took the LSAT.  Also, in my elementary school’s gifted program we routinely did logic games style puzzles.  Having trouble with the games?  Then you’re dumber than a bunch of 10 year old redneck kids.

So, while a good score on the LSAT doesn’t mean you’ll be a good student or a good worker, a bad score does mean you’ll be a bad student and a bad worker.  If you couldn’t follow that bit of logic there, I suggest you give up on the LSAT right now.

Another common complaint about the LSAT is from the people who say they “don’t test well.”  This always comes from the people with really high GPAs and terrible LSAT scores.  These people get mismatched numbers for one of two reasons:

1. They can’t handle stress.  The LSAT tests, among other things, your ability to perform under pressure.  If you choke when things get tough, you’re going to bomb your law school exams, fail the bar, and be a terrible lawyer.  Law school and practice is full of stress.  If you want an easy job, go be a professor.

2. They have bullshit majors.  Political science, English, Gender studies, that sort of thing.  Basically all liberal arts.  These are majors where all you really need to get a good GPA is the ability to memorize a small number of facts and then bullshit on essays.  When all you deal with are fuzzy ideas of course you’re going to get your ass kicked by a test that wants you to do cold, hard logic where there is exactly one right answer that is necessarily true based on the information you have.  If math and science kids were doing poorly on the LSAT, we’d know there was a legit problem, but they don’t; they do the best.

Lastly, I’ve heard complaints that it’s possible to “game” the LSAT.  There is in fact one way to game the LSAT.  In logical reasoning sections there is a fairly fixed pattern in the questions.  The difficulty increases as the section goes on, but with two exceptions.  Around questions 3-5 there will be one hard question.  Getting hung up on it will cost you time and points, it’s often best to skip it and come back to it later after you’ve done the other easy questions.  Also, at the end there are 3-4 medium difficulty questions.  Some people never get to them because they get stuck on the very hard questions.  People in the know skip ahead and do them, then tackle the really tough questions.

That’s it.  It can make a difference of a couple points in your raw score, but “gaming” the LSAT won’t take you from a 155 to a 165.  And, for the people scoring over 170, these tricks are useless because even the difficult questions are only moderately challenging.  We finish with plenty of time left.

Some people might think doing the reading comprehension and logic game questions out of order is also gaming the LSAT, but it’s not.  It’s just common sense to examine the reading samples/logic games and see which looks like it’s the easy points and do that first, saving the toughest questions for last.  If you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be a lawyer.

If someone can come up with a better idea for a test than the LSAT, I’d love to hear it.  But either way, I think the LSAT is a damn solid test.  And, so do law schools.  They could choose to ignore it if they wanted, but they don’t, because they know it’s actually quite useful.

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