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Do LSAT Scores Determine Success in Your First Year (1L Year) of Law School?
Test preparation companies and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) point to a notable statistic when people question the effectiveness of the LSAT. This statistic? High LSAT performance correlates strongly with success in the first year (1L year) of law school.
Of course, as Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” But let’s assume this statistic is true. (I have no reason to doubt this and have not found alternatives online.) Does this mean your LSAT score is your destiny in your first year of law school?
To answer that question, let’s look at what the LSAT tests and then look at law school to see what the connection might be.
The LSAT (according to the LSAC website) uses three types of questions: reading comprehension, analytical reasoning questions, and logical reasoning questions. But for test takers, two different types of questions stand out: reading comprehension and “logic games” (which are essentially math puzzles).
Reading comprehension tests assess how quickly you can read and understand unfamiliar information. This skill translates directly into the first year of law school because the first year involves a large volume of reading in an unfamiliar field. Legal language can be arcane, and professors often choose historical, poorly written, and overruled cases within the first few months of class. Going through this material takes time, and strong reading skills can keep that time to a minimum. Also, strong readers often write well, which is a key law school skill.
Logic games test how well you can follow a set of rules and learn how to do a test. These skills translate to law school, but much more loosely. Following the black-letter rules is key to legal analysis. And learning exam tricks gives you a competitive edge over your classmates. But the rules and strategies of logic games are very different from legal rules and strategies.
So while these skills transfer, it seems odd that there is a strong correlation between LSAT and 1L success. Why would students who enter as better readers and who can learn to do math puzzles necessarily do better than other intelligent students, such as higher grade writers? After all, no one knows the rules before their 1L classes, and the gimmicks on law school exams are different from the LSAT. Also, most law school tests are essay-based exams, not the multiple-choice format found on the LSAT.
I think the best explanation for this strong correlation is that success on the LSAT correlates with a strong test-taking strategy. If teachers taught legal rules and test-taking strategies, success would come down to memorizing rules and writing ability. But first-year teachers don’t teach like that. Instead, professors teach using the method of jurisprudence.
The method of jurisprudence, like any other, has pros and cons. Because the law is taught through cases, some rules are more memorable because they are attached to a story. But often, the black letter rules are buried and never made clear to students. Therefore, the ability to learn the material on your own while using sound test-taking strategies becomes paramount. For example, students looking for bar exam material would be on the right track.
In my opinion, LSAT success correlates strongly with 1L success because freshmen are not taught exam strategy. Instead, students are busy trying to figure out the buried rules in each case, instead of focusing on test-taking as a skill to learn. Therefore, students who perform poorly on the LSAT need to efficiently learn the subject matter i work on practice problems/mock exams to quickly improve your test-taking ability. With this preparation, this strong correlation does not have to be fate.
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