"It's just a test"
I've heard this phrase repeated before every major standardized exam I've ever taken. It's supposed to calm the test-taker by putting the test in the broader context of their life but, more often, people take it to mean that tests aren't legitimate.
I don't think that anyone should define their self worth by their score on a test. But, I also think that it's important to understand that the LSAT is designed to test for certain characteristics - and (I think) that it actually does a pretty good job of testing for some of them.
The difficulty for the student is in understanding that these characteristics aren't strictly obvious. The skills that the LSAT is nominally testing for - reading comprehension, logical reasoning, analytical reasoning - are actually composites of many smaller, more general skills and traits that are important for a life in the law (or at least in law school).
Here are the skills as I see them and the questions I think you should be asking yourself:
- Empathy: Different people have and are driven by different wants and needs; being able to understand what a given person cares about and how to tap into it is a crucial skill in the law. Whether you're winning over a jury in a closing statement, cross-examining a witness, or simply understanding what matters to your corporate client, empathy is a major component of argumentation and persuasion. The LSAT tests this by asking you to understand the different viewpoints of the speakers they introduce in both the Reading Comprehension and Logical Reasoning sections.
- Can I always put myself in the shoes of someone I disagree with and understand their point of view?
- Do I like learning about different perspectives?
- Can I set aside what my personal sense of what's the best solution in general and focus on the most effective path for the side I'm assigned to in an argument?
- Understanding structure: In many ways, understanding connections between pieces of information is the backbone of all thought. Taking the bird's eye view of all of those connections and using that view to your advantage - whether that's by clearly laying out your argument in a brief to guide the reader to your conclusion, figuring out what makes two cases structurally similar or dissimilar, or shrinking that bird's eye view down into a simple concrete analogy in oral argument - is one the main hallmarks of "legal reasoning". This is obviously testing in the Analytical Reasoning section, but the ability to spot and predict structure is crucial in every section of the LSAT.
- When I tell a story, do I hit the main points, or get stuck on details?
- When I write an essay or take notes, do I begin with an outline?
- Am I comfortable taking something apart (a vacuum, a toaster, an argument) and putting it back together?
- Objectivity: This is the inverse of empathy; where empathy is about thinking your way into someone else's shoes, objectivity is about your ability to separate your personal views on a subject from your ability to think about that subject. The LSAT tests this by including questions and answer choices that are designed to rile you up - whether that's by asking you to construct a flawed argument or forcing you to advocate for a stance you might disagree with.
- Do I have strongly held moral or philosophical beliefs?
- Can I suspend my belief for the sake of argument?
- Can I separate persuasive speech/opinion from factual claims?
- Information prioritization: Whether in class or in discovery, you'll be inundated with more information than you can possibly handle in your legal studies. The ability to discern what's crucial and what's not (and all the degrees of importance in between) isn't only a nice skill to have - it's a necessary one, and one that's tested on every section of the LSAT. It's also, in many ways, a composite of the three skills mentioned above.
- When I set out to build or make something, can I easily follow the directions or recipe?
- Can I cut to the "core" of an argument?
- Can I handle being inundated with details?
- Endurance & focus: The LSAT Reading Comprehension section can feel long, but the reading you do in law school and in your career will be much, much longer.
- Do I like reading about any subject I come across, or do I only like reading about subjects that already interest me?
- Can I sit and work at a consistently high level for four nearly-uninterrupted hours?
- Do I really want the long hours and constant stress of a life in the law? Am I comfortable putting in three prime years of my life and going tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to get certified for a profession that is no less threatened by automation than many blue collar professions? Am I actually smart enough and hardworking enough and passionate enough to handle this, or am I just messing around?
These skills and characteristics are important to consider because they can determine how you build out your study plan and how you expand your knowledge base before the test.
If you're curious about how a given section on the LSAT relates to the categories on the inventory, contact me at david at zenlsat.com or reach me on my Coach page! I'll pass along my thoughts and a general handout on that section :)