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Do LSAT Scores Determine Success in Your First Year (1L Year) of Law School?
Exam prep companies and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) both point to a remarkable statistic when people question the effectiveness of the LSAT. This statistic? High performance on the LSAT is strongly correlated with success in the first year (year 1L) of law school.
Of course, as Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, fucking lies and statistics”. But let’s assume that this statistic is true. (I have no reason to doubt it, and I haven’t found any alternatives online.) Does that mean your LSAT score is your destiny in your freshman year of law school?
To answer that question, let’s look at what the LSAT tests are, 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 distinct question types stand out: reading comprehension and “logic puzzles” (which are essentially math puzzles).
Reading comprehension tests how quickly you can read and understand unfamiliar information. This skill translates directly into the first year of law school, as the first year involves extensive reading in an unfamiliar area. Legal language can be murky, and professors often choose historical, poorly written, and overturned cases in the first few months of class. Navigating this material takes time, and strong reading skills can keep that time to a minimum. Additionally, good readers often write well, which is a key law school skill.
Logic games test your ability to follow a series of rules and learn how to pass a test. These skills translate to law school, but much more loosely. Following the rules of the black letter is key to legal analysis. And learning exam tips gives you a competitive edge over your classmates. But logic game rules and strategies are very different from legal rules and strategies.
So even though these skills are transferred, it seems odd that there is a strong correlation between LSAT and 1L success. Why would students who come in as better readers and who can learn to do math puzzles necessarily do better than other smart students, like senior undergraduate writers? After all, no one knows the rules until their 1L classes, and law school exam tips are separate from LSAT tips. Additionally, 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 LSAT success correlates with a strong exam strategy. If professors taught legal rules and exam strategies, success would depend on memorizing the rules and writing ability. But first-year teachers don’t teach that way. Instead, professors teach according to the method of jurisprudence.
The jurisprudential method, like any other, has advantages and disadvantages. Because the law is taught through cases, some rules are more memorable because they are tied to a story. But often the rules of the black letter get buried and are never clear to students. Thus, the ability to learn the material on your own while using strong testing strategies becomes paramount. For example, students who researched bar exam materials would be on the right track.
In my opinion, passing the LSAT is highly correlated with passing the 1L because freshmen don’t learn exam strategy. Instead, students are busy trying to figure out the rules buried in each case, rather than focusing on the test as a learnable skill. Therefore, students who do poorly on the LSAT must learn the material effectively. and work on practice problems/mock exams to quickly improve their ability to take tests. With this preparation, this strong correlation doesn’t have to be fate.
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