I’ve long argued that the LSAT doesn’t test a person’s raw intellectual horsepower so much as it tests how well a person prepared for the LSAT. It’s a reading comprehension test that rewards prior achievement instead of future potential. It can be taught. It can be gamed. It can be beat.
Others argue that it really does get to the heart of one’s “intelligence,” and their baseline ability to perform critical thinking tasks.
There is a new study out that says, basically, that I’m right, but I’m sure both sides will find something supportive in the findings. The study looks at the way studying for the LSAT impacts the physical brain chemistry of test takers. One thing I think we’ll all agree on is that merely studying for the LSAT messes with your head….
The study comes out of U.C. Berkeley. Researchers say that they were interested in how “reasoning training” (which they equated with LSAT prep) affects the brain. Their results were pretty cool. From the U.C. Berkeley News Center:
The results suggest that training people in reasoning skills – the main focus of LSAT prep courses – can reinforce the brain’s circuits involved in thinking and reasoning and could even up people’s IQ scores…
The new study shows that reasoning training does alter brain connections, which is good news for the test prep industry, but also for people who have poor reasoning skills and would like to improve them. The findings are reported today (Wednesday, Aug. 22) in the open access journal Frontiers in Neuroanatomy.
[If you will allow me to geek out for a second (sorry, my sister is pursuing a neuro-psycholbiothingamadoogle Ph.D., so I'm starting to get into this stuff), the study found that LSAT prep leads to "decreases in radical diffusivity (RD) in white matter connecting frontal cortices, and in mean diffusivity (MD) within frontal and parietal lobe white matter." As I understand it, those decreases mean that the stuff that makes brain connectivity happen goes up. Here's a good, layperson summary of the findings from Most Strongly Supported.]
According to the researchers all this means something many people have suspected all along:
“A lot of people still believe that you are either smart or you are not, and sure, you can practice for a test, but you are not fundamentally changing your brain,” said senior author Silvia Bunge, associate professor in the UC Berkeley Department of Psychology and the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. “Our research provides a more positive message. How you perform on one of these tests is not necessarily predictive of your future success, it merely reflects your prior history of cognitive engagement, and potentially how prepared you are at this time to enter a graduate program or a law school, as opposed to how prepared you could ever be.”
I wish people could internalize this message. The LSAT isn’t about “smart” or “dumb,” it’s about “prepared” and “WTF are you doing.”
And so you see, when I make fun of people who can’t break a 145 on the LSAT, I’m not really picking on the kids who are so stupid they can drown by looking up when it’s raining. I’m simply questioning the commitment one has to their own education when they can’t even get their act together for the LSAT. When I tell people to just do better on the LSAT, I’m not being an elitist prick.
I’m saying that if you want to go to law school so bad, teach yourself — force yourself — to become better at this crucial entrance exam that unfortunately disproportionately affects your legal future. You can do it! Take an LSAT course. Take it again. Keep taking it until your freaking brain starts greasing itself in myelin and starts to produce a respectable score on this teachable test.
Oh, and the study doesn’t say how long these positive brain chemistry changes last. That also makes sense to me. Like everything with the LSAT, don’t expect it to really help you once you actually get into a law school.
Intense prep for law school admission test alters brain structure [U.C. Berkeley News Center]