Law School Admission Test
History, Format, Scoring, Role of the LSAT in Legal Education
The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the halfday, standardized entrance exam required by the 198 law schools (184 in the United States and 15 in Canada) that constitute the membership of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) as of July 2001. The LSAC, a nonprofit corporation located in Newton, Pennsylvania, is the sole administering body of the LSAT. The LSAT is administered to large groups of individuals four times per year (February, June, October, and December) at numerous test centers. Approximately 107,000 individuals took the LSAT in 2000.
During the first half of the twentieth century the generic intelligence test and its various offspring gained popularity. The use of intelligence tests during World War I by the U.S. military was followed quickly by the introduction in 1920 of the National Intelligence Test for American school children and in 1926 with the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The first LSAT was administered twenty-two years later in 1948. Although the methodology used to score the LSAT has undergone changes over time, the general format and substance of the LSAT has remained relatively constant.
The 2001 LSAT is representative of the contemporary examination. It consists of five multiple-choice sections of thirty-five minutes each and an additional, non-scored thirty-minute writing sample. Two of the test sections focus on logical reasoning by testing the ability of the test-taker to perceive logical fallacies in statements. Another section focuses on analytical reasoning skills by challenging the test-taker to solve complex puzzles based on systems of relationships. The final section is a high-level reading comprehension exercise that examines the individual's ability to digest complex passages of text and identify the author's purpose. An additional fifth experimental section may be any of the other three types and is used to pilot questions for future LSAT exams. The experimental section does not contribute to the individual's score.
The LSAT score reported for an individual is a scaled score that is generated using a mathematical conversion formula unique for each particular version of the exam. The raw score, on the other hand, is a direct representation of the number of test questions the individual answered correctly. With a total of approximately 101 questions on each LSAT, an individual receives a single raw point score for each correctly answered question. The raw score is then converted to a scaled score that falls between 120, the minimum LSAT score, and 180, the maximum LSAT score.
Role of the LSAT in Legal Education
The LSAT is the primary vehicle through which individuals gain entrance to the system of legal education officially approved by the American Bar Association (ABA). The LSAT is analogous to the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT); it is the standardized mechanism used by a professional school in evaluating applicants for potential ability within the professional school setting and, thus, for possible entry into the profession itself. The impact of the LSAT as the gatekeeper to the legal profession cannot be overstated.
The LSAT is used to make important decisions about the path of law school applicants' lives. It seems unavoidable under these circumstances that the test itself has become a source of ongoing controversy. Questions persist as to whether the LSAT measures the ability to succeed in the modern law school and as to the proper weight to give to LSAT scores during the admissions process. Accordingly, criticisms abound regarding a number of aspects of the LSAT.
The LSAT score is the most heavily weighted criteria considered by those involved in the law school admissions decision-making process. The most common criticism associated with the process is that those making the admissions decisions rely on LSAT scores as an obvious indicator of those who will succeed in law school. Critics argue that the LSAT is not conclusive in its predictive ability of academic performance in law school. They point out the impact of other factors, including support systems, financial demands, and individual motivation, as important in determining the long-term success of a student in law school. The Law School Admission Council itself, however, has always urged law school admissions professionals to resist the urge to make the LSAT score the sole criteria used in the admissions process.
Concerns about the validity of the LSAT bring serious issues of fairness and equity into the dialogue concerning the law school admissions process. The debate surrounding gender, racial, and ethnic bias in the LSAT system generates the majority of the academic literature about the test and supports a flow of legal cases over admissions decisions. Various studies have offered data suggesting that the LSAT serves as a barrier to the admission of women and ethnic applicants into a professional system that has traditionally been dominated by white males. The underlying rationale for the use of the LSAT, however, is to avoid the biases that come with more arbitrary methods of selection. Standardized testing theoretically offers a mechanism for the selection of students based on academic ability rather than more subjective characteristics, such as social standing.
The predictive accuracy of the LSAT will remain under question. Logic demands continued and conscious attention to the standardized test that provides admittance to a modern legal education. Indeed, the baseline justification behind using the LSAT in the admission process is the assumption that the test is a strong predictor of performance during the first year of law school. Regardless of the various concerns regarding the test, the LSAT remains the best measure of academic ability developed to date to aid in the law school admissions process.
See also: LAW EDUCATION.
BROWN, DOROTHY A. 1998. "The LSAT Sweepstakes." Journal of Gender, Race and Justice 2:59–75.
KIDDER, WILLIAM C. 2000. "The Rise of Testocracy: An Essay on the LSAT, Conventional Wisdom, and the Dismantling of Diversity." Texas Journal of Women and Law 9:167–218.
KIDDER, WILLIAM C. 2000. "Unmasking Gender Bias on the LSAT and Its Relationship to Racial Diversity in Legal Education." Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 12:1–42.
SACKS, PETER. 2001. "How Admissions Tests Hinder Access to Graduate and Professional Schools." Chronicle of Higher Education June 8.
SHELTON, PHILIP D. 2001. "Admissions Tests: Not Perfect, Just the Best Measures We Have." Chronicle of Higher Education July 6.
SUBOTNIK, DAN. 2000. "Goodbye to the SAT, LSAT? Hello to Equity by Lottery? Evaluating Lani Guinier's Plan for Ending Race Consciousness."Howard Law Journal 43:141–170.
LAW SCHOOL ADMISSION COUNCIL. 2002. <www.lsac.org>.
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