August 23, 2017

Is the LSAT a “valid and reliable admission test”?

2. Is the LSAT a “valid and reliable admission test”?

Is the LSAT an accurate measure of what it purports  to  measure? LSAT takes the position that LSAT scores do correlate with law school performance.

“The LSAT, like any admission test, is not a perfect predictor of law school performance. The predictive power of an admission test is limited by many factors, such as the complexity of the skills the test is designed to measure and the unmeasurable factors that can affect students’ performances, such as motivation, physical and mental health, or work and family responsibilities. In spite of these factors, the LSAT compares very favorably with admission tests used in other graduate and professional fields of study. For more details on this subject, go to LSAT Scores as Predictors of Law School Performance (PDF).”

It would be helpful to have a third party study to rely upon.

At least one third party commentator is not so sure. In her insightful article:“Predictive Validity of the LSAT – The Jury’s Still Out”, Jordana Laporte suggests that the LSAT may not be doing its job.

Assuming a  correlation between LSAT test scores and law school grades, it doesn’t tell us how or  why an LSAT test score would correlate with law school grades. In other words, it doesn’t tell us specifically what skills, aptitudes, abilities (or combination) the LSAT is designed to test.

Who knows?  Nobody is  even certain what specific skills or aptitudes LSAT score  is  supposed  to measure.  That said, the  LSAT score is not a measure of intelligence. At a minimum  we know that an LSAT score is a very good  measure  of ones  ability to take  the LSAT. Most LSAT  preparation courses and tutors concern themselves with how to answer the questions. Surprisingly few consider what the LSAT is actually testing. One course is based on the principle that the LSAT is a test of “binary thinking”.

The question is:

To what extent does the LSAT measures  skills, competencies or aptitudes that are  relevant to law school  success! (There are certainly better  tests to determine whether somebody would  make  a good lawyer. On this basis there have been proposed alternatives to the LSAT. See a YouTube interview with Sheldon Zedeck of Berkley Law School) That  said, law  schools are academic  institutions which (at least  in theory) are unrelated to being a lawyer. Therefore, the issues remain:

–       what does the LSAT test; and
–       does what it tests matter when it comes  to  being  a law student?

After  thirty years of teaching live  LSAT classes (where I see, experience and feel both the agony and the ecstasy of LSAT preparation), I believe that the LSAT is a test of reading and reasoning (deductive, inductive and abductive) in various contexts. At
the present time the contexts are:

–       LSAT Logic Games
–       LSAT  Logical  Reasoning
–       LSAT Reading Comprehension

It is likely  that those with high LSAT scores read well. Those with extremely low LSAT scores do not read well. Yes, reading and reasoning skills are important for success in law school. Therefore, in the case of applicants  with extremely high or extremely low  LSAT scores, test scores do have  meaning and relevance. The problem is that  a
very low percentage  of test takers  score in these extreme  ranges. The more difficult question is:  what does an LSAT score  measure for those  in the vast majority – outside the extreme  ranges – where the test  is primarily used? I suspect  that the “jury is out”  on this question.

Remember that the ABA requires that the law schools use a valid and reliable admission test. It does not require the LSAT. I will argue in a future post that the law schools should also accept the GRE and in some cases the GMAT.

This brings us to:

3. If  the requirement of a “valid and reliable admission test”  is discontinued, will the law schools  continue to require a “valid and reliable  admission test” in their  own admissions process?



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