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Op-ed: Why not the LSAT?

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I have read articles that recommend eliminating the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) as the standardized test to evaluate critical skills of those wanting to attend law school. The LSAT determines, in large part, who will gain admission to law school and the amount, if any, of merit-based scholarships those admitted will receive towards their education. This instrument provides institutions with a reasonable measure of student capabilities. As the pre-law advisor at Jackson State University, the fourth largest historically black university in the country, I have become intimately familiar with the LSAT and believe it is the right measuring stick for law school admissions.

I teach the legal studies courses in the political science department to nearly all of our majors. I have specifically designed these courses as reading, research, and writing intensive to enhance student readiness for law school. These curricular changes have attracted students from the humanities, sciences, communications, and business departments to the legal studies program. While the thought of the LSAT is frightening to many, all are wholly aware that the exam is the key that will open the doors to law school for them.

The legal studies curriculum offers a three-hour standing elective, the LSAT Survey course, in the spring to juniors. The course offering alone supports the tradition of standardized test taking. I first taught the course in 2009. Despite the amount of time that had passed since my own experience with the LSAT in 1984/1985, I was still in awe of it. I feared my trepidation about the exam would thwart my ability to be effective in instructing my first seven, all female students. I did not want to fail them in the wake of this formidable challenge.

As I researched and read reviews on the relevance of the LSAT, I began to reflect that I had not been properly prepared to take it all those many years ago. Not only did my liberal arts college not have a pre-law advisor, I had no real clue about the nature of the LSAT before taking it; perhaps that is why I took it a second time.

Each of those earlier teaching days reinforced the LSAT as a beast to fear. In my panic of preparation, I had forgotten I was not taking the test; I had a law degree and a license to practice. Yet my standing as a practitioner did not minimize my concerns about the need to provide bright and deserving students with the opportunities to have a career and life in law. Armed with some semblance of confidence in my abilities, I vowed our students would obtain competitive LSAT scores. The negotiator in me declared that if my students strove for 170, they could very well score within the average range of 151 to 155. If nothing else, I could augment their preparedness by exposing them to everything regarding the LSAT.

Third, there are extensive travel opportunities for students. I regularly chaperone students throughout the school year to law school forums, LSAT workshops, and law school campuses. Upon providing their names and email addresses, students are able to receive free, on-line LSAT prep materials offered by commercial entities, universities, and sales representatives. As a result, they have direct access to an entire process that fosters aggressive preparation for the LSAT.

Additionally, I constantly revise the syllabus to incorporate best practices that will yield higher scores. The three primary sections of the LSAT are logical reasoning; analytical reasoning; and reading comprehension. The logical reasoning section can appear as many as three times on the exam. For this reason, we spend one-third of the class meetings developing and applying techniques and tools to the questions in this section. I strongly encourage outside reading as preparation for the dense reading comprehension passages. I also administer timed tests weekly for all three sections to expose pattern repetitiveness and to build endurance for exam day. We even dedicate considerable time and attention to composing personal statements, essays, and resumes. Our in-house assessment and reporting indicate that students who enroll in the course tend to score better than those who do not. 

I have now instructed the course every spring since 2009 with nearly one hundred students.  Invariably, students are fearful and put the inevitable off beyond June (the only test time school is not in session) until October and December, some, however, as late as February. Although I discourage the delay, I am more opposed to students sitting unprepared for the exam at any time.  While many applicants lack “free” time to dedicate to LSAT prep, there is a direct correlation between the time expended in preparing for the exam and the achieved score. Obtaining a confidence-boosting score is not only symptomatic of law school performance and success, but also an implication of intellectual and practical proficiencies.

As a practitioner and professor, I have made my peace with the LSAT. Every occasion for me to interact with the exam lends credibility that it should remain the measuring stick for those seeking a law degree to possess a certain skill set manifested through responses to the test questions. Without fail, reading comprehension and analytical and logical reasoning skills will transfer from law school to law practice — a service to humanity from a disciplined position of trust. The history of lawyers in Western society demands this level of competence and diligence even before one enters the halls of law schools.   

Coopers is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Pre-Law Advisor in the Department of Political Science at Jackson State University