I recently ran across a fascinating article about test prep that I’d like to share:
A somewhat more-detailed version from Berkeley itself:
The full study is here:
TL;DR: LSAT preparation structurally alters students’ brains in ways that seem to fundamentally improve reasoning, learning, cognition, and perhaps even IQ.
My reaction: Wow.
It’s great to see a study providing solid support for the power of the right kind of LSAT preparation to improve students’ thinking in ways stretching far beyond the test itself. This is amazing evidence that tutoring can change people’s lives in the long term, and it makes me feel good about the value of what I do. Tutoring really isn’t just about reapportioning success in a zero-sum game; students who prepare well for the LSAT seem to actually become smarter and are therefore in some sense more deserving of the law school opportunities they end up receiving — because they may be better able to solve the complex and challenging problems presented by the law.
These findings also imply that anyone wishing to improve his or her reasoning abilities, for whatever reason, may be well-served to spend some time studying the LSAT — even if law school isn’t in the plans.
Conversely, it is reasonable to believe that the LSAT-reasoning connection goes both ways; students wishing to improve their LSAT scores would probably do well to consider a wide range of problem-solving activities designed to challenge and improve their general reasoning skills. And a student who decides to get LSAT tutoring should make sure to find a tutor or a course that will engage with the underlying reasoning issues fundamental to the test. (And start soon — the cited study involved students who devoted 100 hours to LSAT training!)
I feel that my own experience “preparing” for the LSAT is relevant here. As some of you may know, I didn’t really “study” for the LSAT in any direct way. I looked at the practice test on lsac.org, decided I could do it, and walked in and took the test… and scored a 176.
Surely, some of my LSAT ability comes from innate talent, but the cited article suggests another reason for my success: I spent much of my childhood strengthening my reasoning and cognitive skills. I started playing chess at age 4, got serious about the game at the age of 9, and played in multiple tournaments per week at my peak. I played a number of other strategy games, including Scrabble, Magic, and bridge. From an early age, I solved logic puzzles a bit like those found in LSAT Analytical Reasoning (“The child who plays with trains is the youngest. The oldest child is four years older than Marie’s child. The child who plays with Barbie is 8 years old…”). I read thought-provoking science fiction like Asimov’s “The Last Question” and mystery/puzzle books like Encyclopedia Brown. I took numerous math classes that challenged my ability to reason and construct arguments.
I may not have studied for the LSAT in a literal sense, but in some sense I was studying for the test my whole life. I strengthened the cognitive connections in my brain, and, given this study, it’s not really surprising that that kind of preparation, over the span of years, would lead to a high LSAT score.
Finally, these findings are wonderful validation for the LSAT and its authors at LSAC. This test is consistently the best available predictor of future law school success, and the study suggests one reason why: The LSAT actually tests reasoning and learning (as well as dedication and preparation), and there’s little doubt that these skills are critical in law school courses and beyond. Kudos to LSAC for writing a test that truly reaches, evaluates, and even improves these important attributes.
Thanks to Kevin Organisciak from Test Prep Professionals for bringing my attention to this fascinating study.