Monday January 03, 2000
Going to Law School?
Brush Up your analytical thinking first!
By Howard Hobbs, Bulldog Newspaper Foundation
FRESNO CAMPUS -- Accredited American law schools require applications who wish to read law for three years of post graduate study take a standardized exam, the Law School Admission Test.
The exam specializes in determining if students have cleared to use a specialized type of thinking and problem solving called analytical reasoning.
It is a theoretical concept present in items designed to measure the ability to understand a structure of often vague and ill-defined relationships and measures, to a degree, the student's skill and ease in drawing logical conclusions about the structure.
The student is asked to make deductions from a set of statements, rules, or conditions that depict relationships between groups, or persons, places, things, or events. Theoretically, these intellectual puzzles present a dimension of the sort of detailed analyses of relationships that a First Year law student is required to engage in while resolving legal dilemmas.
The LSAT, for example, has in the past presented students with a paragraph describing four diplomats sitting around a table, following certain rules of protocol as to where each may or may not be seated, according to status. The student is then given a forced choice about the political implications of the given information.
Sample Analytical Reasoning Test Item from LSAT:
- A housing committee will consist of exactly five representatives, one of whom will be its chairperson. The representatives will be selected from among a group of five tenants--F, G, J, K, and M--and a group of four homeowners--P, Q, R, and S. The following conditions must be
met: The committee must include at least two representatives from each group. The chairperson must be a representative belonging to the group from which exactly two representatives are selected.
- If F is selected, Q must be selected.
- If G is selected, K must be selected.
- If either J or M is selected, the other must also be selected.
- M and P cannot both be selected.
Careful reading and analysis are necessary to determine the exact nature of the relationships involved. Some relationships are fixed. Other relationships are variable. Some relationships that are not stated in the conditions are implied by and can be deduced from those that are stated.
No formal training in rhetoric or logic is required to answer these questions correctly. Analytical reasoning questions are intended to be answered using knowledge, skills, and reasoning ability generally expected of college graduates.
Logical reasoning questions evaluate a test taker's ability to understand, analyze, criticize, and complete arguments. The arguments are contained in short passages taken from a variety of sources, including letters to the editor, speeches, advertisements, newspaper articles and editorials, informal discussions and conversations, as well as articles in the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences.
Each logical reasoning question requires the examinee to read and comprehend the argument or the reasoning contained in the passage, and answer one or two questions about it. The questions test a variety of logical skills. These include -- recognizing the point or issue of an argument or dispute -- detecting the assumptions involved in an argument or chain of reasoning; drawing reasonable conclusions from given evidence or premises -- identifying and applying principles -- identifying the method or structure of an argument or chain of reasoning -- detecting reasoning errors and misinterpretations -- determining how additional evidence or argument affects an argument or conclusion -- and identifying explanations and recognizing resolutions of conflicting facts or arguments.
The questions do not presuppose knowledge of the terminology of formal logic. For example, you will not be expected to know the meaning of specialized terms such as "ad hominem" or "syllogism."
On the other hand, you will be expected to understand and critique the reasoning contained in arguments. This requires that you possess, at a minimum, a college-level understanding of widely used concepts such as argument, premise, assumption, and conclusion.
The purpose of reading comprehension questions is to measure your ability to read, with understanding and insight, examples of lengthy and complex materials similar to those commonly encountered in law school work.
The reading comprehension section of the test consists of four
passages, each approximately 450 words long, followed by five to eight questions that test the candidate's reading and reasoning abilities. Passages for reading comprehension items draw from a
variety of subjects including the humanities, the social sciences, the physical sciences, ethics, philosophy, and the law.
Reading comprehension questions require test takers to read carefully and accurately, to determine the relationships among the various parts of the passage, and to draw reasonable inferences from the material in the passage. The questions may ask about: the main idea or primary purpose of the passage; the meaning or purpose of words or phrases used in the passage; information explicitly stated in the passage; information or ideas that can be inferred from the passage; the organization of the passage; the application of information in the passage to a new context; and the tone of the passage or the author's attitude as it is revealed in the language used.
Since passages are drawn from many different disciplines and sources, you should not be discouraged if you encounter material with which you are not familiar. It is important to remember that questions are to be answered on the basis of the information provided in the passage.
There is no particular knowledge that you are expected to bring to the test, and you should not make inferences based on any prior knowledge of a subject that you may have. You may, however, wish to defer working on a passage that seems particularly difficult or unfamiliar until after you have dealt with passages you find easier.
In preparing for the test, you should experiment with different strategies, and decide which work most effectively for you. These include:
reading the passage very closely and then answering the questions; reading the questions first, reading the passage closely, and then returning to the questions; and skimming the passage and questions very quickly, then rereading the passage closely and answering the questions. Remember that your strategy must be effective under timed conditions.
If you do not pass the LSAT the first time, but believe that your test score does not reflect your true ability, you should consider taking the test again.
Data published recently by the Law School Admission Council, however, shows that scores for repeat test takers often rise only slightly. In fact, scores may drop on repeat tests. You should also notify law schools of any facts relevant to the interpretation of your test results, such as illness or extenuating circumstances. If there is no reason to believe that one score represents a truer estimate of an applicant’s ability, schools are advised that the average score is probably the best estimate of ability especially if the tests were taken over a short period of time. Law
schools must have access to your complete test record, not just the highest score.
The Law School Admission Council has released a guide to help
law schools diversify their student bodies by deemphasizing standardized-test scores and considering applicants' life experiences.
[Editor's Note: Dr. Howard Hobbs is also the Editor and Dean of the American Law Review.]