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Monday, July 3, 2017
STEM-Majors Outperform Humanities Students on LSAT
In news that should surprise virtually no one, college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math generally do better on the LSAT than students of history, English, and sociology. They also account for fewer than 6% of law school applicants-a deficit that many experts claim is diluting the quality of the intelligence pool.
As a first year law student, I attended a massive test-prep workshop in Los Angeles where the animated host devoted a large chunk of time to precisely this subject. I'd always thought that English and Philosophy were the feeder-majors for law school. Here we were being told to approach law school and the bar exam with the minds of scientists. And, while terrifying, it made sense.
As its name professes, the LSAT is an aptitude exam. This means that it tests quantitative and analytic skills. It is largely multiple choice, with a single writing section that is not scored. Critical thinking (questioning absolutes!) is the backbone of humanities study. In practice, law leans heavily upon nuance, theatre, deft debate, and calculated spin. Successful litigation depends as much on toppling notions of existing law as it does in advocating for their stringent administration. The LSAT does not test critical thinking skills, at least in their most classic context.
The LSAT is recognized as an effective predictor of law school and bar exam success. Students with strong quantitative and scientific skills tend to perform better on tests of absolutes. While it is crucial to the integrity of the legal profession to front-load admission with watertight filters, the theory that the profession is suffering from a lack of STEM practitioners isn't exactly science.
The real problem isn't that psychology majors are bad at multiple-choice tests. It's that STEM students don't want to go to law school. This should be the critical discussion point, particularly in a post-graduate field that continues to see declining enrollment and job placement. For better or worse, the LSAT remains the standard-bearer in the adjudication of legal talent.
It's ongoing efficacy as a gatekeeper is a story for another day.
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