LNATs and aptitude tests: what’s good got to do with it?

A friend of mine has written a guest post, anonymously, on the LNAT test.  It’s possibly very relevant to the aptitude test debates raging (okay maybe that raging’s more like murmuring) in the legal profession.  This is what he says:

In the winter of ’98, I sat the entrance exam for an Oxford college. It was, as was typical for the time, a combination of a multiple choice question section (logic games/critical thinking) and a precis exercise. I sat there, sweating despite the cold, wondering (a) whether it was correct to say that “Fireman are to fish as doctors are to pandas” and (b) what was the point. Two days later came the interview (in which I talked about wanting tutorials on roller skates and my love of food). Weeks later, after I received (and accepted) an offer of a place, my school showed me the letter they had received from the college’s senior tutor in law. It said (and here I am paraphrasing) “Bertram [I’ve changed his name for my own amusement]  came 25th out of the 25 students who sat the written test but entertained us greatly in interview”. My place, therefore, was granted because I was pretty and witty and gay and despite the fact that I had “failed” the entrance exam. Skip forward four years and I get a First (and the best exam results of all the law students in my college). My point is that, for me, a written test of that sort was not the appropriate means of assessing my ability to be a law student – I do appreciate here that I am a sample size of one but, to use social science speak, this autoethnographic account does have some validity.

This morning, I sat Sample Test 1 (2010) of the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT). The LNAT is currently used by 8 Russell Group universities (Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, KCL, Nottingham, Oxford and UCL) as a pre entry requirement for various undergraduate law programmes.  My LNAT score on the multiple choice questions? 27/42 or 64%. By any account, not an amazing result. Figures for 2008/2009 show the average result to be 16.67/30 or 56% (http://www.lnat.ac.uk/analysis-of-lnat-results-n10142-s11.aspx). So, I am better than the average 18 year old (but not by much). There is no pass mark for the LNAT (http://www.lnat.ac.uk/lnat-questions.aspx) as individual universities will use the data from the tests in different ways. Despite my less than perfect LNAT result, objectively, I am accomplished and successful – a First from Oxford, distinction on the LPC, (former) corporate finance solicitor at two global law firms and now a lecturer in law. In some form or other, I objectively have the competencies needed of a ‘good’ lawyer. And yet my LNAT score was a long way from glowing (and, had the 18 year old me sat the test, I potentially could have “failed” to progress to interview or be accepted at one of the 8 universities listed above). As I sat the test, two things struck me. The first is that the pieces of text (on which the MCQs are based) appear deliberately obtuse and complicated. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Lawyers are often confronted with obtuse and complicated text. But the nature of the LNAT texts, to me, seemed very different indeed to what undergraduate law students, postgrads on conversion or professional courses and lawyers in practice or at the Bar deal with on a day to day basis. The second is that the test, for me, is/was unbelievably boring. Had the 18 year old me taken the sample test, he may have been put off law for life (which, obviously, would have been a loss to the legal community of truly gigantic proportions…)

Some caveats. The LNAT comes in two parts – a multiple choice question section and an essay section. I didn’t do the essay and it’s entirely possible that I would have performed excellently in that part of the assessment (although it is not at all clear how consideration is weighted between the MCQ element and the essay element, with the BBC reporting that some universities only use the essay “in borderline cases” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4230881.stm)). In addition, it’s possible I ‘over thought’ or ‘over analysed’ the questions (i.e. that I applied a brain expert in a variety of ways to the MCQs that would be wholly different to the brain of a pre-law student). And, finally, I knew, ex ante, that the result didn’t ‘matter’ (and so, under normal exam conditions where I had a different form of interest in my score, I may have performed differently). Setting these caveats to one side, I still didn’t do amazingly well (for someone, in theory, so accomplished) and invite others to sit the same sample test and see how well they do. I realise law schools need some way of differentiating between students of seemingly equal abilities, but the LNAT may not be the best method of judging pre-entry candidates (at least not for students like me).

If anyone wants to take the test can find practice tests here and if they email me their PQE, their status, the type of firm and the score result, I’d be happy to put an anonymous summary up in a month or two.  You can email me at moorheadr [@] cardiff[dot]ac[dot]uk

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