The Bar vs. the LSAT (Ep. 308)

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The LSAT and the bar are the two most consequential tests that an aspiring lawyer will take. Your LSAT score factors enormously in determining where you will go to law school and how much you will pay for it. Then, after you spend three years earning a JD, the bar exam determines whether you will be permitted to use your degree and to practice law. But they are very different tests: One gauges a student’s command of critical reading and reasoning skills. The other rewards an ability to memorize and regurgitate large amounts of information. You can probably guess which test Ben and Nathan think is the better indicator of future success in legal practice. On this week’s episode, the guys discuss how much merit the bar exam has and weigh in on one state’s recent proposal to drop the requirement. They also reveal the solution to the brainteaser from episode 306, evaluate a Pearls vs. Turds candidate, and respond to a whole lot of listener mail.


As always, if you like the show and you want to get more from the Thinking LSAT community, check out the links below. You can connect with other folks studying for the LSAT, and get more useful resources from Nathan and Ben.

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Important Dates

08.14.2021 — August LSAT Testing Begins

08.25.2021 — October LSAT Registration Deadline


1:49 – Brainteaser Solution

If the brainteaser in episode 306 left you scratching your head, you’re not alone. A bunch of listeners wrote in asking for the solution. Some, like Chris, figured it out: Turn switch 1 on and wait five minutes. Turn it off. Turn switch 2 on. Go down the hall to check the bulbs. The bulb that’s lit connects to switch 2. Feel the other two bulbs. The hot or warm one connects to switch 1, and the cold one connects to switch 3. Nice work, Chris!


5:42 – Pearls vs. Turds: Pre-Test Routine

Demon Live student Kevin shares a warmup routine that he believes has helped him to optimize his performance on practice tests: He wakes up two hours early, showers, eats, and reads a news article. Then he drills a few LR questions and a logic game. Finally, he listens to a 30-minute motivational music playlist so that he can “feel pumped for the test.”


Nathan thinks it’s great that Kevin is so optimistic. But a strict routine is not something that he or Ben would recommend to others, so they can’t give this advice a pearl. Fussy pre-test rituals may have the unintended consequence of giving the test more power and causing more anxiety. The guys suspect that Kevin’s improvement really stems from practicing and developing a better understanding of the test, not from his pump-up routine.


17:02 – What’s a URM?

New listener Stephanie heard Nathan mention URMs—underrepresented minorities—in a past episode. The Demon’s scholarship estimator has a checkbox for URM, which in many cases boosts the likelihood of receiving a scholarship. Stephanie, who moved to the US from Brazil, is wondering whether she qualifies for URM status and whether it would make sense for her to write a diversity statement.


First, Ben and Nathan agree that Stephanie absolutely should write a diversity statement. As to whether she’s considered a URM, they aren’t experts on making that determination. But a quick Google search indicates that Brazilian falls under the category of Latinx, which is a URM. Stephanie has grounds for identifying as Latinx, so it sure seems like she qualifies. There’s no substitute for getting the best LSAT score you can get, but checking that URM box definitely makes a difference.


21:14 – Holds on Higher LSAT Scores

Listener and former Demon student Mary emailed the show when her June LSAT score was mysteriously placed on hold, pending review of “an incident that was recorded during the test administration.” She knew that nothing unusual had happened during her test and had a feeling it was B.S. Two weeks later, LSAC finally released her score. It was 16 points higher than her previous official score. She never got an explanation from LSAC and suspects that her significant score increase is what they considered an “incident.” The guys agree that it’s a reasonable hypothesis. LSAC might flag big score jumps and review the tapes to rule out cheating. This is pure speculation, though. Mary is just happy that she won’t be paying for law school. Congrats, Mary!


24:07 – The Bar vs. the LSAT

Another former student, Ricky, shared an article about the Oregon Supreme Court’s consideration to drop the bar exam passage requirement for new lawyers. He asks if Nathan’s and Ben’s views on the bar exam are any different from their views on the LSAT.


Ben is ambivalent about the bar exam. He sees it as just a barrier to entry, established by existing lawyers to make it harder to get into their industry. This allows them to inflate their prices. Nathan adds that we already have three years of law school as a barrier to entry. It seems to him that if you graduate from law school, you should be capable of practicing law. Unfortunately, that’s not at all how it works. Law school is mostly just a big academic competition. And the bar exam is another test of your ability to jump through hoops. It makes no sense that lawyers are trained and tested as generalists. No one is hiring the same person to do complicated estate planning and DUI defense, for example. Most lawyers are experts at one thing.


Nathan’s main complaint is that law schools charge a ridiculous amount of money to students, many of whom will not pass the bar or practice law. The same people who are stopped from practicing law by the bar exam should have been stopped from paying tuition to the law schools in the first place.


The guys both think that the LSAT is a much better test of who will be good at practicing law. The bar is a test of memorization. The whole industry of bar prep is built around cramming. Ben recalls cramming even during the lunch break at his bar exam. What’s the point of regurgitating a ton of information and then forgetting most of it? The LSAT, on the other hand, tests actual, lasting skills that carry over into legal practice.


34:30 – GPAs in Hard Majors

Listener Colette has a question about GPA addenda and letters of recommendation. Her major—political economy—is known for being difficult at her school. GPAs of students in her major tend to be lower than those of students in other liberal arts majors. Colette asks the guys if it would be a good idea to request a letter of recommendation from her advisor, who could explain the difficulty of her major, or if there’s a better way of handling the issue.


Ben’s immediate response is that Colette should find out where she ranks among students within her major. If it is in fact harder to perform in this major, then her percentile rank within the major should be higher than her percentile rank in the general class. She can report that fact in a one-sentence addendum. Nathan says it also makes sense to get one of her letters of recommendation from her advisor. But it really isn’t worth worrying too much about this because you can’t change your GPA. Focus on what you can control now, and get the best LSAT score you can get.


39:06 – Employment Struggles

Listener S has been studying for three months and feels prepared to take the LSAT in August. But they are concerned about how a lack of full-time employment will affect their law school applications. S graduated in December 2020 and reports having sent in hundreds of applications and having done dozens of interviews to no avail.


Ben recommends submitting better-quality applications to fewer jobs, as opposed to the shotgun approach of throwing out as many applications as possible. Nathan adds that most good jobs are gained through connections, not through résumé drops. Focus on a couple of jobs that feel like a good fit for you.


45:49 – Dividing Practice Tests

Demon student Omar is looking for guidance on how to best divide practice tests for use in drilling versus timed sections and full-length tests. Nathan’s immediate reaction is that it doesn’t matter. The tests are all essentially the same. Just focus on understanding the questions and learning from your mistakes. That said, the Demon’s default settings evenly allocate certain tests to drilling, timed sections, and full tests. If you just keep the default settings, you won’t have to worry about overlap.


48:30 – Law School Application Surge

Listener Bree shares an article about the recent law school application surge and asks the guys for their thoughts. Nathan thinks the article does a decent job of summarizing all of the information from the recent application cycle. The number of law school applicants has hit its highest level since 2011. LSAT scores have also shifted higher compared to last year. It was an extremely competitive cycle overall. If you didn’t get any good offers this time, you may want to wait a year and reapply.


57:21 – Choose Your LSAT Guru

Listener Francis is skeptical about a piece of advice on reading comprehension that she read in a Manhattan Prep book. She quotes them as saying, “Do not try to fully understand everything within the background information.”


Ben and Nathan think it’s a terrible tip. How are you supposed to determine which information is important and which information is merely “background”? Each passage is only about 15 sentences. This idea that you can’t fully comprehend everything and shouldn’t try is the exact opposite of the LSAT Demon’s philosophy. Our goal is to help you actually understand the test. The more fully you understand a reading passage, the easier the questions will be.


59:10 – Online Law School

Listener Z hopes to practice law in their home state of Alaska but notes that there are no law schools in Alaska. They think the idea of going to law school online sounds great, but they’re concerned about whether an online degree would be viewed as “lesser” in any way.


Nathan says that he and Ben aren’t the ones to ask. Talk to lawyers in Alaska. Find out where they come from if there are no law schools in the state. Ask them if they think it matters whether you go to school online or in person.