What’s This Test For?

Los Angeles — My father, a handy fellow around the house, has often told me to make sure I have the right tool for the job. I was reminded of that advice on Thursday while listening to Sheldon Zedeck, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley.

Here at a conference sponsored by the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice, Mr. Zedeck described his research on predicting the effectiveness of lawyers. The Law School Admission Test, or LSAT, plays a large role in determining who gets into law schools. Research has shown that it does a good job of predicting a student’s success … in law school.

But to measure an applicant’s potential for success as a lawyer, Mr. Zedeck has concluded, you need a different tool. “The LSAT is not a good predictor of effective lawyering,” he said.

Mr. Zedeck helped design and develop experimental tests meant to assess 26 factors, such as problem solving, advocacy, and communication skills, that the LSAT doesn’t measure. He based those measures on the factors that legal professionals associated with success in their field.

The verdict? Mr. Zedeck described his tests as effective predictors of lawyers’ effectiveness on the job. He found that performance did not vary significantly by the race and gender of applicants, suggesting that the measures could help law schools diversify their applicant pools. He also suggested that the measures, used to complement the LSAT, could help law schools better align their curricula with skills that are valued within the profession.

“You could do the same things for undergraduates,” he said, “by asking, What do you want your undergraduates to be like?”

If you buy Mr. Zedeck’s work, there’s nothing wrong with the LSAT. Or the ACT or the SAT, for that matter. It’s just that, like any tool, they’re good for some jobs but not for others.

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