Is The LNAT Fit For Purpose?

By Jack Smith on

Barrister-to-be Jack Smith, whose LNAT score didn’t correspond with his other academic results, isn’t convinced by the undergraduate law application test

With A-Level results improving each year, it’s only natural that university law faculty admissions tutors seek to distinguish between the best applicants via an additional test. For many institutions, the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) forms an integral part of the sifting process. However, I question whether the LNAT is really fit for that particular purpose.

I took the LNAT several years ago before I applied to university. Four out of the five universities I applied to required that I sit the test, so I dutifully obliged by attending my local test centre. A note on the test centre: as a prospective law student, your local test centre is a building which you will enter twice in your life. Once to do your LNAT, and once to do your driving theory test. Neither are particularly pleasant experiences…

Being an AAA student I was keen to ace the LNAT. But along with the vast majority of other candidates, I achieved a very average score. Has this affected my education? Not a jot; my score neither hindered my ability to gain a place at one of the country’s top law schools, nor did it reflect on my academic ability. I accepted a place at Queen Mary, University of London – rated 4th in the Guardian’s latest law school rankings – and went on to graduate last summer with first class honours in law, picking up a prize for outstanding academic achievement along the way. I am now happily ensconced in the Bar Professional Training Court (BPTC) at the City Law School, having secured a Lord Denning scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn.

So what’s all the fuss about? The LNAT has a reputation among prospective law students for being a very difficult exam to do well in, and puts a heavy additional burden on young applicants at a time when they could do without it. Its reputation for being difficult is well-deserved, as a brief glance at the statistics show that the since its inception in 2004, the average score has been a little over 50%. Law schools consider this, however, to be a decent score. These statistics pose an obvious question. If law schools are seeking to distinguish between the very best applicants (all of whom will have at least three ‘A’s’ at A-Level), how does a decent score on the LNAT, which most people will achieve, actually help to distinguish between these high quality applicants?

Those who are unfamiliar with the LNAT may be forgiven for thinking that it tests the sort of legal basics you need to embark upon an undergraduate law degree. In fact, the test purports to assess a candidate’s comprehension, logical reasoning and ability to consider differing views with a series of multiple choice questions based on excerpts from a variety of non-legal sources. Many law schools which require the LNAT will argue that these skills are at the very core of legal education and essential for a law student to have, and this is of course correct. But aren’t these precisely the skills already being tested by A-Levels?

Proponents of the LNAT will argue that the fact the test has no legal element means that a candidate cannot be coached for it. This means that results are not artificially inflated by ‘swatting up’. In achieving this aim however, the LNAT fails. A quick Google search will reveal a whole host of websites, books, and companies, all offering their services to prepare students for the test. And there is nothing wrong with that. This is the method by which we are educated in the UK; we are taught a subject in preparation for an exam, we revise that subject, and then we sit the test.

The average results the LNAT churns out cannot realistically help admissions tutors select the best of the best, not least because it demonstrates in no clearer way an aptitude for logic and reasoning than A-Level results and the personal statement. Moreover, the nature of the exam does not produce results of any greater purity than the results achieved at A-Level. My experience, and no doubt the experiences of many others, has shown that an average score on the LNAT and AAA at A-Level does not distinguish an applicant at all. The LNAT is therefore unfit for purpose, and an unnecessary cause of pain, suffering and misery among prospective law students.

Jack Smith is a BPTC student at City University.

For more on the LNAT and the Oxbridge university law entrance tests, read Legal Cheek editor Alex Aldridge in the Guardian today.

More comments from law students on the LNAT received via Twitter

UCL law student Janani Paramsothy: “1st part- cryptic, unrelated to study of law, little pointless 2nd part- good fun (in my personal opinion)”

Aspiring solicitor Anna Marjoram: “An initial chance to use skills sought on law firm apps. Difficult to revise for but easy to complete if you enjoy argument.”

East-Londoner Merry NL: “It’s quite easy-gets rid of worst ppl but not distinguish much b/ween good ones. More to do with language skills than legal”

Steven Vaughan, director of undergraduate studies at Cardiff Law School: “I did a mock LNAT recently to prove a point about aptitude tests. I scored 60%. Not great. Yet my CV says I am…”