Recently during my daily routine of doing a whole lot of nothing on the internet while avoiding real work, I came across an interesting morsel of information. Mensa, the international high IQ society, accepts LSAT scores for admission into their little club. You need a score in the 95th percentile, which generally translates to a 167.
Why join Mensa? According to their website, “There are many intelligent reasons to join Mensa. Whether you actively attend Mensa meetings or simply relish the intellectual stimulation that membership promotes, you’ll find the benefits of Mensa membership to be numerous indeed.” Holy crap, that sounds pretentious. In my book, only members of the landed aristocracy are allowed to end sentences with “indeed.”
The only real reason you join Mensa is so that you can put that stupid bumper sticker on your 88 Civic and somehow try to inject some sort of legitimacy into your failed life. Basically, being in Mensa involves you hanging out with other smart people and doing puzzles. That might be sort of fun, but one of the big draws comes from the fact that it’s so exclusionary. They say they only let in the smartest 2% of society. I guess you can feel good comparing yourself to the Epsilons. This “crème de la crème” includes:
Jean Auel – famous for writing crappy romance novels about cavemen getting dirty. The kind of dirty only pre-history can offer
Geena Davis – famous for looking like a character from a Jean Auel book
James Woods – actor famous for portraying James Woods
So pretty much everyone at Yale Law School qualifies for Mensa. Do you think everyone at Yale is a member? Of course not, they go to Yale; they don’t need to pay some membership fee to be told that they’re smart.
But getting back to the LSAT for a second. As I mentioned before, you supposedly need to be smarter than 98% of the population to qualify for Mensa. Yet you only need to do better than 95% of LSAT takers. Which naturally leads to the following question: Does being in the top 5% of LSAT takers imply that you’re in the top 2% of the general population? There are some reasons to think that the answer might be yes.
I’ve met some resistance on this, but I’m willing to bet that the average test taker is smarter than the average member of the public at large. This is due mostly to the fact that nearly everyone taking the test has a college education, or is in the process of completing one. I tend to believe that this naturally weeds out the bottom 5% or so of the population, people who, due to a poor genetic lottery, lack the basic learning skills needed for higher education. (Look who’s pretentious now.)
As an aside, I would point out that I’m referring only to those who simply are unable to go to college due to inescapable intellectual deficiencies, not to everyone who doesn’t go to college. It would be ridiculous to say that someone with a college education is necessarily intelligent (I met a staggering number of morons at UC Berkeley), just as it would be obviously fallacious to say that someone without a BA is unintelligent (some of the smartest people I know dropped out of high school).
So let’s say that a 167 really does mean you’re in the top 2% of the public, smarts-wise. So Mensa is ok in accepting that score. La de da. But does this mean anything of any real importance?
Let’s look at Sofie. Sofie has never seen the test and has never had any formal training in logic. Sofie takes the LSAT, not knowing at all what to expect, and gets a 176. I would submit that Sofie is pretty damn smart, even though she probably has the personality of a two-by-four. By the way, it’s acceptable for everyone currently taking an LSAT class to hate Sofie.
Staci is in the same situation as Sofie. Staci takes the LSAT blind and scores a 150 (a very common occurrence, as many of you know). Staci then studies extremely hard for a few months, takes the test again, and gets a 176 (This can be done; I’ve seen it happen many times). Is Staci any less intelligent than Sofie? Is she any less deserving of getting into her preferred law school (or Mensa)? I would say no.
The problem is, people tend to think of intelligence as a concrete, unchanging characteristic. I don’t buy it. The LSAT is largely a test of logical reasoning, and studying for it I think can actually make you smarter. You’re training your brain to think critically, and to think faster. Like any muscle, it will get stronger over time. Sure, there are different starting points. Andre the Giant probably didn’t have to work quite as hard as some to gain his bulk, and Gary Coleman ain’t gonna be an Olympic weightlifter any time soon. But the average Joe can get pretty bulked up by hitting the gym every day.
Same for your brain. When I first took a practice LSAT I got a 162 (pretty good, admittedly). But after studying for three months I got a 172 on the real thing. After teaching the thing for over a year, I generally get 178-180s on practice exams. And I can tell you I genuinely feel smarter than I did back when I got that 162. Students tell me all the time that, after studying for the LSAT, they realize that they carry the skills they learned to many facets of their life. Conversely, as anyone who has experienced this can tell you, after college, unless you work in a job that is intellectually stimulating, you’re going to get stupid. This happened to me when I worked as a temp building spreadsheets for nearly a year. It’s not fun.
So in the above example, I believe that Staci has entered the top 2% of the population. As such, she’ll do better in law school. Your LSAT score is the best way to predict your success in law school. If you naturally have the skills needed for LSAT success, you’re sitting pretty. But if you learn those skills, you are no worse off, and no less intelligent.