Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.
Hello. I am a legal immigrant from El Salvador. English is my second language. I graduated college in the U.S., where I got good grades, but I am struggling with the LSAT. Do you have any advice? — SR
Mastery of the skills required to succeed on the LSAT requires focused and methodical practice, with ample time dedicated to careful review of past mistakes to address weaknesses one by one.
Beyond specific techniques, the test requires mental skills like maintaining confidence under pressure. Test anxiety can cause panic and self-doubt to flood your brain and inhibit your language skills. Nonnative speakers may find it all too easy to feel confused and outmatched.
While the LSAT requires strong English skills, it tests the more universal language of logical reasoning. The same techniques of argumentation, and the same logical flaws, exist whether you are speaking in English, Spanish or Tamil.
Nevertheless, each section of the test may pose different challenges to nonnative speakers.
In the English language, there are few ways to say that something happens only if a certain condition is met. There are even fewer ways to say that one thing causes another.
Look out for indicators of conditional reasoning and causal reasoning. You often can answer a question correctly by recognizing these cues, even if you cannot decipher every word used.
Many logical reasoning questions are stuffed with extraneous information to confuse test-takers. Don’t be scared off by convoluted run-on sentences with strange syntax or multiple clauses. Break sentences into smaller components, focusing on the core parts of an argument, like premises and conclusions.
Don’t be afraid to flag a question to revisit later. Every question on the LSAT is weighted equally, so focus on the questions that are easiest for you.
Passages in the reading comprehension section of the LSAT are designed to be tangled and intimidating. Avoid getting lost in the details. Dig through each passage to extract the author’s main point and supporting claims, as well as competing perspectives.
Reading comprehension passages may feature absurdly arcane vocabulary. Passages related to science and technology often use terms that only a specialist would know.
If you don’t know how to pronounce a word, don’t take it personally. Mentally abbreviate the word with its initial and move on. Questions rarely require you to know the meaning of unusual words, and when they do you can look for context clues to make an educated guess.
Many nonnative English speakers find the analytical reasoning section, composed of logic games, to be the most straightforward. Setting up a logic game correctly rarely depends on linguistic nuances. It is simply a skill learned through practice.
If you feel less confident in your English skills, aim as high as you can in this section. A high score here can compensate for mistakes elsewhere.
Writing a short essay on the fly may seem daunting for a nonnative speaker. Don’t worry — the writing sample is unscored and relatively unimportant.
Try to write a reasonable, grammatically correct and well-structured essay. However, law school admissions officers will focus more on your personal statement and other written materials to assess your communication skills.
Other Options to Consider
If the LSAT seems too unapproachable, try the GRE to see if it better fits your skills. Unlike the LSAT, the GRE tests quantitative and language skills, which some nonnative speakers find easier to study.
There is also a Spanish-language LSAT, offered once per year. However, it is available only to test-takers in Puerto Rico and accepted only by the three ABA-accredited law schools there. It is possible, although difficult, to qualify for the bar in a mainland U.S. jurisdiction after attending law school in Puerto Rico.
Above all, remember that diversity in language, cultural heritage and immigration status is valued by law schools. Tackling a difficult challenge like the LSAT as a nonnative English speaker is very impressive and should put to rest any doubts about your command of English.
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