Want to train your brain to synthesize information and reach conclusions quickly? Try an LSAT prep course.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have spent the past five years using the Law School Admissions Test to study the brain and how people learn. Their research found that taking an LSAT prep course—specifically focusing on the logic games section—bolsters subjects’ ability to reason in areas unrelated to the exam.
Put another way, the benefits of studying for the LSAT go beyond the test itself: The test prep process actually bolsters the structure and function of the brain. Further research concluded that the eye movements of LSAT takers completing reasoning tasks provides more information about their learning and decision-making process than does neuroimaging technology such as MRIs. Their most recent study was published Thursday in Science of Learning, a Nature Partner Journal.
Berkeley neuroscience professor Silvia Bunge said that when she became interested in looking at whether you can train the brain in reasoning skills, she considered all the standardized admission tests as possible subjects. But the LSAT stood apart for its focus on reasoning skills. (Analytical and logical reasoning comprise two of the LSAT’s three sections. Reading comprehension is the third.)
“We decided that was the one that most heavily emphasized reasoning,” said Bunge, who co-authored the most recent study.
In the initial phase of their research, the Berkeley team looked for differences in the reasoning abilities of those who completed Blueprint Test Preparation’s LSAT course and those who took no prep course. The subjects who took the prep course were faster to complete a visual reasoning task wholly unrelated to the LSAT’s text-based questions. Brain scans of the test subjects also found that studying for the LSAT for three months bolstered the connections between the right and left sides of the brain.
“We showed that the benefits of studying for the LSAT go beyond the LSAT itself,” Bunge said. “But we didn’t feel like we had a good handle on how, exactly, people are improving their reasoning.”
For the second phase of their study, the Berkeley researchers tracked the eye movements of those who completed a 33-hour online Kaplan Test Prep LSAT course. They concluded that eye movements—such as rapid movements or fixed gazes—actually reveal more about the learning and decision-making process than do brain scans. One group studied only for the logic games section, while the other studied only for the reading comprehension section. When faced with a visually based reasoning task, the logic games group was able to encode and integrate information faster than the reading comprehension group, their eye movements showed.
“One possibility is that people, after training, get faster at identifying the relevant pieces of information,” Bunge said. “The other thing is that it would take them less time to extract the necessary information to make their inference.”
But prepping for the LSAT is no guarantee of a lifetime of heightened reasoning skills.
“We’re not saying these changes are forever,” Bunge said. “Our brain is constantly changing as a function of what we’re experiencing over time. If you practice for the LSAT and spend the next year just watching TV, it’s not going to be the case that you have sharpened reasoning skills.”