Whether you’ve been preparing for it for the past few months, or have read the horror stories on the Student Room forums, if you’re doing the LNAT, you’re serious about studying Law.
So what is the LNAT? How do you prepare for it?
The National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT) is a Law entrance exam required by some of the top universities in the UK (including Oxford, Kings, UCL, Durham and Birmingham).
Things to Know First
1 — You can’t study for it The LNAT is not a test about Law, it is a test about your ability as a law student. Given that Law is not a subject usually studied in school, nor is it linked to other subjects (in the way that, for example, Engineering is rooted in Physics), the LNAT doesn’t test you on the UK legal system. What it does test is your ability to interpret texts and write nuanced essays on controversial issues.
2 — It is meant to be hard If you’ve done your research, you’ve probably seen people write online about how they’ve achieved anywhere from 19-30/42. The truth is that the LNAT is an inherently difficult test, with the national average reported at 20/42 and successful Oxbridge applicants averaging at 26/42. So don’t get stressed if you don’t get top marks in your practice tests — you’re not supposed to!
Section A: Multiple-Choice
The multiple-choice section is the biggest part of the exam and the one which gives students the most difficult time. Tasked with reading 12 texts on anything from Philosophy to Science, you are given a set of 42 questions to answer in 95 minutes.
Given the variety of texts, this is not a test of pre-existing knowledge, but of your ability to interpret and answer questions on the specific text. (What is the writer’s main argument? Why does she put a certain word in quotation marks? What is the writer trying to say when he uses X metaphor?)
Here’s a useful formula for tackling each multiple-choice question:
1 — Question What is the question asking? This is extremely important as many students trip on the subtle words used in the question. The reader may be able to infer a difference between the writer’s personal view and the views expressed in the text. Focus on the actual words used: some of the questions will have specific word in bold type to add extra emphasis, so keep a look out for these.
2 — Context Make sure you read the entire text before beginning to answer the questions. Even though some questions refer to specific paragraphs of the text, it is important to a sense of the text as a whole so that you don’t miss the point of a question. Having a firm understanding of the context will help you answer questions on a writer’s choice of quotation marks or his use of certain word pairings.
3 — Answer Given that it’s multiple-choice, no distinction is made between choosing an answer which is totally wrong and one which is close to the correct answer. Thus, while a process-of-elimination approach will help to narrow the options, you must learn to justify your answer using evidence in the text, as a lawyer does when presenting arguments in court. When you go about answering questions, reassure yourself that your answer is correct by looking for sentences in the text which support your answer rather than going on a ‘gut feeling’. (Statistics also show that if you do go with your gut-feeling, more than 50% of the time your first choice is the correct answer, so don’t overthink a question either!)
4 — Timing Remember that you are under strict timed conditions. When you get stuck on a question (as we all inevitably do), don’t spend too much time worrying over it. The cost-benefit analysis shows that losing one point on this difficult question is worth the extra 5 or 6 you can make by saving time and skipping over it. Spend an average of 2.5 minutes on each question. If you get stuck on one, move on and come back to it later when you’ve answered all the other questions.
IMPORTANT NOTE: The multiple-choice section is 95 minutes long, so even if you finish the section early, do not go directly to the essay section as the time you’ve saved does not roll over to the essay section.
Section B: Essay
The essay section is not marked by the LNAT. Your essay is sent to each university’s Admissions Officer for independent review, so in some respects this section is more important than the multiple-choice section.
You will be presented with a set of 3 essay questions on a variety of topics (i.e. human cloning, censorship, doping, voting). You have 40 minutes to choose one and provide an answer. What all these have in common is that they are fairly controversial issues, with no clear answer — so avoid providing a one-sided essay. To help prepare yourself, be sure to stay up to date on current affairs!
In choosing an essay question, make sure that you have a fair level of knowledge on the issue itself for a balanced answer i.e. know both sides of the debate. Also be sure to have an understanding of the question itself and what it is asking you to do.
Take 5 minutes to plan your essay: this will help avoid the trap of writing out half your essay only to realise that you misunderstood the question or have a better way of answering it, which may lead you to starting from scratch or making a confusing/awkward U-turn in the middle of your arguments.
My tips for tackling the essay question:
1 — Semantics Focus on the wording of the question. What words are used and why have they been chosen? A recent essay question “cheating can be justified” found students ignoring the word justified completely and instead writing an essay on how cheating can be excused in certain circumstances.
2 — Clashing Arguments In every essay topic there is a specific issue in the debate which both parties disagree (for example, on abortion: the status of the foetus). A great essay will directly deal with these points of clash rather than choose arguments and counter-arguments that have nothing to do with another.
3 — The Strong-Arm Once you have presented these clashes, the key is to justify why your argument outweighs the counter-argument. Think of yourself as a judge: when you write your essay you must represent both sides of the debate, and then assert why you believe one argument is stronger than the other.
4 — Fit Paragraphs An issue with LNAT essays is that students tend to bloat their paragraphs by taking excessive time to develop one point. While this may add more refinement and power to that point, it is important to understand that in the 40 minutes you have to write your essay you should prioritise providing a balanced analysis on 2-3 issues of clash. That means your points have to be lean, cutting down on unnecessary words or sentences. Useful tool to help you do this will be using the PEEL (Point, Explanation, Evidence, Link) structure which you may have been taught in school.