LSAT Studying Makes You Smarter | Proof?

LSAT Blog LSAT Studying Makes You Smarter Proof

We recently learned that playing a memory game may improve your LSAT score.

Researchers have also found that LSAT studying may also make you "smarter."

The evidence comes from a recent study in which a group of students who studied for the LSAT for 3 months improved their reasoning abilities far more than those in a control group:

[W]e examined the effects on cognitive performance and brain structure and function of 3 months of intensive preparation for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)... Behavioral and brain imaging data were collected at two time points, spaced 3 months apart, for all participants (N=51). After training, the LSAT group performed more accurately on our transitive inference task...In contrast, controls’ accuracy did not change across the two time points. Surprisingly...three months of reasoning training was sufficient to alter resting-state functional connectivity between left IPL and RLPFC...Our preliminary LSAT study findings...suggest that reasoning training leads to improved reasoning ability through repeated co-­‐activation and subsequent strengthening of fronto-parietal connections. 
from "Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity" (PDF p7, 9)

Despite the fact they they called it the "Law School Admissions Test" (it's "Admission," damnit!), this study is awesome.

Basically, the researchers found that college kids who intensively studied for the LSAT for 3 months did much better on reasoning tasks than did the control group (college kids who were planning to study for the LSAT but hadn't yet started).

After measuring the kids' brains, they found that those who'd studied for the LSAT had more connections between different parts of their brains than did the control group (note: more connections = good):

In summary, we found that preparation for the LSAT improves performance, boosts parietal activation during a transitive inference task, and alters the white matter pathway connecting prefrontal and parietal cortices.

Structural and Functional Plasticity in a Fronto-Parietal Network with Reasoning Training (PDF p24)

Scientific proof

Here are some pictures of brains, as well as the researchers' fancy graph with results:

LSAT Blog LSAT Studying Makes You Smarter Scientific Proof

The researchers write:
The LSAT group, but not the control group, exhibited increased resting-state connectivity between regions of interest (ROIs) in left IPL (seed ROI shown in green) and left RLPFC (seed ROI shown in purple) at time 2. These functionally-defined ROIs were based on peak activations on the transitive inference fMRI test, collapsing across all participants and both time-points. 
from "Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity" (PDF p7)

That probably sounds like gibberish to most of you (it did to me, too, at first). Here's what that means in plain English, as I understand it:

The light green spot (in the brain on the left) and the purple spot (in the brain on the right) are the researchers' "regions of interest." They found that the connection between these two brain regions significantly increased in the group that studied for the LSAT (the "trained" group), but not for the control group. This is why the correlation for "Time 2" in the "trained" group is far higher than it is for the control group (those who haven't yet started their LSAT studying).

The bottom line

As if you didn't already know, LSAT studying affects your brain aside from just giving you headaches. It actually improves your reasoning abilities.

So, when you're trying to motivate yourself to stop procrastinating, just remind yourself that it'll undo the damage that you did to your brain during college.


After publishing this post, I received the following email from Allyson Mackey, one of the researchers:

Your post on our research on the effects of LSAT preparation was just brought to my attention. Thank you so much for your interest in our research. I wanted to let you know that the evidence you cite is very preliminary since it is not yet published, and I was hoping you could add a caveat to your post to that effect. Also, it is important to note that while preparing for the LSAT may lead to gains in reasoning, it doesn't necessarily improve intelligence in a general way. Our data just support the possibility that reasoning is a teachable and learnable skill. We can let you know when the final publication is available if you're interested.

Further reading:

Structural and Functional Plasticity in a Fronto-Parietal Network with Reasoning Training (PDF p24) [Schedule Overview for Annual Meeting of Cognitive Neuroscience Society]

Relational reasoning: Neural mechanisms, development, & plasticity (PDF p7-9) [Bunge Lab: Building Blocks of Cognition]

Projects [Bunge Lab: Building Blocks of Cognition]

Can playing this memory game improve your LSAT score? [LSAT Blog]

Photo by tza


  1. I really like the brain drawing at the top! I set it as my desktop background :)) The results of this study doesn't surprise me at all. If you are looking to improve your score, LSAT forces you to constantly use analytical skills even when you're not studying. I think this is different even from an academic setting, even in philosophy classes where it's not necessary to constantly be thinking until you feel as if your head will explode.

  2. so i have reason to not study. the smarter i get the more i hate people. if i want to like people i must stop studying. so long law school!

    1. You should actually do both: study hard to become smarter and feel free to hate people, becaue you then have a valid reason to hate people and that is totally justifiable.

  3. i really do feel like it's enhanced my logic and reasoning skills a lot. i find myself spotting holes and fallacies in the arguments of my friends and family that i can tell came from my LSAT studying. it feels good that at least one good thing came out of studying for that damn test!

  4. "it'll undo the damage that you did to your brain during college"....LOL, thx Steve.

  5. Mastering the logical reasoning section of the LSAT provided a wonderful way to internalize the principles of informal logic and critical thinking I parsed towards the end of my high school career. It was great to have an objective measure of improvement. The analytical reasoning section, however, is nothing but a raw ability test; its sole purpose is to weed out students lacking "I.Q." (in my humble opinion).

  6. The LSAT is ridiculous and only measures a fraction of what is actually required to study law. Call it what is is (gigantic scam) and move on.

  7. As someone who works full time at a career job, i've actually noticed an improvement in the way i think through things, develop ideas and evaluate comments/other people's rationale. The studying for the lsat has improved my brain in a tangible way. Too bad studying for the lsat hasn't improved my lsat score in a tangible way but that's another story.

  8. I wonder if the benefit continues after extended time off from studying for the test?

  9. lmao @ your version of adding a caveat

  10. links dont work ;(

  11. I disagree with this. Following 3 months of LSAT studying, I feel the inside of my skull growing more hollow. I point this to my brain is shrinking. As my brain shrinks, it is incapable of processing more information, thus "less smart."