Thursday, October 21, 2010

Graduate school admissions

I wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea for US philosophy graduate schools to switch from the GRE to the LSAT. At Georgetown, before my time, my colleagues once did an informal study of what information available at admission-time correlated with graduate school success. They found only two statistically significant correlations:

  1. scores on the analytic scale positively correlated with success; and
  2. the number of undergraduate courses in philosophy that the student had taken negatively correlated with success.
I think (2) can be ignored. It could, for instance, be an artefact of the fact that the mini-study was done on admitted students, and admitted students with few undergraduate courses would probably have to be really good in other ways to get admitted, or would be less likely to have simply naturally drifted into graduate school as a continuation of undergraduate classes.

But (1) strikes me as important. And the GRE has eliminated the analytic section, replacing it with an analytic writing section. The analytic writing scores have low resolution (0-6, in intervals of 0.5). Anecdotal evidence suggests that differences in the analytic writing component do not correlate with the philosophical quality of the student—one knows of really impressive undergraduate students whose scores were pretty low, say 4. The LSAT, on the other hand, continues to have questions that test reasoning skills in the way the old analytic section of the GRE did, and even some that, from the samples that I've seen, combine logical reasoning with reading comprehension in a way that intuitively would very nicely reflect important aspects of philosophical abilities.

Furthermore, there are claims that I've seen that philosophy majors do better on the LSAT than other majors. This suggests that the LSAT is measuring something relevant to philosophy.

Alas, this is not a switch that any one Department can do on its own, and there may be university-wide policy problems. It would need to be done by the profession at large. Though, perhaps, some Departments could make the move of encouraging students to submit LSAT scores in addition to or, if the administration allows, instead of the GRE.


Paul said...

Hey Alex,

Nice suggestion. Maybe you should send this suggestion to Brian Leiter.

Heath White said...

Having studied for and taken an LSAT recently (long story) I heartily concur. It's an excellent test of reading comprehension and inferential skills.

Anonymous said...

I've also heard that philosophy majors tend to do quite well on LSAT.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I suppose the big question is whether better philosophy majors do better. :-)

If anybody wants to send a link to Professor Leiter, they're welcome to.