The first step before starting your essay is to understand what exactly the question is asking. Does the examiner want you to pick a side or present a detailled analysis of the pros and cons of a particular concept. For example, does the question want you to explain whether you or for or against protecting the idea of anonymity for those awaiting trial, or does the question seek you to discuss the fact that people awaiting trial sometimes have their identity protected from the public. Check for keywords like 'analyse', 'explain' and 'assess'. Remember that in both cases, you still have to assess both sides of the arguments. Also, try to limit the number of arguments per side to a few (maximum 3 or 4), with more arguments for the side you're arguing for.
It may come in handy to write down the key points for each argument on the whiteboard you will be provided with. Try to write all the points down as they come to you, and aim to structure your argument in a quick and summarised format (try to not spend more than 3-5 minutes on this, depending on how quickly you type.) Also, try and pick a question you're confident enough to answer, or even passionate about, as it will be much easier for you to answer and may provide an intelligent essay. Try to keep up with major world events, commercial awareness and ethical issues so as to be able to provide objective and rich answers, such as with statistics, quotes and examples to back your ideas up (if possible.)
The essay format isn't too difficult, start with a brief but detailled heading, stating your stand on the essay (if need be) and what the essay is about. The next two paragraphs should be about your arguments or your analysis, and try to provide counter-arguments, even for those you agree with. End with a concluding paragraph tying up all the knots, and remember to stay within the word count. Try going over your work if you have enough time
Wilson & Kenny: The Law Student's Handbook 2e
Advice on taking the LNAT
As part of the admissions process, certain Law Schools require applicants to complete the National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT). The test is two hours in length. Students are instructed to answer 30 multiple choice questions and to write an essay on a topic to be chosen from a list of questions. Eighty minutes is allowed for completion of the multiple choice test and forty minutes for writing the essay.
Information on the LNAT is available at www.lnat.ac.uk. The website includes a sample test, feedback on answers to the multiple choice questions, sample essays and advice on preparing for the test.
The Law Schools requiring the completion of the LNAT for 2010 entry are:
University of Birmingham
University of Bristol
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
University of Leeds
King's College London
University of Nottingham
University of Oxford
University College London
The LNAT website contains much useful information on the test and how to prepare for the test. The website states that there are no tricks to the test and it cannot be "cracked", but that there are a "few elementary points to bear in mind" when taking the test. Helpfully, the website spells these out.
Of interest to students attempting LNAT may be the American version of this test Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Again there is a sample test, feedback on the test and general advice on attempting the test. Information on LSAT may be found at www.lsac.org/LSAC.asp?url=lsac/about-the-lsat.asp .
Advice on attempting the test
It is important to be familiar with the form and substance of the test. Investigate what is expected of you in the test by considering the sample test and then attempting it. As with the preparation for all examinations, practice is essential. Feedback is available in relation to the questions set. You must study the feedback carefully. The LNAT site also very helpfully includes advice from past candidates.
These are not a test of knowledge; instead they are aiming to assess your ability to read, understand and think. The questions are designed to test your skills of comprehension, analysis and, to some extent, logical reasoning.
Part A of the paper is arranged in 10 sections and asks in total 30 questions. All the questions must be answered. Each section is based upon a page or more of text and then between 2 and 4 specific questions relating to the text. Each question offers a choice of 5 answers, one of which must be selected.
The test is not subject to negative marking; negative marking means that if you get an answer wrong, marks are deducted. In consequence, you must attempt all the questions asked, even if you guess. Of course, you can increase your chances of guessing correctly if you are able to discount some of the answers as incorrect.
The LNAT website asks whether it is better to read the extracts first and then consider the questions or to read the questions first and then read the extract, thus looking for the answers. The only advice that can be given is that you need to try the test for yourself and identify which approach works best for you. As you have only 80 minutes, or 8 minutes per section, you need to determine how to use the time to best effect.
You will find that the answer is contained in the information in the extract. Do not use your own knowledge; use the information given in the text. Avoid making assumptions or seeking to read information into the question, unless asked to do so.
You must read the question carefully; is the question asking you to identify an answer that is true or to identify the answer that is NOT true?
Look for clues in the questions. A question may direct you to a particular part of the extract e.g. "in the final paragraph…". Seek to eliminate obviously incorrect answers. The problem that you will encounter is that the multiple choice answers may be very close to each other in meaning and you will have to carefully distinguish amongst them. Some answers may be obviously wrong so immediately discount them. By carefully re-reading the question you should be able to distinguish between the answers.
Looking at the questions in the sample test paper, certain significant words are identifiable. These are:
The use of the word "main" requires you to make a judgement between the main thrust of an argument and other minor justifications for the argument.
A writer may make an "assumption", which is either stated or unstated. You may need to read between the lines of a text in order to identify the assumption made. Also remember that an assumption is something which is taken to be true and not proved in the text.
The words "infer" and "imply" cause some difficulty as quite often they are viewed as synonyms; they are not. "Imply" means to suggest, whereas "infer" means to deduce or work out from the material given.
Recognition of what is "opinion" as opposed to statements of fact may be asked for in answering a question. A statement of fact is verifiable, whereas an opinion, in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary, is a "belief based on grounds short of proof, a view held as probable, what one thinks about something". Ask yourself: is the statement made readily provable?
The words "not" and "except" indicate what is expected in your choice of answer. Rather than choose a right answer you may be asked to identify the wrong answer. Also a question may state that, "All statements are views held by the author of the text except…"; here you are expected to identify what the author has not said.
In part B you are given a choice of essay titles and you have 40 minutes to type an answer to the question asked. It is expected that you will write between 500-600 words. The screen will not allow you to write more than 750 words. It will be important to assess your keyboard skills, how fast and accurately can you type? While you can cut, copy and paste text, there is no spell-check function. Leave time at the end of the test to check your work for typographical mistakes.
The hints you have received during your 'A' level course on how to write an essay are relevant, as indeed is the information in the Law Student's handbook.
The essay is not testing knowledge and it states on the LNAT website that assumptions may be made by you as the basis for argument. You are not expected to know the subject-matter of your chosen question in depth. However, a good grasp and knowledge of current affairs, while said not to be essential, would stand you in good stead. What is clearly important is to be able to recognize how an argument is constructed and to be able to reproduce such in your answer. To this end the LNAT website recommends that you read regularly a good quality daily newspaper, such as, The Guardian, The Times, The Independent or The Daily Telegraph. By reading one of these papers you will start to appreciate how arguments are constructed, as well as developing a general knowledge of current affairs.
The sample essays disclose that the subject matter is likely to be on major issues of a political/legal, economic or social nature. For example, "How should judges be appointed?" or "Is it right that students should contribute to the cost of their degrees. Do you agree?"
What the essay is seeking to assess is your ability to present and defend a particular position in a written form. Reviewing the type of questions asked in the law admissions test discloses that it is clearly important to have a good general knowledge of issues and current affairs, so as to enable you to concentrate on the construction of an argument quickly. You will need to have a viewpoint and be prepared to justify it with a ‘reasoned and substantiated’ argument. Remember do not start your answer with a conclusion. You must work towards such a position explaining opposing arguments, weighing their relative worth and then drawing sustainable conclusions in relation to your viewpoint.
Sample answers to some of the questions posed, are provided on the LNAT site: http://www.lnat.ac.uk/2009/preparation/reading2.html