I met some new people the other day, and when I explained to them what it was that I did, one of the guys asked me whether you could actually prepare for tests like the LSAT (or GMAT, GRE, SAT, etc). I get that question enough that it doesn't bother me, and in fact, I always find it an interesting conversation (whether they find it an interesting conversation is a different matter though!). While it is near gospel that almost any endeavor that requires skill—such as playing an instrument, pole-vaulting, learning to cook, or even wine tasting—also requires significant preparation or practice time, when it comes to standardized testing the belief is often that you can't prepare, and you really can only rely on your basic abilities to succeed. Why is that belief so prevalent, and why is it incorrect?
The myth that you can't prepare for standardized tests comes from a few sources. The first traces back to the historical origins of the first standardized tests in the US. When the first large-scale tests were implemented—IQ tests given to Army recruits during World War I, later the Army's Alpha tests, and eventually the SAT—the people making and administering the tests believed they were indicative of native ability. As Nicholas Lemann, author of The Big Test, says, the original test creators “clearly believed in the basic theory that intelligence is an innate and sort of biological quality and that it's the most important human quality.” In other words, they thought they were giving tests built to measure you exactly as you were, and which could reveal your inherent capacities. Since the test creators also believed you cannot change your inherent abilities, the message they sent to the world was these tests, by their very nature, disallowed preparation. Consequently, this belief became one of the founding axioms of admissions-related tests. This belief was also completely false, but that wasn't known until well after the myth was entrenched.