The Watson Glaser and BCAT critical thinking tests

How to prepare for critical thinking appraisal tests and the deciding role they play in your legal career.

Critical Thinking

Increasingly, law firms are using critical thinking tests as part of their recruitment process. Critical thinking tests, also referred to as critical reasoning tests, are a type of psychometric test considered especially accurate in the assessment of potential lawyers. These tests are designed to measure the following skill sets:

  • The ability to identify problems
  • The general understanding of the importance of evidence when making conclusions
  • The ability to differentiate between inferences, abstractions and generalizations through applying logic
  • The ability to combine these skills above when making these decisions.

In general, if you do well on a critical thinking test you are likely to have good analytical, logical and comprehension abilities. You are also likely to be able to see an argument from both sides. For these reasons Critical Reasoning tests are seen as a good measure of potential lawyers. The most famous and prominent of these tests is the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking test.

The Watson Glaser test

The Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal was first introduced in 1925 though has subsequently gone through many updates and revisions to become one of the most trusted methods for efficiently measuring critical thinking skills. The modern version (known technically as the Watson Glaser II) is used by employers all over the world for assessing candidates in a variety of roles. Some of the biggest users of the Watson Glaser assessment are law firms and other legal employers.

The Watson Glaser test can come in an older 55-minute version or a newer 40-minute version: both are still in use.

The BCAT

The Bar Course Aptitude Test (or BCAT) is a Critical Thinking test based entirely on the Watson Glaser test. As of 2013, all students in the UK who intend to take the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) are required to first pass the BCAT. The BCAT needs to be taken and passed before the deadline for accepting a place on the Bar Professional Training Course, which is on the 2nd of April. The question types of the BCAT are the same as the ones in the Watson Glaser, the BCAT test is always 55 minutes long.

You can get hold of BCAT Practice tests with explanations and guides from JobTestPrep here.

What the Watson Glaser test and BCAT look like:

Both Watson Glaser and BCAT questions present you with statements and conclusions in the form of paragraphs or sentences. You are required to answer in a particular way according to the question type.

There are five basic question types you will come across in the test, each testing a specific ability. These five abilities are:

  1. Deduction
  2. Inference
  3. Interpretation
  4. Recognition of assumptions
  5. Evaluation of Arguments

1. Deduction

In this question type you are given a statement as well as a conclusion. You need to decide whether the conclusion follows logically from the original statement.

The answer types will be either “Yes” or “No”

2. Inferences

Here you are presented with an extended statement together with a sentence that is supposedly inferred from the original statement.

You need to grade the probability that the inferred sentence is “True” i.e. that it is a correct inference.

The answer types will be either: “True”, “Probably True”, “Insufficient Data”, “Probably False” and “False”

3. Interpretation

This question type is similar to Deduction in that there is a statement and a conclusion, where you need to decide if the conclusion is correct. The difference is that interpretation questions require you to decide whether the generalisation being made is justified or not.

The answer types will be either “Yes” or “No”

4. Recognition of Assumptions

For these question types you will be given a statement, often in the form of a quotation, as well as a possible assumption. You need to decide if the assumption provided is correct with regards to the statement given.

The answer types will be either “Yes” or “No”

5. Evaluation of Arguments

Here you are presented with a statement, often an opinion together with a possible argument. You need to decide if the argument provided is indeed an argument that can be used to prove or strengthen the above statement.

The answer types will be either “Yes” or “No”

Which firms use the Watson Glaser?

As stated above, the Watson Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal is used by countless law firms all over the world. Below are just a few examples of law employers that use the Watson Glaser as part of their job application process:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Burges Salmon
  • Clifford Chance
  • Dentons
  • Government Legal Service
  • Hogan Lovells
  • Hill Dickinson
  • Ince & Co
  • Irwin Mitchell
  • Linklaters
  • Simmons & Simmons

Understanding critical thinking tests and preparing for tests like the Watson Glaser and BCAT are important steps needed for a successful career in law. This information will help make sure you aren’t caught by surprise at your next job interview.

You can find free Watson Glaser sample questions here.

You can get Watson Glaser practice tests, with tips and explanations,  here.