Firms like Linklaters, Hogan Lovells, Ince & Co. and Clifford Chance use critical thinking tests as part of their candidate screening process. The most frequently used is the Watson-Glaser test. From a candidate's point of view it seems like yet another hurdle you need to jump to catch that elusive training contract?
Why do firms use it? Well, for one, advocates of the Watson-Glaser point out that it is fairly objective and grounded in science, and evaluates candidates evenhandedly - so there may be some merit in a critical thinking test that, well, tests whether would-be lawyers can think critically.
Secondly, firms need some way to whittle down applicant numbers - and critical thinking is as relevant a skill to test for as attention to detail, leadership, teamwork or anything else.
Although critical thinking can feel like the kind of attribute you either have or don't, you can improve your critical thinking by practicing as many relevant tests as you can. Plus, just getting yourself acquainted with the slightly odd format of the test will certainly improve your chances of understanding what each part of the test requires of you.
Firms do mix up questions and batches so simply getting the questions from a friend who's previously sat the test - and has an excellent memory - isn't a guarantee of success.
You'll learn more when you start practicing, but here's an introduction to each part of the test:
1.Inferences - these are conclusions drawn from perceived/supposed facts. You'll be given a statement and told to accept that it is true. Then, in relation to a series of statements, you'll need to decide whether each statement is true, probably true, false, probably false or "more information required". When candidates made mistakes with this type of question, it's usually because they forget that the original statement must be understood as true - regarding of whether you personally believe it.
2. Assumptions - these are presupposed ideas. In this section you'll be given a series of statements and will need to decide whether the statement provides evidence to justify the assumption, by choosing either "Yes (Assumption Made)" or "No (Assumption Not Made)". This sounds a little odd in the abstract, but is actually among the easier of the question types - try one or two and you'll see what I mean.
3. Deductions - does the given conclusion follow logically from the statement provided? You'll need to answer "Conclusion follows" or "Conclusion does not follow". The trick here is to use only the given statement (and not your general knowledge or opinions) to establish whether the conclusion follows from the statement.
4. Interpretations - here you're given a statement which you must assume is true. You're then asked about a series of further statements - do each of these follow logically (again, not in your knowledge or opinion) from the original statement? The conclusions need to follow the statement beyond any reasonable doubt to be marked "Conclusion follows" - otherwise you'll mark "Conclusion does not follow".
5. Analysis of arguments - this exercise asks candidates to distinguish strong from weak arguments and can be surprisingly tricky, particularly under pressure. You'll be given a question such as, "Should companies be obliged to provide flexible working opportunities for staff?", followed by a series of arguments. You'll need to describe each argument as either "Strong" or "Weak".
Ultimately success in this kind of exercise is down to practice and familiarity with the question types - get started with the resources below.
Assessment Day has a basic Watson-Glaser test here.
JobTestPrep has this resource.
And here's one from the government (it's not just lawyers sweating it out over critical thinking; would-be mandarins aren't immune).
Inc. magazine has this.