LSAT Vs. GRE: Could Another Standardized Test Option Really Promote Law School Diversity?

By Carrie Jung
Published: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 11:56am
Updated: Monday, February 29, 2016 - 6:05pm
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(Photo courtesy of the Law School Admission Council)
The Law School Admission Council produces the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test.
(Photo courtesy of ETS)
ETS produces the GRE, or Graduate Record Examination.

Tyler Prime’s LSAT study guide is well worn.

"I think the games are the most interesting," he said as he thumbed through the pages. Some of them have been earmarked. Others are filled with diagrams he drew to help him solve some of the book’s logic puzzles.

"I spent a solid month working through a Princeton Review book. Probably working anywhere between 40 hours a week at the peak," he added.

Prime is hoping all of that studying paid off when he took the real test in early February. He needs solid scores when he applies to law school next year. 

For decades the LSAT, standing for Law School Admission Test, has been the only exam accepted by law schools in the U.S.

American Bar Association regulations say institution admissions must require a standardized test that is valid and reliably predicts student performance. But it doesn’t explicitly say that standardized test must be the LSAT.

Marc Miller is the dean of the University of Arizona law school. He said opening admissions to GRE (Graduate Record Examination) test takers significantly expands the pool of qualified applicants.

About four times more people take the GRE than the LSAT. The GRE is also more accessible because students can take it most any day of the year. The LSAT is only offered 4 times a year.

"And it allows us to build a class that will be more diverse in every respect," Miller said. "The kinds of background they have, the kinds of interests they have."

It’s no secret the legal field lacks diversity, at least when it comes to race. According to the last U.S. census, about 88% of working lawyers were white.

So after a study determined the GRE reliably predicted student performance among the U of A student body, officials there decided to make the change. But the move isn’t just limited to Arizona. Wake Forest and the University of Hawaii are currently running similar studies. And officials with the Educational Testing Service, the organization that administers the GRE, say about a dozen other schools have also shown an interest.

But the move does have its dissenters.

"I have a much more critical view," said Staci Zaretsky, an editor at Above The Law, a blog covering news and issues in the legal industry. She argued while diversity may be one of the motivators, money and declining student enrollment are factors too. 

"What has happened in legal education in the past few years is that the number of applications and applicants has gone down a lot and law schools right now are looking at ways to fill their seats," she said.

American Bar Association numbers show law school applications peaked in 2004 at around 100,000. By 2014, that dropped to roughly 55,000. 

"We always thought of law as kind of a golden ticket," said Ohio State University law professor Deborah Merritt. She's been studying the recent structural changes within the legal profession.

Merritt said this drop in applications is due to a number of factors-- one of them being there are just fewer jobs out there. Globalization and technology have also played a role. Merritt explained while law is a field that requires a high level of analytical skills, a big part of the job is paperwork processing.

"And as computers have been able to do more of that keeping track and processing paper-- and even helping with research-- there is a need for fewer live bodies," she said.

The American Bar Association has not commented specifically on the U of A's decision to begin accepting GRE scores. In a statement, officials say they are currently reviewing the results of the school's validity study.

Dean Marc Miller acknowledged the GRE and LSAT are two very different tests. However he stands behind the move because the school’s grading standards haven’t changed.

"Has the downturn led us to think about the different ways we can broaden the base? Absolutely," said Miller. "We don’t view this as a bad thing."

As for law school hopeful Tyler Prime, he said the move won’t impact him too much because it’s just one school, but down the road he wonders which test will be more important.

Right now, it’s too early to tell if the GRE will make the LSAT a moot point, even at law schools.

Take a practice quiz to see how you might score on the GRE:

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