Future law students, take note: admissions standards are becoming more flexible.
Around 14 of the nation’s 200 law schools already allow or plan to allow next year the option of taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in place of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). These include law schools at Harvard University and Georgetown University. More are following the trend: a recent survey by Kaplan Test Prep shows that about 25 percent of law schools are planning to accept the GRE some time in the future.
Hillsdale students and professors have mixed opinions about the implications of the new admissions standard. Senior Jacob Weaver took the LSAT twice and was accepted to the University of Michigan Law School. He said if he could have, he would have taken the GRE, both because it provides instant scores, compared to the LSAT’s four-to-six-week turnaround, and because one can use the test to apply to both graduate schools and law schools.
“If I invest a year of my life and $1,000 into studying for the LSAT, I’m pretty much going to law school,” Weaver said. “You’re pretty pigeonholed at that point.”
It can be difficult to objectively compare the two tests because of differences in test structure and scoring. The LSAT contains five sections: one reading comprehension, one analytical reasoning, two logical reasoning — all of which are combined into one score — and one unscored writing section. The GRE, in contrast, contains three sections: analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning, which are all scored separately.
Professor of Business Law David Paas does not think one test is necessarily harder than the other. Paas, who received his law degree from the University of Nebraska and worked as a lawyer for five years afterward, took both the GRE and the LSAT and said they both test a lot of the same things, with the exception of the GRE’s quantitative section.
“I think the math section of the GRE is tough because most law students are not math kids,” he said. “I had a math minor as an undergrad. I found the LSAT logic games to be more of a struggle.”
Junior Anna Perry, who serves as President of the Federalist Society, Hillsdale’s pre-law club, plans to take the LSAT during her senior year and take a gap year after college.
“People who are really quantitatively inclined could highlight, ‘I have a really high score in this area,’ and it could be an advantage to them to be different,” she said. “Usually people who are going to law school are more, I guess, qualitatively inclined — they’re more into reading, writing, the logic of arguments and so forth.”
Senior Kara Schmidt took the LSAT even though she applied to Georgetown, which accepts the GRE. She said she doesn’t think she would have chosen differently, even if she had known about the new development beforehand.
“The LSAT tests one’s ability to identify assumptions and cruxes of arguments, as well as to infer things from other facts and to follow another’s arguments,” Schmidt said in an email. “I am naturally good at these skills, which is why I want to become a lawyer. Since this is all the LSAT tests and I think the GRE tests other skills as well, I would prefer LSAT.”
The Educational Testing Service released a survey of 21 schools which have accepted the GRE and determined that the test is a reliable determiner of success in a student’s first year of law school.
Weaver said it will be interesting to see what happens as the tests begin to compete with one another.
“It’s the big question: ‘Is the LSAT truly what makes a good of what law school candidate?’” Weaver said. “And I think we’re going to find that out. Because if people who take the GRE and come in and do just as well as the people who took the LSAT or blow the people who took the LSAT out of the water, then maybe for the last 25 years or so we’ve been testing the wrong things for law school.”
One benefit for law schools in accepting the GRE would likely be higher enrollment from students with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) backgrounds, who could contribute to more specialized legal fields, such as patent law. Paas and Perry also noted that accepting the GRE would likely increase general enrollment numbers, not just those from STEM backgrounds.
“The number of applications to law school has fallen drastically over years,” Paas said, “primarily because we already have too many attorneys and too many people graduating from law school. I think law schools are looking for ways to boost their enrollment, and the GRE might help on that.”
Weaver suggested the competition provided by the GRE would cause the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to reduce costs and to return scores more quickly.
“I think the competition that’s going to be opened in the marketplace is going to make them better and possibly reduce prices which would be fantastic. The GRE people and the LSAT people are now competing for students. LSAC is going to have to make the LSAT more competitive, because I think the GRE gives a lot more advantages than just taking the LSAT.”
Perry said it might take some time for students to adjust to the new development.
“That will have to be a culture change,” she said. “People will have to realize that it’s an option before it starts picking up.”