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Is the LSAT a Thing of the Past? Alternative Law School Admissions

By Camila Laval, J.D. on March 25, 2022 4:08 AM

Thinking about going to law school but not sure if you have the time or energy to study for the Law School Admission Test? You're in luck. Since November 2021, the American Bar Association (ABA) authorized accredited law schools to accept the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) as an alternative to the LSAT. Today, nearly 80% of law schools, including even the highly competitive Yale and Harvard, accept GRE scores.

The waves of change don't stop there. The Law School Admission Council (which administers the LSAT) is now designing a program that would enable aspiring law students to apply for law school without ever taking any standardized test at all.

LSAT Falls Short of Its Egalitarian Mission

In 1945, the Columbia Law School's admissions director suggested the creation of a “law capacity test" to aid admission decisions in a letter to the College Board (which oversees the SAT, AP exams, and college application services). Like the SAT, the LSAT was conceived of as an equalizer to ensure that all students had the same opportunities to be admitted to law school regardless of where they had obtained their undergraduate degrees or what their field of study was. The LSAT was administered for the first time in 1948. Back then, it had 10 sections and took an entire day to administer.

In the decades that followed, the LSAT went through various modifications. Today, it contains only four scored sections: two sections of Logical Reasoning and one section each of Analytical Reasoning (known as "Logic Games") and Reading Comprehension. In addition, there is a fifth unscored section which is used to validate new test questions, though the section that is unscored is kept anonymous and essentially goes disguised as any one of the three scored sections. (There's also technically a sixth "writing sample" students are asked to give, but it is unscored.) Previously administered at designated testing sites and lasting half a day, the exam shifted to a live remote-proctored format during the pandemic, and it remains exclusively virtual to this day.

The LSAT's goal may have been to level the playing field, but the demographics of law schools don't seem to reflect much success on that front. Law remains one of the least racially diverse professions in the country, and the price of the law school admissions process (including the LSAT fee, LSAT prep courses, and law school application fees) can easy run into the thousands of dollars—prohibitively expensive for many aspiring lawyers.

ABA Gives the GRE-en Light

But getting away from the LSAT hasn't been easy for schools. The ABA has long required accredited law schools using admission tests other than the LSAT to demonstrate that the alternative test was a "valid and reliable test to assist the school in assessing an applicant's capability to satisfactorily complete the school's program of legal education." Thus, law schools seeking to give applicants an alternative to the LSAT had an uphill battle.

That changed in November 2021. After five years of debating the contentious proposal, the ABA council finally voted to allow schools to use GRE test results for admission decisions without strings attached. Just like the LSAT, the GRE test has three scored sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. But unlike the LSAT, the GRE is an "adaptive" exam, which means that its difficulty changes based on how well someone performed on the first section (at least this is true for the computer version of the GRE, which has accounted for 98% of exams taken, even before the pandemic; the paper version of the exam has been offered only in rare circumstances).

Law schools accepting both tests now face the difficulty of comparing GRE scores to LSAT scores. While each school is free to make its own decision, the Educational Testing Service (which administers the GRE) offers a comparison tool that predicts LSAT scores based on GRE performance. It should also be noted that some experts believe that even some schools that now accept the GRE nonetheless prefer the LSAT, possibly giving traditional applicants a leg up.

A Future without Standardized Testing?

The legal profession is notorious for being entrenched in its ways, but the surprising acceptance of the GRE after decades of resistance has prompted even more proposals for change. The LSAC is now in the process of designing a new Legal Education Program that would enable aspiring JDs to apply to law schools without taking any standardized tests at all. While the LSAT would remain the main route to law school, the new program boasts that it would allow undergraduate students at certain colleges and universities to complete a special curriculum tailored in a "holistic pathway to law school." Upon completion of the curriculum and graduation, the students could apply to law school without taking a standardized test. The idea behind the program—like the original idea behind the LSAT itself—is to further the goals of "DEI" (diversity, equity, and inclusion) and to open more doors into the legal profession.

The LSAC expects to pilot this program starting this fall with a few partner undergraduate colleges and universities. Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, was the first to commit to the partnership. If the pilot is successful, the next step will be to convince the ABA to accept completion of this program instead of the LSAT or GRE. We have yet to see how amenable the ABA will be to these expanding changes to the admissions process.

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