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Law School Reform: Accepting GRE scores and what it means for LSAT takers

Law schools have been struggling for the last several years with low enrollment, high tuition and low bar passage rates.  As a result, law schools have been experimenting with getting back to the pre-2008 momentum when law schools around the country flourished.

The first experiment began in 2013 when then President Barack Obama endorsed a 2-year accelerated J.D. program.  The accelerated program was designed with the intent to allow prospective students who were hesitant to apply to law school because of the mounting debt the opportunity to complete law school sooner with less debt.  Although some law schools like New York Law School kept the program alive, schools such as Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law quickly recognized that the experiment could not attract the candidates that they hoped for and the program was discontinued in Fall 2015.

In 2014, the American Bar Association (ABA) relaxed its policy for admission by allowing schools to accept candidates without an LSAT score.  Schools were allowed to admit up to 10 percent of their entering class without LSAT scores, but the applicants had to be graduates from the university or had to pursue another degree in addition to their J.D.  Additionally, students had to be at the top of their class and must have scored in the 85th percentile nationally, or above a standardized college or graduate admissions test, such as the ACT, SAT, GRE or GMAT.  It is unclear how this experiment faired as there is not enough data to accurately analyze the success of those students who were admitted under this program.

As law schools continue to suffer, schools have gone back to the drawing board and are looking at other options to increase class size.  In 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers School of Law (Arizona Law or Arizona) announced that the school would accept applicants with either LSAT or GRE scores, becoming the first law school to do so.  Arizona’s decision was met with much contention by the ABA, but other schools urged the ABA not to suspend Arizona Law for fear that it would stifle any true growth that could result from the experiment.  Since the inception of the program, three other top-tiered schools have been encouraged to consider this path, but Harvard Law School is the only other school that has decided to accept applicants with GRE scores as of this September.

ETS Data and Critics

In 2015, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) conducted a study for Arizona Law to demonstrate whether the GRE could be a valid and accurate predictor for a student’s first-term law grades.  The study compared LSAT and GRE scores of recent graduates with their law school grades and found that “the skills assessed by the GRE General Test fit closely with the skills and educational objectives of law schools,” according to David Payne, the ETS Vice President and COO of Global Education.  David Payne also believed that the GRE could diversify law schools and allow students to easily pursue dual degrees.

However, despite the optimism that the GRE could be law schools’ savior, it is important to note that the study was conducted by the organization that also administers the GRE.  Moreover, the results doesn’t show the full picture as additional data shows that 1 out of 4 GRE test takers are likely to retake the test.  In 2014, ETS found that 15% more test takers took the GRE a second time, an all-time high, compared to 2013.  With this information, it begs the question -- what will it mean for law schools who are considering students with GRE scores when ETS places less restrictions on repeat test takers than the restrictions placed on LSAT takers by Law School Admission Council (LSAC)?  When considering students with either test scores, sure schools will look at the student’s overall package including undergraduate grades and other factors, but considering the differences between the restrictions imposed by the two different organizations, is it accurate to say that the GRE test is also an accurate predictor for success especially if students are allowed to retake the test multiple times?

Briefly comparing GRE requirements to those imposed on LSAT takers by LSAC, LSAT takers are restricted on taking the test three times within a two-year period with LSAC reserving the right to withdraw a student’s application if the rule is broken.  Students are also only allowed to cancel their test scores up to two times and although schools may not see the cancelled score, schools will continue to evaluate the student’s success based on the number of times a score has been cancelled.  It is unclear how Arizona Law and Harvard will deal with the students reporting the number of times the test was taken since the neither of their applications request that information.  However, an LSAT taker applying through LSAC will not have a choice on whether or not their cancellation is disclosed to the school.

Keeping the differences in mind, the lack of disclosure for GRE test takers could allow a student to take the GRE as many times as they would like since the ETS allows students to test once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period and are also allowed to cancel scores and send only the highest score to the schools.  With this possibility, a student can study to take the test as many times as they would like without having to admit they are a repeat test taker, which could give a school a less than perfect picture on how successful the student will be at getting through law school.  Because this program is new there is no information on how schools intend to manage the disclosure issue since ETS’s score disclosure policy is very relaxed.  It appears that the responsibility falls on the student to be honest on the application, but, again, there is no real way to measure the student’s honesty.

LSAT versus GRE[*]

As it is unsure how many schools will adopt this program, if you are considering law school, see below a chart summarizing the differences between the LSAT and GRE.  Also note that a student may not take both tests for law school consideration, but must take one or the other.

 

LSAT

GRE

 

The LSAT assesses a student’s proficiency in logical and verbal reasoning and reading comprehension.

 

The GRE assesses skills such verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing.

Format

Paper and pencil

Computer-adaptive

Time

3 hours, 30 minutes

3 hours, 45 minutes

Topics

Logical reasoning, games, arguments, questions, unscored writing sample

Vocabulary, reading comprehension, basic algebra, geometry and other math, scored analytical writing section

Date

4X per year

Almost any day of the year

Fee

$180 (plus a $175 subscription to the Credential Assembly Service, which is required for application to most law schools, including additional fees per application to sent)

$205 (a subscription to CAS may still be required)

 

Accepted by

The vast majority of law schools in the United States

Harvard Law School and University of Arizona James E. Rogers School of Law

Candidate Scores

Varies

Students will have to score i the 85th percentile

Score Benchmark

Varies

Applicants will not have a complete benchmark until at least one full cycle is complete

Conclusion

As always, a student should take precaution when analyzing the decision to attend law school, including carefully analyzing how any new changes that could be accepted will align with future goals.

 

This post has been brought to you by the Ms. JD Journalists. If you have suggestions for any topics that you think should be covered on Ms. JD, feel free to email your suggestions to contentdirector@ms-jd.org and the Ms. JD Journalists will get right on it.

[*] The following chart was adopted from the Princeton Review’s website.

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