I’m currently studying for the LSAT. It’s not a exactly a pleasant experience, although positively enviable for my medical school-bound friends studying for the seven-and-a-half-hour MCAT.
I’m taking the LSAT because, like almost all LSAT-takers, I want to go to law school, and the LSAT is required for most American Bar Association-accredited law schools. But recent trends show that might be changing: Georgetown University Law Center, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and the University of Arizona Law School recently joined Harvard Law School in allowing applicants to submit a test score from the Graduate Record Examination instead of the LSAT. In doing so, they are proving to be pioneers in legal education, and more schools should join them.
Deborah Rhode, a professor at Stanford Law School, called law “the least diverse profession in the nation” in The Washington Post in 2015. She spoke largely to attrition at law firms, but diversity in the profession is impossible to achieve if minorities continue to be underrepresented in law schools. Research published in the ABA Journal by Debra Cassens Weiss found that diversity in law school is increasing, but not at the most prestigious schools. The GRE can help: De-emphasizing the singular LSAT score might pave the way for greater consideration of important and diverse life experiences, which can lower barriers for minority applicants and those with disadvantaged backgrounds.
The move to accept the GRE instead of the LSAT is good for the LSAT, too. The competitive pressure challenges the test to continue to innovate and argue its relevance for producing good lawyers. If law school admissions rely so heavily on the LSAT, it should be for good reason — and so these recent challenges will require the LSAT to prove its worth. That can only be a good thing; the LSAT will identify its weaknesses and work to create a better, more applicable test.
The shift also underscores a shift in attitudes toward standardized tests in undergraduate and graduate education. More than 900 colleges and universities in the country no longer require SAT or ACT scores for undergraduate admission. This move largely hopes to offer nontraditional students a way to prove their worth without standardized testing that give privileged students an advantage; reports of racial and socioeconomic bias on the SAT, for example, further indicates to these schools that there may be some implicit factors in standardized testing that confound the results by measuring true intelligence. This is an important question to explore in testing at the graduate level, including the LSAT and the GRE. The LSAT may be an accurate predictor of a student’s first-year performance in law school, but how closely does that relate to their abilities to be effective lawyers? Maybe it does — more research certainly suggests this — but it’s still possible that the emphasis on the LSAT might exclude potentially great lawyers; and given the recently plummeting interest in law school, these educational institutions should be lowering barriers, especially artificial ones.
There’s another positive impact of accepting the GRE. The problems of our world are becoming increasingly complex; they require innovative, interdisciplinary solutions. And graduate-level education should allow for those opportunities. Dual-degree programs — M.D./Ph.D., for example, or J.D./M.A. — allow students to pursue multiple graduate degrees in different disciplines, encouraging interdisciplinary thought that our world needs more of. Requiring just one test, the GRE, for a J.D./M.A. candidate would streamline the admissions process and make it easier for dual-degree applicants to apply, as well as encourage more students to consider dual degrees.
The GRE still requires rigorous research to determine its effectiveness as a benchmark for prospective law students. But there is a lot of promise. So who knows, maybe by the time I graduate law school — praying I get there — aspiring lawyers won’t be stressing over difficult logic games in preparation for the LSAT. We’ll have to wait and see.
Sonali Seth is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.