For decades, the LSAT has served almost universally as the great equalizer in law school admissions. Although individual schools have various ways of assigning GPA points on a transcript and follow different grade curves, the LSAT was the one indicator that all prospective law students needed in order to get into the very best law schools. It served as a good predictor of success in law school, and has been hailed as an exceptionally useful tool in determining which students are most fit for legal education.
That is, until now. Harvard Law School has announced that it will accept GRE scores from applicants moving forward, opening up a new can of worms in the law school admissions process. There are significantly more GRE test-takers each year than LSAT test-takers — that is because the GRE is used for many different fields of graduate study, whereas the LSAT is specifically tailored in order to measure the skills that law students need in particular. In recognition of that information, the LSAT should remain the standard to which law schools look when evaluating their candidates.
The fact that law school is not like other graduate education is common knowledge. A very specific skillset is required in order to excel in legal education, and the LSAT was designed precisely because of that. In fact, the LSAT is so well-designed that it is slightly better at predicting first-year law school grades than even a student’s own scholastic record. Without getting too absorbed in statistical jargon, the LSAT correlates with first-year grades moderately weakly, with a correlation coefficient of 0.4 (the closer a correlation coefficient is to 1, the stronger the relationship). A student’s record has a correlation coefficient of 0.38. A study sponsored by the agency that administers the GRE notes that the most predictive that the GRE gets for first-year graduate school grades is 0.39, and that is the correlation coefficient for a particular part of the test only. Thus, even when viewed in the best light, the GRE is not as accurate a predictor of scholastic success as the LSAT. Due to absent evidence that a GRE score is a better indicator of achievement in law school, there is not a compelling reason to accept the exam in place of the tried-and-true LSAT.
Anyone who has taken the LSAT knows just how different the exam is from typical standardized tests. The LSAT does not measure intuition, it measures the student’s ability to solve problems using deductive reasoning under extreme time constraints. Although there is a writing section at the end of the exam, it is not graded and serves primarily as a stylistic reference for the student’s writing. The GRE, on the other hand, measures “skills that have been developed over a long period of time and are not related to a specific field of study.” As such, these tests measure very different qualities. How a law school admissions committee could fairly compare different students who each took one distinct test is not immediately apparent — there isn’t exactly a conversion chart between skill types that they can reference.
The flaws of the LSAT, namely the barrier to entry due to cost and the ability of a student to study specifically for the exam, are unfortunate but not unique to the LSAT. In fact, the GRE has recently come under fire for exactly those reasons, with one professor of human development at Cornell University claiming that “the GRE is a proxy for asking ‘Are you rich?’ ‘Are you white?’ ‘Are you male?’”
The problem isn’t the LSAT. The problem is the nature of standardized tests themselves. Once a market for explaining the test exists, so will one for offering tutoring services, and the people who can afford those tutoring services will benefit. The exclusionary effect this has on individuals who have low incomes is admitted and unfortunate. However, this is why law school admissions go out of their way to use more than just the LSAT including GPA, writing samples, interviews and professional history as performance indicators.
The LSAT is not the sole determiner of law school admittance, but it is the best predictor of success currently on the market. In this way, the LSAT really does serve as the equalizer in law school admissions, and until a better test is devised, it should remain the only one that is accepted.
Trevor Kehrer is a senior majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.