The American Bar Association took the next steps to removing admissions testing requirements for accredited law schools last Friday (May 11). The ABA revision would cut Standard 503, which requires an admissions exam and was approved by the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar during a meeting in Washington D.C. Changes to the standards also include “beefing up” Standard 501 to “include the use of admission credentials and academic attrition when determining accreditation compliance,” according to an announcement in the ABA Journal.
The proposal passed by a slim 9-8 vote and has to be approved by the ABA’s House of Delegates in August before becoming official. According to council chair, Maureen O’Roarke, normally proposed revisions with close votes do not get passed to the House of Delegates, but because of the amount of time this particular proposal has been discussed, she felt comfortable moving it forward. The House can send proposals back for revisions up to two times, but according to the ABA Journal, the council has the final say if a change will be implemented or not.
“On paper, the American Bar Association’s rule change has the potential to produce the biggest change to the law school admissions process in decades,” says Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep. “In reality, since it’s not requiring schools to do anything, but rather only giving them the choice to make changes, many will likely do nothing at all. While the new rule says that law schools are no longer required to mandate their applicants take an admissions test, be it the LSAT, GRE, or another standardized test, it’s unlikely that many schools will go in this direction for a few key reasons.”
RANKINGS, ACCREDITATION, BAR PASSAGE ALL FACTORS FOR KEEPING STANDARDIZED TESTS
For one, Thomas says, a standardized test score often “acts like a safeguard against bad admissions practices,” that he says can have “long-term ramifications” for law schools. “There’s a significant correlation between a law school’s median LSAT score for its matriculated students and its bar passage rate,” Thomas says.
“The ABA is cautioning that should a law school choose not to require a standardized test and then find themselves admitting students incapable of completing legal education measured by high attrition rates and/or low bar passage rates, a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that they are out of compliance with ABA rules will exist, and schools will risk losing their accreditation.”
There is also the age-old argument for standardized test scores and the “common yardstick” they are to measure applicants coming from all sorts of educational, professional, and personal backgrounds. “An ‘A’ at an Ivy League school, for example, is not the same as an ‘A’ at a lower ranked, less well-known school,” Thomas points out.
And then there are rankings.
“Test scores are currently important factors in law school rankings calculations, which are heavily relied upon by students in deciding where to attend,” Thomas says. “Schools will continue to prefer high scores in as much as they boost their place in the rankings.”
NOT MUCH CHANGE EXPECTED … YET
Kellye Testy, the president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, echoed Thomas’s beliefs that for the majority of schools, little will change.
“We expect that our member schools will continue to use the LSAT for substantially all of their admissions to provide transparency and fairness by evaluating all applicants using common and consistent standards,” she told the ABA Journal. “As a result, while these changes shift the responsibility for fair admission practices from the ABA to law schools, we do not anticipate significant changes for the vast majority of law schools or their applicants.”
Thomas says, if anything, the proposed change could “speed up adoption of the GRE,” in law school admissions. The GRE, which is used for most graduate programs outside of law, business, and medicine is beginning to be used more often in law and business school admissions. The GRE is now accepted by nearly 20 law schools, Thomas points out, and according to their own research, many others are considering changing. While many business and law schools continue to raise their average standardized testing scores for incoming classes, there is a simultaneous trend to relax policies around requiring standardized tests for admissions. Last March, Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business became the first prominent business school to drop standardized test scores for a subset of its admitted students.
Required or not, Thomas advises standardized test scores are always just a piece of the application.
“The bottom line is that applicants will still almost certainly have to take an admissions test and that test will still likely be the LSAT, but with the GRE gaining ground,” he says. “Irrespective of which test or tests candidates prepare for, it will always be important to put together as compelling an application as possible, inclusive of a high admissions test score.”