For Pre-Law Students, No Consensus On GRE

As momentum builds among law schools to allow applicants to submit scores from the Graduate Record Exam in place of the Law School Admission Test, those most directly impacted by the admissions policy are largely split on the issue according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey of nearly 2,000 pre-law students. Survey respondents were evenly divided, with 39% against law schools offering applicants a GRE option, 33% in favor, and 28% unsure. The survey also found that aspiring lawyers were divided on taking the GRE had they been given the option, with 28% saying they would have, 28% saying they would not have, and 44% unsure.
The findings come as the American Bar Association, which governs the nation’s more than 200 law schools, deliberates this week on what to do about the issue and law school admissions testing in general. To date, nearly 20 law schools already allow or have announced plans to allow applicants to submit GRE scores, including Harvard, Northwestern University, and Georgetown University.
Many of the pre-law students who would have taken the GRE given the option offered their reasoning in the survey by Kaplan, an educational and career services provider:

  • “Currently, I am interested in several different grad schools that accept the GRE. Also, the GRE tests knowledge rather than just skills. The GRE, in general, is easier to study for and still a strong predictor of how a student will do in law school.”
  • The GRE is, as far as I know, a much easier test to study for and take. But more importantly, taking the GRE would allow me to apply for many different kinds of graduate school, rather than just law school.”
  • “The LSAT is a monster. The GRE is also rough, but you can take the GRE at any time. You don’t have to force yourself to be ready by a certain date, because the GRE is offered so often.”

Harvard announced in March 2017 that it would follow the example of the University of Arizona Law School Rogers College of Law, which in 2016 became the first law school in the nation to announce it would accept GRE scores in place of LSAT scores. More schools have followed Harvard into the breach.
“While the LSAT remains an important admissions tool, we also believe that it is well past time that the legal profession open wide the doors to an even more diverse population that better reflects American society as a whole,” Georgetown Dean of Admissions Andy Cornblatt said last August in his school’s announcement that it would join the GRE ranks. “We think that allowing the use of the GRE will help us to accomplish that goal.”
In May 2017, seeing the writing on the wall, the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, attempted to address some of Harvard’s stated concerns when it announced that there will be more test dates and that beginning in September of that year, law school applicants would be allowed to retake the test as many times as they want.

Jeff Thomas of Kaplan Test Prep

In the Kaplan survey, among the students who would have stuck with the LSAT, the reasoning often focused on the thinking that the LSAT is the more relevant test for law school:

    • “The LSAT seems more appropriate and indicative of one’s ability to reason like a lawyer. I don’t know why any law school would require a test that contains two sections of math on it. Seems like a pretty irrelevant test with regards to law students.”
    • “I wouldn’t, only because I believe the LSAT tests a specific set of skills that the GRE does not. There is a reason the LSAT was developed as the exam for law schools specifically, rather than using the GRE from the get-go.”
    • “The LSAT is an exam for a specific profession, and teaches skills that are required for law school success. I imagine that students who submit an application with only a GRE score will be subject to higher scrutiny.”

Opening up the applicant pool to GRE takers gives law schools more prospective students to choose from, says Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs for Kaplan Test Prep, “just as they begin to recover from a period of historically low application volume. It provides something of a safety net in case another application slump hits. It also gives law schools the opportunity to diversify their student bodies, a long-held goal by many in the legal education community. But our survey finds that many of tomorrow’s lawyers aren’t convinced of the efficacy or personal benefits of this admissions approach.”
Thomas adds that it still makes sense to take the LSAT because the pool of schools where the GRE is accepted remains small: “Only 17 out of 204 accredited law schools currently allow applicants to submit GRE scores,” he says. “That means most applicants are probably going to be applying to at least one law school that is still LSAT-only, so it makes sense to prepare for the LSAT. Additionally, there is some uncertainty if the American Bar Association will allow this admissions policy to continue. If they come out and clearly state that law schools have a right accept GRE scores, we expect more schools to adopt this policy, which may provide students a true choice.”
Thomas also notes that individual test takers’ skill sets and preparation may determine which of the two exams is more challenging, despite the widespread perception that the GRE is the “easier” of the two exams.

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