The floodgates have opened up for a change that could undo a virtual monopoly on how undergrads get into law school.
Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center announced Monday that they will accept GRE scores.
They join Harvard Law School and the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in allowing applicants to submit either an LSAT or GRE score, and pundits expect more schools to follow suit. Administrators hope accepting the GRE will make law school more accessible to applicants, particularly those with science and technology backgrounds, and they say their own internal studies show the GRE is just as good as the LSAT in predicting success in law school.
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But the rush to embrace the GRE has its critics—including, not unexpectedly, Kellye Testy, the new president of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT. Testy, the former dean of the University of Washington School of Law, has been at the council’s helm since July. As president of the LSAC, Testy is in charge of the organization that has administers the LSAT—the only path to law school sanctioned by the American Bar Association.
We spoke with her about competition from the GRE, proponents’ claims that it’s just as good as the LSAT in predicting a taker’s law school performance, and why she thinks the move toward the GRE is motivated by the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
What’s the Law School Admission Council’s official position on law schools using the GRE?
The LSAC’s official position is that we have no objection to innovation. We actually don’t even object to law schools using a different test. Businesses schools use a couple different tests.
What we do object to is that [the GRE] is a poor test for legal reasoning. It doesn’t even test analytical and critical reasoning.
Second, these studies people are saying have been done are ridiculously flawed. They get out in the news the idea that it’s just as good. And that has not been proven. Over time, could another test be proven? Maybe. But certainly not in the kinds of one-time studies we’ve seen.
What are the flaws you see with these school-specific studies that conclude the GRE is as effective as the LSAT in predicting first-year law school grades?
What happened in [the University of Arizona study] is that they took people, largely, who had already been admitted to law school with the LSAT, and had some of them take the GRE under circumstances where it wasn’t high-stakes with admission at issue. Then they said, “Well, let’s see if these people match up a little bit. Did the same people who did well in first year also do well on the GRE?” It’s very simple. It’s not something you could rely upon to determine that the GRE is going to be a good instrument to help students know whether they have a likelihood of success.
What’s really hard about this is that the elite law schools are going to be very differently situated in this question. For students who go to those top schools, honestly, you could probably take their SAT or where they went to high school and predict that they would do well in first year of law school. But then you take a school like an Arizona, or some of the historically black colleges or some of the other schools—those students really need to know whether they have a fighting chance of doing well. A test that doesn’t even get at analytical or critical reasoning is not going to be very helpful to them.
How are the LSAT and GRE different?
Analytical reasoning is 25 percent of the LSAT and zero percent of the GRE. Logical and critical reasoning skills are 50 percent of the LSAT, and zero percent of the GRE. Reading comprehension is 25 percent of both tests. For the GRE, 25 percent is “other verbal”, which is SAT-type things like sentence completion, and quantitative skills—algebra and geometry—is 50 percent.
It’s a bit hard to see how algebra and geometry come into play in law school.
I think most people would agree with that. Some schools believe—and I agree—that law students could benefit from more financial literacy. But that’s something that’s usually is accomplished easily with a “introduction to financial statements” kind of class. That’s not algebra and geometry.
You’ve told me that you believe law schools are using the GRE to manipulate their U.S. News & World Report rankings. How does that work?
Deans want to keep their class the same size but they see the overall applicant pool drop. If you don’t want to change your class size and you don’t want to go down in U.S. News—which counts LSATs and [undergraduate] GPAs—the only way to do that is to take students you don’t have to show on your balance sheet. They’re using the GRE as the latest fig leaf for this. They’re trying to get students who they don’t have to report LSAT scores for, yet those students are still paying tuition. So their class size stays the same, or their school survives, etc.
Reaching more potential applicants is another big part of this, right?
I think many schools believe there is a pool of people already on their campuses who have taken the GRE, and that if they could just bring them into law school, then they could pick the smart ones and have more students. I think part of this is just filling seats.
One of the good things that came out of the downturn in applicants, I think, was that the people who decided to go to law school had a seriousness of purpose that we hadn’t always seen. They weren’t saying, “Well, I don’t know what else to do so I’ll go to law school.” I think it’s ironic that having now gotten to that point, we’re going in the other direction. A dean colleague put it this way: “The new diversity: People who really aren’t interested in law school.”
The ABA is weighing a rule whereby it would determine the validity of all LSAT alternatives and decide whether they are acceptable. What do you think it should do?
I think the ABA is in a tough spot. They’re getting pushed from every direction. I think the ABA needs to keep its eye on protecting the public. A regulator makes sure that students who are admitted to law school, and the public those students serve, are well served.
We did not object to the ABA’s proposed change. They’ve said they’re willing to permit schools to use a test other than the LSAT as long as the test meets high standards of validity and reliability. We support that change. I’m disappointed that schools haven’t waited for that process to happen.
It seems some schools are moving forward anyhow. What would you like to see happen now?
I’d like to see people hit the pause button. Let’s really look into this before we make widespread change. I would hope that schools continue to accept both exams, and that most students still take the LSAT. I’d like there to be much more discussion and deliberation about what this means for legal education. I think a lot of people still don’t understand, for instance, that these studies have been so shallow. I really worry about the pushing down of standards in the legal profession. I think we need to be really fair to students and fair to the clients those students will serve.
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ