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The LSAT, Still the King of Law School Admissions

  • by Ross Rinehart
  • Aug 13, 2018
  • Admissions, LSAT, News

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Have you heard? The LSAT is back. It was almost gone as we knew it, but now it’s emphatically here and stronger than ever.

I suppose if you’re currently neck deep in fallacies and scenarios as you study for the September exam, the LSAT is extremely here and in no need of coming back, so maybe a little context is necessary.

To recap: In giving out its stamp of accredited approval to law schools, the American Bar Association, or ABA, tries to ensure that schools meet a bunch of minimum education standards. It has a bunch of rules and regulations to do this, but one big one it imposes on law school admissions is Standard 503, which requires that schools use a “valid and reliable admissions test.” And for years and years and years, the default “valid and reliable admissions test” was the almighty LSAT. There’s even an addendum that says that schools that deign to use a non-LSAT admissions test must prove that the alternative test can also validly and reliably assess applicants.

But then a bunch of law schools started taking advantage of that little addendum to allow applicants to take the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. Consequently, the ABA considered nixing Standard 503 altogether. Instead of requiring the use of a valid and reliable admissions test, the ABA proposed ramping up other admissions requirements and putting a greater emphasis on law schools’ student retention.

Although axing Standard 503 wouldn’t fell the LSAT completely — in all likelihood, pretty much every law school would continue to allow LSAT scores to feature prominently in prospective students’ applications — it would end the LSAT’s 71-year reign as the undisputed king of law school admissions. The tides would turn, and law schools would begin to utilize other means of appraising applicants: the GRE, the GMAT, talent shows, dance offs, maybe even 1L try-outs, like the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at ASU is currently experimenting with.

Over the last few months, all signs pointed towards the ABA killing Standard 503. More and more schools started accepting the GRE and, in some cases, the GMAT. Even more law schools said they planned to do so. The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, or the ABASOLEAATTB for not short, approved a resolution to remove 503 and sent the resolution to the ABA’s House of Delegates for a final vote. Where it waited, and waited, and waited, for months.

Until last week, when the resolution was suddenly and mysteriously withdrawn by the ABA Section of Legal Ed. So the Standard 503 of yore — the rule that makes the LSAT the standard test for the law school admissions, the rule that is more or less the reason why you’re currently studying for the LSAT — is in place for the foreseeable future.

And this was a big win for LSAC — which writes and administer the LSAT and gets to retain its status as big dog in the law school admissions game — and for dorks like me who deal with the LSAT. But how did we get here? Why was the resolution pulled? I’d like to the think the decision involved shady backroom dealings between LSAC and the ABA Section of Legal Ed — perhaps LSAC Pres Kellye Testy offering some financial sweeteners as the carrot and threats of lead pipes to the joints of ABA Section of Legal Ed members as the stick — but I’m probably just watching too much Succession.

In reality, over the past month or so there was a swelling defense of the LSAT (the opprobrium generated against the July 2018 LSAT notwithstanding). According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, 58% of pre-law students wanted the ABA to keep the admissions test requirement. So most students love the LSAT, apparently. Or they at least accept that it’s the best currently available way to judge students from wildly diverse undergrad institutions, academic concentrations, and backgrounds. According to a survey by National Jurist, lawyers are, at best, ambivalent towards the GRE as an alternative test for law school admissions. At the ABA meeting where the resolution to remove Standard 503 was withdrawn, a letter defending 503 and the LSAT, signed by admissions officers from 36 law schools, was circulated. Before driving headlong into the potential dystopia of a post-503 world, it seems like the legal community decided to pump the brakes.

So, now that Standard 503 and the LSAT have been re-affirmed, has the GRE’s encroachment into the law school admissions game been stymied? Will fewer schools accept alternative tests for admissions? Maybe, especially if, as some admissions deans recently expressed, the ABA’s process for reviewing whether alternative tests are “valid and reliable” remains opaque. Plus, it’s pretty costly to conduct these studies — roughly the price of a Kia Soul, per one admissions dean. And it’s not like law schools are having as much trouble filling their class sizes — applicants were up 8% this year.

So the LSAT is mostly back as the undisputed king of the law school admissions game. There are still handful of schools that will accept the GRE or GMAT, but the LSAT is still the only test that every law school will take a look at. So anyone with a dream of becoming an attorney should set their target on the LSAT, and give it their best shot. Because when you come at the king, you best not miss.

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