Planning to apply to law school? Traditionally, the first unavoidable reality of the law school application process was preparing for and taking the LSAT. But change seems to be afoot. A growing number of law schools are now accepting the GRE, an exam most commonly associated with applying for MBA programs. From ultra exclusive law schools like Harvard Law to less established schools like Texas A&M University School of Law, admissions policies are beginning to allow prospective students to choose the exam of their choice. If you are considering your options, take the time to make an informed decision. Hopefully we will provide you with some understanding of the GRE phenomenon in law school admissions.
The GRE is administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a nonprofit measurement research organization. In a recent press release, ETS boasts that a forthcoming national validity study will show that a GRE score does translate to law school success. Whether the spread of GRE acceptance will continue is unknown, but at least a handful of law schools have been interested in offering applicants an alternative to the LSAT. Here are some GRE basics –
According to ETS, GRE examinees will be tested on the following:
- Verbal Reasoning – Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
- Quantitative Reasoning – Measures problem-solving ability using basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.
- Analytical Writing – Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.
For the computer delivered GRE, the exam is broken down as follows:
- Verbal reasoning – Two 30-minute sections with 20 questions per section.
- Quantitative Reasoning – Two 35-minute sections with 20 questions per section
- Analytical writing – One section with two separate 30-minute writing tasks.
The LSAT is administered by the aptly named Law School Admission Council (LSAC). For the LSAC’s response to GRE questions, see their LSAT or GRE: Your Questions Answered webpage. Regardless of the upstart, the LSAT is still the standard for law school admissions. If you haven’t narrowed your law school options to GRE schools, the LSAT may be the right option for you. Here is the basic rundown of the LSAT –
According to LSAC, LSAT examinees will face the following:
- Reading comprehension questions measure the ability to read, with understanding and insight, examples of lengthy and complex materials similar to those commonly encountered in law school.
- Analytical reasoning questions measure the ability to understand a structure of relationships and to draw logical conclusions about that structure.
- Logical reasoning questions assess the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments as they occur in ordinary language.
The LSAT, a pencil-and-paper exam, is formatted as follows:
- Five 35-minute sections of multiple choice questions (of which only four are scored). The sections include one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, two logic reasoning sections, and one unscored section.
- One unscored, 35-minute writing sample.
Effects of the GRE’s Presence
As GRE acceptance continues to grow, people are beginning to ask what the rise of the GRE means for the LSAT, for the law schools, and for applicants. The jury generally seems to still be out on most of these questions, but here are some thoughts.
If you listen to LSAT expert Nathan Fox, the GRE’s challenge to the LSAT’s supremacy could potentially push the LSAT to modernize—e.g., moving to a computer-based exam or speeding up results delivery. Listen to a full discussion of the topic by Nathan Fox and Alison Monahan on Law School Toolbox Podcast Episode 97: The Future of the LSAT. Transitioning from the only test to one among equals will clearly be a challenge for the LSAT. Stay tuned to see if the LSAT makes changes to compete for applicants.
From the perspective of law schools, the number of applicants for law school continues to be a serious concern across the law school spectrum. Anything that could serve to lower the barriers for an applicant considering law school would be considered positive by most Deans—assuming studies show that GRE scores do rival LSAT scores as a predictor of law school success and bar passage. Some argue it could open the doors of law schools to more STEM-focused undergrad students, which could affect the composition of law school classes.
If you are an applicant, consider the differences between the two tests and consider where you are applying. If the GRE is an option for you, the most commonly cited differences are that you can take the GRE on a computer and that the GRE contains a math component. Before you let the math idea scare you off, try your hand at both – the New York Time’s Jane Karr offers a question comparison in her piece — On Trial: GRE v. LSAT.
There are still many unknowns, but at least for now, it appears the GRE may be an enduring law school admission option. As time marches on, keep abreast of potential changes to the LSAT and keep an eye out for more law schools joining the list of those accepting the GRE.
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