February 03, 2016
Could the GRE Compete with the LSAT? Or Replace the LSAT?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Via Paul Caron, I saw that ATL was mocking Wake Forest University School of Law for experimenting with having applicants use the GRE for admissions purposes instead of the LSAT.  Instead of cheering experimentation and a possible break-up of the LSAT monopoly, the headline screamed "This Law School Will Pay You to Take the GRE to Save its USNews Rank From the Dreaded LSAT."

Ugh.  Putting aside the clickbait headline, there is something interesting going on here.  First of all, WF isn't paying random people to take the GRE and apply, it's paying its own graduates to take the GRE, so it can analyze a group of folks with LSAT scores, law school grades and bar passage information who also took the GRE.  Researchers often use monetary incentives to get subjects to enroll in studies, and taking the GRE is a four-hour commitment.  So, $50 and lunch for four hours of pretty intense concentration doesn't seem like excessive bribery to me.  To incentivize serious test-taking, WF will pay $25 more if your GRE score is within 20 percentile points of your LSAT score, which seems quite generous and aimed merely to weed out the "I put my name down" crowd.  If the study finds that the GRE has predictive value for success in law school and/or bar passage, that would be awesome and perhaps give some competition to the LSAT.

Though ATL quotes its "tipster" as saying "How can this be read as anything other than borderline panic about the future of legal education?" I have a completely different read.  How cool!  

I haven't talked to anyone at WF about this, but my intuition as a faculty member is that proving to the ABA that the GRE is as predictive as the LSAT has a lot of benefits (and not mere instrumental USNWR gaming).  What we have seen in admissions is that a lot of stellar undergraduates are choosing not to apply to law school (and not to take the LSAT).  These people must be doing something else instead, and chances are many of them are taking the GRE and going to a different graduate program.  If you could get that cohort to apply to law school easily, then you might be able to persuade them that law is still a great career path.  If they've already taken the GRE, then they can use that score and not worry about studying for the LSAT or plunking down $1k for a prep course.  In addition, recruiting folks already in graduate programs or who have completed graduate school to apply may be easier if they don't have to take a different test.  Even trying to recruit someone who has taken neither test to apply to law school would be easier if they could take the GRE.  The GRE is given on a rolling, year-wide basis around the world and even on your own computer.  I just looked online, and I could take the GRE as early as Monday (less than a week from now) a few miles from here or even sooner if I drove 30-45 minutes.  I would have my scores in 10-15 days.  The LSAT, however, is given four times a year (with alternate dates for Saturday Sabbath observers and Spanish speakers).  Test-takers must register a month in advance and wait a month following the test for their scores.  I find it strange that the LSAT schedule has not changed since I took it in 1989.  

So, I think it would be great if applicants could use either the GRE or the LSAT to apply to law school.  Perhaps then the LSAT could change with the times and become more computer-friendly and flexible.  (The GMAT is also given year-round, and I could make an appointment to take it a week from Monday if I so chose.  The MCAT is not given year-round, but there are 18 test dates between April and September.)  Either way, having applicants submit GRE scores would not serve to let WF or any other law school game the system.  I'm sure if the ABA allowed law schools to use the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT, then USNWR would figure out how to rank GRE scores also.

 

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