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GRE for Law School: Is it Right for You?

In 2016, the University of Arizona law school announced that it would begin accepting GRE scores in place of LSAT scores on law school applications. The news sent shockwaves through the law school admissions community, triggering a wide range of reactions, most of which weren’t particularly positive. However, within a year, more law schools began accepting the GRE.  Let’s look at how accepting the GRE for law school might affect you.

Who’s accepting the GRE?

Right now, the University of Arizona, Harvard Law, Northwestern, Georgetown, and Washington University  have officially announced that they will accept the GRE for law school admissions in lieu of the LSAT. The intention of these law schools is to allow a broader range of applicants to apply to law school.

In 2015, a handful of schools including SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Iowa temporarily dropped the LSAT requirement on their applications, but that didn’t last long. The decision was in response to an announcement by the American Bar Association that they would start allowing ABA-approved law schools to admit up to 10% of their incoming class using other test scores such as the SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT, or other college aptitude tests. Unfortunately, the ABA reversed that ruling a few months later.

The decision by such prestigious schools as Harvard and Georgetown to accept the GRE will likely lead to other law schools following suit. Check back in soon to learn more—we’ll update this post as we learn more!

Why is the GRE an acceptable alternative?

The official reason is that an ETS-conducted study found that the GRE is as strong or stronger than the LSAT at predicting law school performance (at the University of Arizona). In other words, UofA law students with high GRE scores get good grades in law school at least as often as UofA law students with high LSAT scores. Granted, ETS is the organization that writes and administers the GRE, so they stand to gain a lot if all the LSAT takers in the world suddenly switch over to the GRE. In that sense, this scenario is similar to McDonald’s telling us it conducted a study showing a stronger correlation between daily Big Mac consumption and low blood pressure than between daily jogging and low blood pressure. Maybe it’s true, but it should also elicit some skepticism without further proof.

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A better answer to this question might be that the GRE isn’t yet an acceptable alternative. If anything determines whether a standardized test is good enough for law school admissions, it’s the ABA. So, let’s see what they have to say.

Has the ABA approved the GRE for law school admissions?

Nope, but it also hasn’t rejected it.

The ABA’s current guidelines require that all ABA-approved law schools make use of “a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education” (see Standard 503).  Arizona’s decision was discussed at a meeting of the Standards Review Committee, and during that meeting, two possible responses to the GRE question were being considered.

The first possibility is that the ABA will amend its guidelines to require that law schools demonstrate that any exam being used in their admissions decisions meets the current standards of being “a valid and reliable admission test…” (see above for the full quote). Basically, this would obligate schools to show proof of the GRE’s validity, and then the question would become whether or not an ETS study is considered acceptable proof. If it isn’t, schools could presumably hire an outside party to conduct a similar study. Either way, it looks good for the GRE as long as the results of the ETS study are accurate.

The second possibility is that the ABA will amend its guidelines to eliminate the admissions test requirements altogether. The only remaining relevant guideline would be one stating that “sound admissions policies and practices may include consideration of admission test scores.” If this proposal were accepted, the GRE would most certainly be an acceptable alternative, and it would be up to each law school to decide for itself which exam(s) to consider.

Both proposals, in my humble opinion, are pretty good news for the GRE. It appears that the Standards Review Committee is open to the idea of allowing other standardized tests into the fold, and recent policy changes elsewhere in the Standards suggest that the ABA is trying to increase accessibility to law school in general. With such well renowned law schools accepting the GRE, it seems that the ABA may be swayed in the near future.

Should You Take the GRE Instead of the LSAT?

Probably not instead, but in addition to might be a good idea if you struggle with the LSAT.

There aren’t enough schools accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT yet, so unless you’re absolutely certain you want to go to University of Arizona and nothing else will do, don’t take that bet. Others may follow suit–in fact, there may be a flood of schools accepting the GRE soon–but they may not. Don’t limit your options by taking only the GRE.

However, if you know that the GRE plays to your strengths whereas the LSAT does not, it might be a worthwhile venture. Even if you can only include it on a couple applications, that might be the difference between getting into a stronger school and settling for a safety. In short, if math, vocabulary, and grammar are where you excel, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to showcase that on an exam catering to those skills more than the LSAT does.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

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