It all started when the University of Arizona College of Law (US) said last year that it would accept either the GRE or the Law School Admission Tests (LSAT) from applicants. Then Harvard Law School (US) announced earlier this year plans to start accepting GRE scores for admission as part of a pilot programme. Now, Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law (US) is studying the possibility of accepting the GRE. Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern's law school, told Chicago Tribune:
This is a new world. Law schools are looking at much more sophisticated data. It's just simply a matter of time, and probably a short amount of time, before the hegemony of the LSAT will destabilise and law schools will be looking at other criteria for admission.
For law schools, accepting another, more user-friendly admission test in addition to the LSAT could mean more applicants and a more diverse class.
But it could also mean teetering on the brink of noncompliance with standards from the legal education section of the American Bar Association, which contracts with the US Department of Education to accredit law schools.
Currently, if an accredited school wants to start using an alternative admission test, like the GRE, it is required to demonstrate that test is as valid as the LSAT in predicting law school success.
Northwestern's law school had enough students who had taken both tests to gather data, and it hired an outside firm to conduct a study, Rodriguez said. Educational Testing Service (ETS), the Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit that administers the GRE, is conducting a national validity study, which it plans to complete by August, involving more than a dozen law schools, including John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
But many schools, some of which don't have the resources or data to conduct their own studies, are waiting to see what changes the bar association makes in its requirements.
At a hearing scheduled for 13 July, the Chicago-based association plans to accept comments on changes to its admission test standards that would allow it to begin determining whether alternative tests are valid. That could mean the more than 200 ABA-accredited law schools wouldn't have to conduct their own studies.
Deans argue that the GRE, administered multiple times weekly, often via computer, is more accessible than the LSAT, administered four times each year at designated testing centres.
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The Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, is taking steps to change that. It recently announced it will lift the limit on the number of times a person can take the test in a two-year period, starting with the September test.
More changes are coming, said Wendy Margolis, a spokeswoman for the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT. The organisation insists that the movement toward the GRE did not spark the changes. The board of trustees thought that the test limitation might be an unnecessary impediment to test takers, Margolis wrote in an email to the Chicago Tribune.
The number of people applying to law school has been dropping since 2010, according to data provided by LSAC, and some law school deans argue that accepting a more accessible test could help reverse that trend. About 54,500 people applied to start school in fall 2015, down almost 38% from five years earlier.
But it is not just in the numbers, Northwestern's Rodriguez said. Students with more diverse areas of study, such as science or technology, who are still making career decisions aren't taking the LSAT, he said. They're taking the GRE.
All things being equal, when you're looking at a more diverse cohort, you want to provide ample opportunities for students who have prepared themselves in more eclectic ways.
Both tests have been administered for almost 70 years, but the LSAT has long been the sole admission test for law schools.
However, some are not very enthused about the possible change. The legal profession is changing, and law schools are adapting to it, said University of Illinois College of Law (US) Dean Vikram Amar. But change isn't always progress. Law is a discipline that values tradition, and I there are some good things about that, he added.
Source: Chicago Tribune