Should Standardized Tests Be Required for Law School Admissions? The ABA Wants to Hear From You

Exam desks in a exam hallThe ABA is giving the public 90 days to weigh in on whether standardized tests like the LSAT and GRE should be required for admission to law school. The Council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar voted last week to request public comment on proposed amendments that would make law school admission policies “test optional.”

Currently, Standard 503 requires a “valid and reliable admission test” to assist law schools in determining an applicant’s potential to succeed. The proposed change would not remove the use of admission tests but rather make them discretionary as part of sound admissions policies and law schools would be required to identify all the tests they accept.

Law schools would still be obligated under Standard 501 to admit only students they deem able to complete their educational program and pass the bar. They also still must comply with Standards 205 and 206, which focus on non-discrimination, equality of opportunity, and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The ABA will put a Notice and Comment section on its website in a few weeks. In the meantime, comments on the memo can be addressed to Leo Martinez, Council Chair, and sent to Fernando Mariduena at Fernando.Mariduena@americanbar.org.

Schools move away from standardized tests

Law schools have been moving away from the LSAT requirement for some time, opting for alternatives like the GRE to meet the “valid and reliable admission test” requirement. This trend has included prominent law schools like Harvard Law, Northwestern Law, and Georgetown Law.

In November 2021, the Council voted to allow law schools to accept the GRE in addition to the LSAT for law school admissions.

Critics of the LSAT say it’s an expensive, single-use test (meaning that it can’t be used for admission to other graduate programs) that can hurt diversity and the accessibility of law school and the legal profession. Access to test prep classes, which can be expensive but support higher scores, has also been criticized as being uneven, according to Reuters.

The average score on the LSAT varies by race. Research by AccessLex showed that the average score for white and Asian test takers is 153, while the average for Latino and Black candidates is 146 and 142, respectively.

Proponents of the LSAT point to the fact that it’s designed to determine who is likely to graduate from law school and pass the bar. Admitting students who aren’t likely to succeed could waste the students’ time and money and jeopardize law schools’ ABA accreditation, supporters say.

The Law School Admissions Council shared the following statement with Law.com regarding the proposed change: “Studies show test-optional policies often work against minoritized individuals, so we hope the ABA will consider these issues very carefully. We believe the LSAT will continue to be a vital tool for schools and applicants for years to come, as it is the most accurate predictor of law school success and a powerful tool for diversity when used properly as one factor in a holistic admission process.”

As of early 2022, the ABA Council was the only accreditor among law, medical, dental, pharmacy, business, and architecture school accreditors that requires an admission test in its standards.

Other alternatives to traditional admissions

As the LSAT debate continues, legal education organizations are exploring other alternatives to the traditional law school admissions process.

Beginning this fall, the Law School Admission Council will pilot a Legal Education Program allowing undergraduate students to takes courses that prepare them for law school. If the pilot is successful, the goal is to allow students to apply to law school without taking the LSAT or GRE.

The pilot will be administered at Cornell College, Northeastern University, and University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. Students enrolled in the pilot will not be exempt from a law school admissions test for now. Northwestern Law Dean Hari M. Osofsky is part of an advisory committee guiding the program.

In Illinois, undergraduate students at the University of Illinois Springfield can now earn a bachelor’s degree and a law degree in six years thanks to a partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago School of Law that allows students to apply to law school their junior year.

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