Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About the LSAT Debate

Apr 10, 2017 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Abortion. Animal testing. Gun control. Climate change. The death penalty. Immigration. Euthanasia. Gay marriage. The LSAT? On the very long list of hotly debated topics, the LSAT may seem out of place. But the truth is that there’s a fierce battle raging right now over this notorious test -- specifically regarding whether it still has value or if it’s time to kick it to the curb. Here’s a closer look at the discussion, along with arguments for and against this notorious test.

 

About the Debate

The LSAT has long been an integral part of the law school admission process in the US, Canada, and other countries throughout the world. Says the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), “It provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills that law schools can use as one of several factors in assessing applicants.”

In fact, by most accounts, LSAT scores are the single most important factor in determining law school admissions. Until now, that is. Harvard recently made news when it announced its intention to replace the LSAT requirement with the GRE. While Harvard wasn’t the first to make this move, it was the most buzz-worthy, and others are expected to follow in its example.

As would be expected, Harvard’s decision wasn’t a hasty one. Rather, it was based on a Harvard Law School study conducted last year which determined that the GRE was just as predictive of academic performance in law school as the LSAT.  And while many people are heralding the elimination of the LSAT as progressive, others argue that the move is likely to lead to more problems than it solves.

Which begs the question: What, exactly, are they supporting and objecting to? Read on for the breakdown.

 

The Case for the LSAT

While no one would say that the LSAT is perfect, many agree that it’s the best way to assess whether candidates are truly a good fit because it is the only standardized test that measures logic. The Logical Reasoning portion of the LSAT may be the bane of many a law school applicant, but many argue that there’s a reason why this section counts for half of the LSAT score: the skills it tests are essential.

Says LSAC, “Arguments are a fundamental part of the law, and analyzing arguments is a key element of legal analysis. Training in the law builds on a foundation of basic reasoning skills. Law students must draw on the skills of analyzing, evaluating, constructing, and refuting arguments. They need to be able to identify what information is relevant to an issue or argument and what impact further evidence might have. They need to be able to reconcile opposing positions and use arguments to persuade others.”

It is exactly these skills that the Logical Reasoning portion tests, and which are absent from the GRE, which is primarily a test of verbal, math and writing skills. Without it, some say, a critical piece of the predictive puzzle will be missing.

Those in favor of keeping the test also point out that it devotes more time to reading skills and less time to extraneous material, like math. Says Manhattan Prep, “Law school demands strong critical reading skills—being able to comprehend, analyze, and critique what you read, and to do so efficiently. Both tests measure these skills, the LSAT just devotes more real estate to them, to the extent that over a third of the GRE tests strictly math skills. Math is more or less irrelevant to law school, which is why there are jokes about how lawyers can’t do math! Viewed this way, the GRE includes two hours’ worth of reading and writing assessment compared to the LSAT’s three hours’ worth of the same.”

LSAT supporters further insist that the test doesn’t just benefit law school admissions committees, but also students, in the long run. How? Because it represents a much better picture of what law school is like, it helps weed out less-qualified applicants who are less likely to succeed in law school and law careers.

Some even suggest that dropping the LSAT is a desperate, financially-motivated strategy aimed at boosting declining law school enrollments. (An argument which does not apply to Harvard, where students are still clamoring to get in.)

 

The Case Against the LSAT

But what if the LSAT as really IS broken? For starters, detractors say, while many law schools claim to take a holistic approach to admissions, the reality is that the LSAT counts. A lot. Given data indicating that the test favors the privileged (after all, not all candidates have the liberty or luxury of investing time and money into preparing to the LSAT), anti-LSAT advocates proport that removing the test from the equation frees up law schools to truly look at candidates as “whole” people, not numbers.

Said Harvard Dean Martha Minow, “Harvard Law School is continually working to eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership...All students benefit when we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances. Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds. For these students, international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students, the GRE is a familiar and accessible test, and using it is a great way to reach candidates not only for law school, but for tackling the issues and opportunities society will be facing.”

In other words, it’s not just about opening the door to more diverse candidates, but also about potentially diversifying the field of law.

Now that you know the issues, where do you stand? Make your voice heard by adding your opinions and experiences in the comments section.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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