Is the GRE the better law school gatekeeper?

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The LSAT is a great, unholy gatekeeper. All ye unhappy law school applicants must stand and tremble before its terrible judgment. Now, however, one school wants to open up an alternate, friendlier, less logic games-y route to the legal profession: the GRE.

Wake Forest University School of Law is considering letting some of its incoming students take the Graduate Records Examination (aka the GRE) instead of the LSAT. Right now, they’re conducting research, and any change of requirements, even on a pilot basis, will have to be approved by the ABA. But it makes us wonder: is the LSAT the right test for law school admissions or would the GRE be a better fit?

Let’s look at a side-by-side comparison:

The LSAT and GRE are both demanding tests of knowledge and ability. Both include four scored sections, a research “bonus” section, and an essay (two, in the case of the GRE). Both take more than three hours to complete and can take months to prepare for. (Incidentally, the LSAT is also quite literally a lethal weapon. Not so for the GRE.)

The biggest difference between the two tests comes down to content. The GRE is almost half math. The LSAT is math-free. Also, on the verbal sections of the GRE, about a third of the questions test students’ vocabulary. While a strong vocabulary is helpful on the LSAT (see: “presupposition”), the LSAT doesn’t require you to learn hundreds of abstruse words. (Abstruse: a word meaning “difficult to understand or obscure” that I only know thanks to the GRE.)

In terms of difficulty, the LSAT and GRE are hard to compare because of how much their content diverges. For people who like (or at least don’t hate) math, the GRE is probably the easier test. It’s not that different from the SAT, whereas studying for the LSAT can feel like learning a new language. So if you know you’ll hate the LSAT and you don’t hate math, maybe Wake Forest will be the place for you, somewhere down the line.

But with respect to their overlap with the demands of law school, and their usefulness in predicting success in law school and beyond, I would endorse the LSAT without qualification (“qualification” in the sense of “reservation,” not “relevant experience;” this is another useful piece of LSAT vocab, incidentally). The LSAT is all about argument: the logic that underlies good arguments, and the rhetoric that papers over bad arguments. Arguing is what lawyers do. Every section of the LSAT – even the logic games – exercises the same parts of your brain that you’ll need to activate as a lawyer.

The GRE, on the other hand, tests a really varied set of skills and knowledge. The vocab it tests includes some words that are relevant to law students, but plenty that are beyond the scope of legalese. And you can be a very successful law student (and effective lawyer) without being all that good at Algebra 2.

So we’ll have to wait and see if Wake Forest ends up pursuing the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT, and whether they have any luck. For my money, though, I think we should continue to humble ourselves before the mighty LSAT. Though her judgment be harsh, she is fair.

2 Responses

  1. j says:

    I do believe sure, that higher scoring LSAT predicts higher law school success. I also believe that the lsat is incredibly unfair. I really doubt that most lawyers would be able to retake the lsat and score well, without prep. It’s such a “trainable” test, that disadvantages those that don’t have the resources to waste time learning silly logic games.

    On the other hand, I’m sure that many well educated people from a broad spectrum could sit for the GRE and do well.

    In short, the lsat tests too much artificial knowledge, with convoluted logic reasoning/logic games that invalidates too many people, while bolstering those with the means to game the system.

    • As someone who’s always had a slight (by which I mean crippling) math block, I find the GRE a little intimidating. I agree with your point about veteran lawyers when it comes to Logic Games, but I think you’d find that veteran lawyers — the good ones anyway — would have sharpened Logical Reasoning and Reading Comp skills. Those sections ask you to evaluate arguments and densely written materials, something that lawyers do all day every day.

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