End of the LSAT? Law school entry test is on the chopping block again

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C.
The American Bar Association in Washington, D.C., U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • The ABA this month will consider a proposal to eliminate its standardized testing requirement for law school admissions
  • A similar effort in 2018 failed after last-minute opposition

(Reuters) - The American Bar Association is once again considering dropping its requirement that law schools use the Law School Admission Test—or any standardized test—when weighing student applications.

A nine-member ABA committee has recommended eliminating a rule that law schools must use a “valid and reliable test” in admissions decisions. For years, the only standardized test that automatically met that criteria was the LSAT, though the ABA in November, 2021, added the GRE as an acceptable alternative.

Dropping the testing requirement would be a major shift, as the LSAT plays an outsized role in law school admission and financial aid decisions. The recommendation notes that the ABA is an outlier among medical, dental, pharmacy, business, and architecture school accreditors for requiring an admission test in its standards.

The ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which handles law school accreditation matters, is slated to discuss the proposal when it meets on May 20 in Chicago. The Council could opt to circulate the proposal for public comment, but no changes would go into effect until the Council approves it and the ABA's House of Delegates has had a chance to weigh in.

This is not the first time the ABA has taken steps to eliminate the testing requirement. The Council in 2018 approved a similar measure but withdrew it just moments before it was to be considered for final approval by the House of Delegates.

Supporters of the LSAT requirement argued then that eliminating it would disadvantage weaker students, because the test is designed to gauge first year law school performance. Without that benchmark, they said students who are unlikely to succeed in school could waste time and money. The Law School Admission Council, the nonprofit that designs and administers the LSAT, made a similar point in a statement Friday.

“Studies show test-optional policies often work against minoritized individuals, so we hope the ABA will consider these issues very carefully,” it said. The LSAC added that it believes the LSAT will continue to be a “vital tool” for law schools and applicants, and that it can significantly promote diversity when used in a holistic review of applicants.

Others have countered that the dominance of the LSAT hurts efforts to diversify legal education and the legal profession. Studies have shown significant disparity in LSAT scores across racial groups. A 2019 study found the average score for Black LSAT takers was 142, compared to 153 for white and Asian test takers.

Critics have also pointed to uneven access to LSAT preparation programs, and the fees associated with the test itself. The LSAT, which was taken by 121,000 people during the 2021 application cycle, costs $200 for test-takers. The LSAC charges another $195 for its law school application service. The nonprofit offers fee waivers to those in financial need.

The wider climate surrounding standardized admission tests has also shifted since 2018. A significant number of colleges and universities have gone test optional, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read more:

After ABA's blessing, will law schools rush to use the GRE in admissions?

Should law schools fully embrace the GRE? New report urges caution

Reporting by Karen Sloan

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com