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

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Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • A report commissioned by the American Bar Association stopped short of endorsing the GRE
  • GRE supporters say it missed the big picture

(Reuters) - The arm of the American Bar Association that accredits law schools shouldn’t put the Graduate Record Examination on equal footing with the Law School Admission Test without more data on how it predicts first-year grades, according to a new report by researchers the ABA tasked with evaluating the GRE's promise.

The ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar is giving the public until Oct. 31 to weigh in on the report, which has opened a new front in the long-running battle over whether ABA standards should explicitly allow the use of the GRE in admissions, as they do the LSAT.

The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in 2016 became the first to allow either LSAT or GRE scores. Since then at least 71 other ABA-accredited law schools have joined it, including 11 of the so-called T-14 schools. But GRE use overall remains limited, with less than 1% of first-year law students in 2020 applying with GRE scores, according to ABA data.

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Admissions deans have said accepting the GRE helps them reach a wider pool of applicants — particularly those with backgrounds in STEM fields. And because the GRE is administered throughout the year, in contrast with the LSAT's seven annual tests, it can be more convenient for applicants, schools have said.

The ABA’s current admission standard requires law schools to consider LSAT scores or a “valid and reliable” alternative to test applicants' likelihood of getting though law school. The University of Arizona conducted a study with Educational Testing Service, which makes the GRE, in which researchers compared GRE scores and law school grades and concluded that the GRE was a “valid and reliable” indicator of law school performance.

ETS conducted an expanded study in 2018 with 21 law schools and reached the same conclusion, prompting a flood of law schools to begin accepting GRE scores. The ABA later retained the University of Iowa’s Center for Advanced Studies in Measurement and Assessment (CASMA) to examine the 2018 ETS study in a bid to help the ABA decide whether to revise its admission standards.

The CASMA report, released late last month, found that the 2018 ETS study provided an “insufficient basis for a clear recommendation” that the LSAT and GRE can be used interchangeably. It recommends that a pilot study be conducted with a sample of law schools to determine whether both tests can be used successfully.

ETS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the CASMA report. But University of Arizona law dean Marc Miller said in an interview that the ABA’s review should have focused not on the 2018 ETS study but on the hundreds of law students who have already been admitted with GRE scores.

“What they’d see — at least with us — is indistinguishable outcomes on grades, bar pass, employment and everything else,” Miller said

Should the ABA move forward with a revised standard that allows both the LSAT and the GRE, the CASMA report recommends that it revisit that policy within three to five years to assess the results.

The ABA’s legal education council is slated to review the CASMA report and public comments when it meets Nov. 18-20.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at