It started with one trend-setting school, the University of Arizona. Now, over 30 law schools accept the GRE for their law school’s entrance exam, including top ranking schools Harvard, Columbia, andNYU. That might not seem like many, but about a decade ago, the same thing happened with the business schools. A few started accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT, and now over 1300 do. In addition to the law schools already accepting it, many more schools are currently determining if the GRE is a“valid and reliable” test to determine success (the American Bar Association’s requirement). So, we will likely see a rise in GRE-accepting law schools in the coming years.
What’s in it for Law Schools?
Law schools began accepting the GRE to make it easier for applicants to apply and to appeal to a broader range of students.
They are trying to find ways to encourage students with different skill sets and backgrounds to apply, most notably those with STEM majors or in STEM-related graduate programs. As the need for technical and scientific expertise increases, the legal field needs to draw more of these students to the profession, and is working with law schools to do so. Accepting the GRE is one way to attract these would-be lawyers.
For students currently working on advanced degrees, the commitment required to prepare for the LSAT is often seen as a roadblock. Law schools acknowledge this, and are starting to realize that saying to a student, “Yes, you have an impeccable background, excellent grades, and several advanced degrees, but…we won’t take you unless you take this one specific test” is putting not just the student, but the profession and the schools themselves at a disadvantage. Current graduate school students and those who have recently earned their degrees can apply using their previous GRE score.
The GRE applicant pool trends toward those students not only with STEM backgrounds, but also those with significant work experience, international students, and those in underrepresented racial groups. All of this adds to the diversity of incoming law school classes and eventually future courtrooms.
So, Should You Take the LSAT or the GRE?
GRE vs. LSAT
First, a little background on the format and subject matter of the two tests.
The GRE (or Graduate Record Examination) is written to test the skills you need to be successful in graduate school and your subsequent career. It is accepted as an admissions test for thousands of graduate schools worldwide, now including over 30 law schools.
The LSAT (or Law School Acceptance Test) is accepted by all American Bar Association-approved law schools and Canadian common-law law schools. The LSAT is designed to test the skills needed specifically for success in law school and the legal profession.
Both test reading comprehension, and logical reasoning, although the LSAT has a separate section for the latter. Both also have a writing section.
Both have been shown to be a predictor of graduate school success, although there is some debate about the GRE’s ability to do so for law school. The ETS (the maker of the GRE) released a study that concludes that the GRE does predict law school success. However, unsurprisingly, the LSAC (the maker of the LSAT), disagrees. A third party has not done any studies to determine if the GRE can reliably predict law school success, although the schools that have started accepting students who have taken the GRE have reported success.
The similarities end just about there.
The GRE is a computer adaptive test compared to the traditional pen and pencil LSAT. While not the most important thing, this is still something to consider when choosing which test to take.
Convenience and Scheduling:
The GRE is a computer adaptive test that can be taken near-daily at local test centers, so is much more convenient and works for those rushing to get a test scheduled before an admission deadline. Because it is computer-delivered, students receive a preliminary score immediately upon completing the exam.
Unlike the GRE, the LSAT is a paper and pencil test that is administered only a handful of times a year at designated testing centers. Scores are available three to four weeks after the test completion.
The GRE is much more convenient, and depending on your application deadlines may be the better (or only) choice.
After finishing the GRE, you will be given individual scores for the verbal and quantitative sections (170 is the highest score), for a total score of 340 with a separate essay score (out of 6). The schools you apply to will be able to see all of these scores, if you choose to release them. Once you finish the test, you are able to see your preliminary score (not including the essay), and can determine if you want the schools to see them.
Because the LSAT is a paper test, it takes several weeks to score. You will get one individual score. 180 is the highest. Schools will see your score no matter what, so a bad score has the ability to haunt you throughout the application process.
The biggest difference (aside from the format, the availability, and the acceptance of the tests) is that the GRE has two quantitative sections. This is particularly appealing to some students, most notably those with STEM backgrounds, and particularly daunting for others.
While having an extensive vocabulary is certainly not going to hurt you on any standardized test, the GRE specifically tests vocabulary. The LSAT does not.
The GRE has two writing sections that are scored from 0-6. Their importance depends on the school. The LSAT has a writing section, but it isn’t scored. It gets sent to the admissions officers at your chosen school and may be a piece of the admission puzzle. Or it may never even get read.
If the Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE strikes fear in test takes, the Analytical Reasoning section does the same for LSAT takers. These questions are more difficult for most test takers than traditional standardized test questions, and are usually where students struggle the most.
Is the LSAT Harder Than The GRE?
This is one of the most common questions asked for students deciding between the two tests. And again, the answer is it depends. There really is no objective answer to this question. To those students that haven’t taken a math class in many years, the GRE may pose a greater challenge because of that one section. But, the LSAT is challenging throughout, and a smaller percentage of test takers end up with perfect scores.
Taking a few online sample tests to determine if the LSAT is harder than the GRE for you is a great option for those deciding between the two tests.
LSAT v. GRE: So, Which One Should You Take?
The short answer is that it depends on your goals, your history, your timeline, and your skills.
Consider the GRE if:
- If you are still determining your career goals, weighing your options between business school, other graduate programs, and law school. This is probably the best reason to take the GRE rather than the LSAT. However, it is important to remember, that law schools are only permitted to admit only 10% of their incoming class without the traditional LSAT score. And those candidates must meet other requirements, outlined by the ABA here.
- You are only considering one of these GRE-accepting law schools.
- You excel at math. Let the GRE show off your math skills, which (according to ETS, the GRE test maker) are comparable to the Analytical Reasoning section of the LSAT.
- You are on a time crunch. If you need to take an entrance exam quickly, in order to meet application deadlines, the GRE is most likely your best option.
- You’d like the option to take the test more than once, without your results going to your school of choice. The GRE allows you to decide which results you send to the schools, while the LSAT sends them all.
- You are terrified of (or just not that great at) the logic games. If this is the only reason, take a look at a few LSAT test prep courses, and brush up. You may find that these logic games aren’t as hard as you think.
Consider the LSAT if:
- Because the LSAT is still the only exam accepted at all law schools, it is best for those applying to just law schools, and a variety of them.
- You intend to apply to more than just these schools.
- You hate math. The LSAT doesn’t have a quantitative section, so if you aren’t strong in this area, the LSAT may be the better test for you. If this is the only reason to take the LSAT, take a look at a few GRE test prep courses, and focus your studies primarily on the quantitative section.
- You want to compare yourself to the cohorts ahead of you. Law schools publish the stats of their incoming classes, including their average GPAs and LSAT scores. They have not yet published their GRE averages. If you want to compare yourself ahead of time in order to set a goal, your only option is the LSAT, at least for now.
If you are still weighing your options between the two tests, keep an eye out in the coming months to see if more schools begin accepting the GRE. If your dream school accepts it, and you excel at math, or want to keep your options open, then that might be the better choice. If you have been dreaming of being a lawyer since high school, and will definitely only apply to law school, then the LSAT is a good choice for you that will keep your law school options open.
At the end of the day, taking the time to properly prepare for either test will likely determine your success to a greater degree than the decision of which test to take.