The Legal Beat
What In The World Is The ABA Doing About The GRE?
Posted on Friday October 13, 2017
It was only a few short years ago when such a question, “what is the American Bar Association doing about the GRE?” would have seemed absurd. “Pfft, why on earth would the ABA care about the GRE, the only entrance exam that exists for law schools is the LSAT.” Oh, how young and naive we all were. Now, of course, the GRE is incredibly relevant to legal education. Six law schools — including Harvard and Northwestern — now accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. And, more — a full 25 percent of law schools, according to a recent survey — already have plans in the works to accept the GRE. So, what is the ABA going to do about it?
For those blissfully ignorant about the minutia of legal education accreditation, the ABA has a set of standards by which law schools must abide to maintain the accreditation. Relevant to this question is Standard 503, which says that alternate admission exams must be “valid and reliable.” What exactly that means or whether the GRE meets that standard is an open question. Some law schools have done their own validity testing of the GRE and found it acceptable, but the ABA has remained silent on that question. This has resulted in quite a bit of frustration from legal academia, as some schools are hesitant to invest the time and money in their own validity tests if the ABA will just come in and overrule them. In fact, in a Kaplan Test Prep survey, 61 percent of law schools want the ABA to say something — anything, really — about accepting the GRE:
They need to pick a side… I feel the process should be fairly unified. I want the ABA to be more definitive so we are playing from the same book.
So when the ABA announced this summer they would be debating a change to Standard 503, you would have thought we’d finally have an answer. They sought notice and comment to a proposed change to 503 which would have removed the separate admissions test rule. Indeed, many prognosticators thought this could be the first step to wide-spread acceptance of the GRE. But that was not to be. The Standards Review Committee rejected the proposed change, and offered up a few more options for notice and comment:
• Eliminate Standard 503 and revise Standard 501—which requires admitting competent candidates—so that it includes having a valid admissions test as a factor for determining whether a law school is in compliance with the rule. Under this proposal, the requirement of having a valid and reliable admissions test would be removed from the standards.
• Revise Standard 503 to require an admissions test that assesses applicants’ capabilities, and require that law schools publish lists of accepted tests. Under that recommendation, there would be no requirement that the council determines whether the admissions tests are valid and reliable.
• Keep requirement that admissions tests be valid and reliable, but remove “protection” that the March proposal granted to the LSAT.
The ABA’s decision to… decide nothing, is surprising. Law schools have been rapidly moving towards the GRE and these proposals won’t even be discussed until the Section meets next month. Who knows how many law schools will accept the GRE by the time the ABA makes up its mind? As revealed by the Kaplan survey, admissions professionals are eager to move forward:
I’m thinking that it’s going to become the norm. It’s one of those situations where you’re going to be left behind.
This wait and see attitude by the ABA also leaves applicants in limbo. Sure, if you only want to apply to Harvard, Northwestern, Georgetown, Arizona, Hawaii or Washington University at Saint Louis, you can just take the GRE. But how many people are only putting in those six applications? And, as Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep notes, once you take the LSAT, you are an LSAT candidate:
And even if you rock the GRE, but bomb the LSAT, law schools will see your LSAT score. You can’t only send the score you want to the schools you want. You will not be able to withhold your LSAT score. That means that while a high GRE score could mitigate against a weaker LSAT score, it will not be overlooked entirely. Plan on taking the LSAT.
So students and law schools alike are left wondering: what on earth is the ABA doing about the GRE?
Kathryn Rubino is an editor at Above the Law. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).