For prospective law and graduate students looking to apply to top graduate schools upon earning their bachelor’s degree, one score formulated from standardized tests, including the GRE or LSAT, will be a major component in deciding which school they’ll be attending next fall. Research shows that the LSAT is even more influential than the GRE in admissions decisions.
As a student who has studied for and taken the LSAT, I have been told numerous times that my score from the three-and-half-hour test will be the determining factor of where I will be admitted for law school. I understand that law schools want to admit the most academically competitive students, but I do not think it is the best practice for law schools to weigh one standardized test score heavily against other factors in an application, including a student’s GPA, work history, recommendation letters or personal statement.
When making admissions decisions, several law schools do not admit that they use a weighted formula containing a student’s LSAT score and GPA. However, the admissions calculator supplied on the Law School Admissions Council website and the administrator of the LSAT, indicate otherwise.
The LSAC admissions calculator claims to have a 95 percent accuracy rate of devising what a 2010 law school applicant’s chances would be of being admitted to a wide list of law schools by using a student’s LSAT score and GPA. The calculator is based on data from 2010 law school admissions decisions. The extent to which a LSAT score is weighted more than your GPA is staggering.
For example, when I enter an LSAT score of 160 and a 3.88 GPA into the admissions calculator, LSAC claims that I would have a 64 percent to 74 percent likelihood of being admitted to a Top 100 law school. However, if I enter the same GPA with an LSAT score of 158–just two points lower–LSAC claims that I would only have a 46 percent to 56 percent chance of getting into the same law school.
Pre-law Advisor Dr. Paul Crowe said the LSAT is supposed to put applicants on a level playing field to compare how students might perform academically in a law school environment.
“It’s very difficult to compare GPAs from different schools and even different colleges and majors,” Crowe said. “The LSAT on the other hand is one standard test taken by everyone. It is thus one of the most objective and fair criteria they have for admitting students.”
However, there are many factors that make the exam inherently unequal. LSAC recommends that students prepare for the test in some way before taking it. People financially privileged have an advantage against other LSAT test takers because they have access to the best private tutors and have the ability to pay for prep classes that can cost thousands of dollars. Even well-known test preparation companies that frequent Main Campus offer classes that start at $549 for just an online course.
There are also some students who have a history of not performing well on standardized tests, yet thrive academically, making the test an inaccurate indicator of how well these students may perform in law school.
In order to make the LSAT less important on a law school application than the status quo, the problematic method of how law schools are ranked must be addressed.
“The median LSAT score of admitted students is a significant factor in the U.S. News rankings of law schools,” Crowe said. “Therefore, not giving weight to the LSAT in admissions might lead to the ranking of a school falling.”
“To the extent that the legal world and law school applicants themselves use these rankings as a guide to the quality of law schools, a law school cannot afford to let their median LSAT drop and may seek to improve it,” Crowe added.
Instead of ranking law schools by the LSAT scores of its admitted students, I think a more important indicator of a law school’s ranking is its percentage of graduates who attain employment in a law-related field upon graduation. Some law schools have a higher percentage of employed graduates than others.
I would also like law schools to publish the percentage of its graduates who pass the Bar examination on the first attempt. After all, if I am going to be $100,000 in debt after three years of law school, I would like to base my decision of where I go not only on how good its students are at taking a standardized test, but on what law school is going to give me the education I need to actually become a practicing lawyer.
Karen Blyton can be reached at