Law schools place too much weight on LSAT scores

Karen Blyton argues that law schools place too much importance on standardized test score instead of looking at other aspects of a students’ academic history. For prospective law and graduate students looking to apply to

Screen shot 2011-10-24 at 6.28.46 PMKaren Blyton argues that law schools place too much importance on standardized test score instead of looking at other aspects of a students’ academic history.

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

karen.blyton@temple.edu.

 

6 Comments

  1. Don’t forget that the LSAT tests your logic, writing and reading comprehension skills. To say “Oh, well I’m a journalism major with a 3.8 GPA” compares to “I’m a Physics and Math Major with a 3.8 GPA” is silly.

    Also, don’t sensationalize the numbers – in 2010, an LSAT of 160 is around a 77% on the test versus a 158 being a 74%. There is *definitely* a difference between a C+ and a C.

  2. It’s difficult to find an argument that trumps the “it levels the playing field” argument. More difficult than the LSAT itself.

  3. As I understand it, schools use the LSAT/GPA weighted score to determine which applications to spend the most amount of time on – students with unacceptably low scores are quickly rejected while outstanding applicants are quickly accepted before they commit to another school. This allows the admit committee to spend the most amount of time with the “hard cases” – students who don’t have perfect #s but could make contributions to the school and profession nonetheless.

    This system ensures fairness for the people in the middle. Last year, for example, Harvard received 6,364 applications. Let’s pretend it takes just 15 minutes to review an application (and in reality it takes much longer), and that each application is read by exactly three people. That’s over 4,700 man hours spent reviewing applications – or, over 198 complete days just reading the applications. Obviously, it would be impossible to complete this in a way that was both timely and reliable. So instead, Harvard cuts off anyone with an LSAT score too low to succeed at the school (say, 164 and below), quickly reviews and, if acceptable, admits people with outstanding scores (maybe 178+), while spending the bulk of their time on the “soft factors” of the students in the middle. The LSAT isn’t perfect, but there’s not a better alternative – giving greater weight to the soft factors would only encourage bullshit, and I think we can all agree that there’s enough of that already in the legal profession.

    “Law-related employment” would be a nice metric in theory, but it would be too easy to game in practice. The biggest joke (and scandal) in law school stats today is the nine-month employment figure, since schools count Starbucks baristas towards this figure. Even if you could fix this, how do you define “law-related professions” – do paralegals and process servers count? Also, not all lawyer jobs are created equal – being on a partner track or clerking for a circuit judge shouldn’t weigh as heavily as working for a personal injury huckster. (As far as bar passage rates, all schools already publish that figure, so I guess your wish has been granted.)

    Don’t forget: the LSAT has been around a lot longer than the USNWR rankings. Schools were placing an emphasis on LSAT scores before they felt any pressure to inflate scores to raise their median.

    A quick coda: I don’t think there’s any validity in the “some people don’t do well on standardized tests” argument. In law school, most class grades are based primarily or even exclusively on summative exams – and, at the end of law school, lawyers-to-be have to pass another standardized exam that is far more difficult than the LSAT.

  4. Let’s be serious:

    The LSAT is about as egalitarian as the tax rate in the US. To consider this test fair, you’d probably have to assume that everyone has the same starting position and has an equal chance to do well. You’d probably have to assume that all parties taking it have had an equal shot at the best education.

    You’re not taking into account a poor minority child from inner city *insert urban setting here*. Or even just a poor child, you don’t even need to include race. The LSAT’s not fair, and it’s surely not even. We were NOT conditioned to think in a way that’s conducive to what the LSAT looks for. The individuals that have received that training much sooner have a greater advantage and the test caters more so towards these individuals. It’s not equal when you have more work to do just to reach that starting spot of someone that already has an advantage. You don’t even get the chance to realize these gaps in your education until you start to study for this test. It takes longer for things to click for me than it did to some of colleagues who had lived in areas with better school systems, and it in no way speaks to my work ethic or intelligence.

    This test is like giving one child a blank sheet of paper, and the other child a sheet with a sketch somewhat started and telling them to both they have 35 minutes to finish the same sketch. One kid has a BLANK SHEET.

    The LSAT undercuts everything I’ve worked for, everything I’ve gained with the opportunity that I had to rise above my setting and better myself by boiling it down to a set of numbers that are too small. My drive and work ethic might make me a more resilient candidate that can actually SURVIVE law school as opposed to my cookie cutter colleague who got a 170 but has lived their entire life in a bubble and probably don’t know how to adapt once their settings change. But you can’t get that out of a formula, and these schools will have frankly wasted a spot on someone who’s going to burn out anyway. This also doesn’t mean I see the gap and take a seat. I acknowledge the gap, and work my hardest to traverse it. But you HAVE to acknowledge the gap.

    The LSAT is, and will continue to be, as equal as our education system is. No more, no less.

  5. Sorry to be a party pooper… But would anyone want to go to lawschool and become an attorney? You give up an additional 3 years of earning income to enter an industry that is unforgiven and over saturated. Nobody “loves” law, prospectus students think this will be a golden ticket to the big leagues, however, I find a astonishing amount of attorney’s spending their checks to “self – medicate”. Why is that?

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