There comes a moment in all students’ LSAT studies, often during a late-night study session after the last slice of leftover pizza has been consumed, when they begin to question why the LSAT exists.
What does this test have to do with being a lawyer?. After all the years of hard work I’ve put into my education, why does one exam play such an pivotal role in determining if I go to Yale or the University of Phoenix?
And they’re not alone in questioning the validity of the LSAT. Rumors have swirled regarding the fate of the test almost since its creation in 1948.
Most recently, however, the intimation that the LSAT might soon meet its demise came in January 2011, when the American Bar Association announced that it was considering making the LSAT an optional resource for law schools. Meanwhile, universities like the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover have already taken measures to not require LSAT scores.
The latest demand to change or eradicate the LSAT is partly a result of the controversy surrounding law school job placement data. The number of people taking the LSAT has risen almost every year since the turn of the century, and more people took the LSAT in 2010 than any other year in history. Those numbers didn’t mix well with the recession; there were fewer jobs for more graduates.
Eventually, the LSAT got tied into this. Maybe if there were more than just an independent (and pricey) test, critics argued, there would be fewer applicants. Fewer applicants would mean fewer graduates and, hopefully, less competition in the legal job market.
Putting aside the questionable validity of this argument for a moment, I’d like to focus on the benefits of the LSAT that shouldn’t be ignored.
When schools such as Harvard look across the wide sea of law school hopefuls, the LSAT currently provides the best basis for comparison. GPAs vary widely across schools and majors. For example, how does one compare a music major from Amherst with a 3.6 against a math major from Tennessee State with a 3.2? Other non-qualitative factors such as the personal statement or letters of recommendation render comparisons between applicants even more difficult.
Because the test is normalized across administrations, (LSAC, the makers of the test, goes to great pains to accomplish this), schools can compare students taking essentially the same exam. Additionally, there is a strong correlation between a student’s LSAT score and their first-year law school grades.
In the end, there are substantial benefits to be gained from the LSAT. Law schools get the constant that allows for checks and balances in admissions, and students get a chance to make up for lackluster grades as an undergraduate by studying hard for one big exam and acing it.
So I recommend to all would-be lawyers out there: Call for a new pizza delivery and get back to work. The LSAT hasn’t been eliminated yet, and that can be a very good thing.
Hank Layton runs Blueprint LSAT Preparation, provides social media services, and edits Most Strongly Supported, a law school and LSAT blog.
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