If you’re planning on applying to law school, you’ve probably heard stirrings that standardized tests—usually the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), sometimes the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) —may not be required for long. In the post below, we walk through where things stand now, what you can expect, and why this change may be on the horizon.

What’s happening with the LSAT?

It used to be that law schools were required by the American Bar Association, or the ABA, to call for applicants’ LSAT scores. In recent years, though, this dictum has blurred around the edges. In 2021, the ABA (actually, to be exact, the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar) voted to let law schools accept GRE scores instead of LSAT scores, if they chose. (This official vote followed independent decisions by multiple law schools, starting five years prior, to accept the GRE without the ABA’s approval. The first time this happened, in 2016, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) threatened to remove the offending school, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, from the organization. This didn’t come to pass.)

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So, where things stand now: law schools have to require “a valid and reliable admissions test” as part of their application requirements. The type of test is now up to individual law schools, though with rare exceptions this means either the LSAT or the GRE.

In the coming years, that might change, as the ABA is considering whether to drop the standardized admissions test requirement altogether. There’s been a lot of arcane back-and-forth among various subcomponents of the ABA, so here’s a super-abbreviated history:

  • In April of 2022, the Strategic Review Committee of the American Bar Association recommended eliminating the standardized test requirement. This was only a recommendation, however—one the committee doesn’t have the power to codify. That’s up to the aforementioned Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
  • In November of 2022, that council voted to drop the LSAT requirement. So—it’s gone, right? Not so fast. The next step: the council had to ask the ABA’s House of Delegates what they thought.
  • In February of this year, the House of Delegates voted no on the council’s decision. Womp, womp. But the House doesn’t have the power to overturn the council’s decision: they just have the right to voice their opinion. Back to the council went the decision.
  • Swiftly, the council decided to move forward with the proposal to eliminate the standardized testing requirement despite the House’s “no” vote.

So the testing requirement is vanishing, right? Again: not so fast. The matter will return to the House for a second vote this August. After that, the council can do whatever it wants, no matter what the House thinks. If after all that, the council still wants to eliminate standardized testing from law school admissions, the policy recommendation may go into effect as soon as 2026, but law schools would still have the authority to continue to require the test.

What are the arguments for and against standardized testing?

Proponents of both eliminating and keeping the standardized testing requirement argue that doing so will increase the diversity of law school cohorts.

  • Eliminating the requirement. Those in favor argue that dropping LSAT and/or GRE requirements will “give law schools more flexibility in how they recruit and admit students,” as The New York Times puts it. They point out that the rise of a robust test-preparation industry has given wealthier applicants a huge—and unfair—leg up over applicants who can’t afford such courses. (As former ABA President Hilarie Bass summarized this argument: “What we now know is that [the LSAT] is an impediment for people without the economic means to study for this test.”) Moreover, the requirement that law schools ask for standardized test scores is unusual: most other kinds of graduate programs are not required by their accrediting agencies to ask for test scores (although individual schools may require that applicants submit test scores).
  • Keeping the requirement. Those who want to keep the standardized testing requirement, though, also feel it has the power to make law school student bodies more diverse, arguing that the LSAT “allows students who may not have prestigious pedigrees to be selected.” Without a numerical means of comparison, admissions officers’ biases might be given freer rein. Moreover, assuming the LSAT is, as advertised, an excellent predictor of success in law school, eliminating it might set students who would’ve scored poorly up for failure later on. Finally, opponents of eliminating the testing requirement want more time to do research into the potential ramifications of such a decision.

How are things trending so far?

Since law schools began offering the GRE as an option—first disobediently, in 2016, and in line with the ABA’s regulations since 2021—more and more schools have opted to let applicants submit GRE scores in lieu of LSAT scores if they wish. Currently, 108 out of 199 ABA-accredited law schools accept the GRE, according to ETS (see their complete list of GRE-accepting schools here). This number has risen steeply in recent years: it was 100 in October of last year, “more than 70” in December of 2021, and only 26 in May of 2019. There is evidence that the percentage of applicants submitting GRE instead of LSAT scores is rising, too; between 2018 and 2021, for example, Georgetown University Law Center saw GRE applicants triple.

All this suggests that no matter what the ABA decides about the standardized testing requirement, the dominance of the LSAT in particular is declining.

Debates about diversity aside, it’s fair to wonder if part of some law schools’ motivation to eliminate the LSAT requirement has been to boost application numbers, which in turn produces a lower—and more impressive—admit rate. (One person quoted in the New York Times’ most recent article about the LSAT debate, dean of Howard University law school Danielle R. Holley, worried that if schools weren’t required to ask for standardized tests, they’d drop them like a hot potato out of a sheer desire to get more applicants.) Law schools’ applicant pools are far from flagging: from the enrollment year of 2016 to 2022, the number of applicants increased 10% (from 56,806 to 62,545) and the number of individual applications has shot up even more, at a 22% increase (from 352,018 to 429,786). But given that the higher the numbers, the better for schools’ rankings, even more would be even better (from the perspective of the law schools). Colleges provide a model for this approach: as they have increasingly gone test-optional, applicant numbers have soared.

For guidance on navigating testing or other complexities of the law school admissions process, feel free to contact us. As always, at Collegiate Gateway, we’re happy to help!