Why the LSAT Should Be Retired

Starting this fall Harvard Law School will allow applicants to submit their scores from either the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). This is a significant departure from the last 70 years, where LSATs have been considered a rite of passage.

Even though the LSAT provides a “neutral” way to measure students from diverse schools and programs, it’s continued use must be questioned.

Many of the critiques that apply to the SAT apply to the LSAT. The SAT has been “called out of touch, instructionally irrelevant, and a contributor to the diversity gaps on college campuses because the test benefits wealthier students who can afford heaps of preparation.”

The same applies to the LSAT. The LSAT has nothing to do with what is taught in law school, features questions that favour students of certain socio-economic backgrounds, and caters to Americans over Canadians. LSAT questions are centred on American history, politics, and legal cases. Meaning that often times students with a specific background have an easier time comprehending the questions.

This is problematic. If a test is supposed to be a “neutral” way to measure applicants from diverse backgrounds, then it should not matter what you studied in school, how rich you are, or where you live.

Moreover, the test is irrelevant to legal practice. There has never been a time when I thought or heard someone say: “the only thing I need to solve this problem is to use my LSAT taking skills”.

So what’s the solution?

Eradicating the LSAT without a substitute isn’t the right way to go. Some programs are notoriously more difficult than others or are graded on a different scale. For example, getting a 100% in a political science class is rare. But getting a 100% in a science course is possible and common. So simply relying on grades as a metric is insufficient.

Perhaps the solution is in-person interviews?

(Views expressed in this blog are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization.)

Comments

  1. “LSAT questions are centred on American history, politics, and legal cases. Meaning that often times students with a specific background have an easier time comprehending the questions.”

    The above doesn’t seem to make any sense since the LSAT (at least when I took it) contained no references to history, politics or legal cases, American or otherwise. In fact, it would make no sense to test people on legal knowledge before they’ve attended their first class of law school. If the author meant “SAT” in the above quote, the whole paragraph would makes no sense.

    A more persuasive argument would be for the author to to describe the level of statistical correlation between law school success and LSAT score. Probably the correlation isn’t strong (as is the case with the SAT), but that discussion is conspicuously missing from this post.

  2. Hi Heather,

    While I completely agree with the critique of the LSAT as an inadequate and inefficient tool for law school admissions, I’m curious about this point in your column — the suggestion that the test’s questions are ‘centered on American history, politics, and legal cases’. I didn’t find that to be so in any significant way… I always thought the issues were more about biases like stereotype threat, etc, and of course the advantages that flow to privileged students who can afford expensive preparation (particularly in regards to the logic games section). I’m also not sure about the assertion that getting a 100% in a science course is common– my understanding is that grade inflation is more prevalent in the arts, and if anything, GPA’s in the STEM fields are generally lower.

    It’s such a tricky issue- interviews sound good at first, but can introduce even more unconscious bias into the mix if done inexpertly…

  3. It’s been a few years since I wrote the LSAT but I don’t recall it containing anything about American history, politics, or legal cases. It’s all about logic games and reading comprehension. It certainly favours students who can afford to take prep courses and probably those who have English as a first language, but I can’t imagine how it would cater to Americans but not Canadians.

    In theory at least, it is testing students for clear analytical thinking under time constrains, not substantive legal knowledge that one might use later on in practice. As John pointed out in the comment above, that wouldn’t make any sense.

    The LSAT is a crude tool for predicting law school success but I’m not sure I’ve heard of any better ideas.

  4. Re: “For example, getting a 100% in a political science class is rare. But getting a 100% in a science course is possible and common. So simply relying on grades as a metric is insufficient.
    Perhaps the solution is in-person interviews?”

    One major benefit of the LSAT is that for someone who has poor marks a good LSAT score may give a law school a reason to look deeper, and consider that maybe the person’s undergraduate field of study has nothing to do with the skills called for in law school.

    At the universities I am familiar with, getting 100% in a science course was certainly not “common”. But leaving out such extremes, I would agree that different programs at different universities have different mark ranges (either in terms of likely, or possible, marks – e.g. some professors would not give marks above a certain percentage no matter what). Furthermore, getting good – or bad – marks in some subjects, e.g. science, involves far less overlap with some of the skills called for in law school (reading, written non-scientific analysis, etc.) than political science.

    And as for in-person interviews, that benefits those who are more outgoing and less introverted, it’s simply testing a different set of skills that are unrelated to success in law school per se – and yet something else that some people would have the time and money to study and prepare for more than others…

  5. “And as for in-person interviews, that benefits those who are more outgoing and less introverted, it’s simply testing a different set of skills that are unrelated to success in law school per se – and yet something else that some people would have the time and money to study and prepare for more than others…”

    I wholeheartedly agree with this statement — and it applies to all forms of interviewing. Job interviews that are weighted 100% over any consideration of a person’s resumé and experience are extremely troubling and, in my view, discriminatory against those who are introverted and more averse to blowing their own horn or exaggerating their accomplishments.

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