Traditionally, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has been the examination most closely associated with law school admissions. Even the fictional Elle Woods from "Legally Blonde" dedicated herself to studying for the LSAT (it paid off; she got a 179). The LSAT has always been an important element of law school applications because it is considered an accurate predictor of a student’s first year grades.1 Although the LSAT remains a key piece of the law school admissions process in the United States and Canada, as well as in a growing number of other countries, it is no longer the only test used by admissions committees.
In February of 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law became the first law school in the US to accept the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), in addition to the LSAT, from all prospective students. It was determined that the GRE met the American Bar Association’s Legal Education Standard for use in admissions to law school programs since a study concluded that it, too, was a valid and reliable predictor of grades.2 In just a few years, dozens of other law schools decided to accept the GRE in addition to the LSAT: Columbia Law School, Cornell Law School, Duke University School of Law, Harvard Law School, Georgetown University Law Center, and Yale Law School, among many other prestigious schools, now offer applicants the option of submitting a GRE score.
It is worth noting that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC)—the non-profit organization that administers the LSAT—continues to maintain that “The LSAT is the only test accepted by all ABA-accredited law schools, and it is the only test that helps candidates determine if law school is right for them.”3 However, there is just no getting around the fact that the GRE is here to stay in the world of law school admission. Therefore, the most important question is which standardized test is the right one for you to take.
What is the LSAT?
As discussed elsewhere on this site, the LSAT is a two-part test. There is a multiple choice portion comprising reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning questions. Despite misconceptions, there are no legal questions on the LSAT (such legal questions appear, instead, on the bar exam). It is also worth highlighting that there are no math questions in any of the multiple choice sections. The second part of the LSAT is a written essay, which is referred to as “LSAT Writing”. LSAT Writing is administered separately from the multiple choice section; a law school applicant can complete the LSAT Writing up to eight days prior to the multiple choice test.3
How is the LSAT Scored?
All of the questions on the multiple choice portion of the LSAT are weighted equally. Your LSAT score is based on the number of questions answered correctly. Most importantly, there is no deduction for incorrect answers; an LSAT taker is always better off guessing than leaving a question unanswered. The lowest possible test score on the LSAT is a 120 and the highest is a 180.
What is the GRE?
The GRE General Test is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) and consists of three sections: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.4
- The Analytical Writing section is made up of two separate, timed writing tasks: (1) Analyze an Issue; and (2) Analyze an Argument. Both tasks require you to provide written responses to a prompt.
- The Verbal Reasoning section has three question types: (1) Reading Comprehension; (2) Text Completion; and (3) Sentence Equivalence. The subject matter of the Reading Comprehension is balanced among natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences (which includes business). The length of the passages varies from one paragraph to five paragraphs.
- The Quantitative Reasoning section has four question types: (1) Quantitative Comparison; (2) Multiple-choice - Select One Answer Choice; (3) Multiple-choice - Select One or More Answer Choices; and (4) Numeric Entry Questions.4
How is the GRE Scored?
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning Sections are scored based on the number of correct responses. The score range of both of these sections is 130 to 170. These sections are section-level adaptive, which means that the computer selects the questions in the second part based on your performance on the first part. As you might anticipate, the scoring for the Analytical Writing section is more involved. Each essay is scored by at least one person on the basis of a six-point holistic scale. Such scoring takes into account the overall quality of the essay in connection with the assigned task. Each essay is also separately scored by a computer program developed by ETS. When the human score and the computer score closely align, the final score is the average of those two scores. If there is a significant discrepancy between the two scores, a second human score is added. The two human scores are then averaged, and that becomes the final score. Ultimately, the average of the two essay scores is rounded to the nearest half-point interval on a scale of 0 to 6.5
Comparing the LSAT and the GRE
|When is the test administered?||Offered roughly once a month; the date is selected by LSAC||Offered almost daily; the date is selected by the test taker|
|How many times can you take the test?||No more than three times in a year||Once every 21 days, but no more than five times in a year|
|Where is the test accepted?||Accepted by all ABA-accredited law schools||Only accepted by a few dozen ABA-accredited law schools|
|Does the test include math?||No||Yes; one entire section is math|
|Can you use the test to apply to other degree programs?||No; the LSAT is for law school admissions only||Yes; many business schools and other graduate school programs will accept the GRE|
|How long is the test?||Roughly 3 hours, plus a 10 minute break between the second and third sections||Roughly three hours and 45 minutes, plus limited breaks|
|How much does the test cost?||$200||$205|