Law School Applications: How to Prepare for the GRE
So you’ve considered the pros and cons, and decided that you’ll take the GRE rather than the LSAT for your law school applications — how should you prepare for the test?
The most important point to understand first is that the GRE, unlike the LSAT, mostly assesses skills you have already learned at some point — reading comprehension, clear writing, and basic college math (or, as ETS, the makers of the GRE label them: verbal reasoning, analytical writing, and quantitative reasoning). So the substance should be largely a review of prior knowledge and skills rather than a dive into something new.
However, the GRE, just like the LSAT, is also a measure of your test-taking skills, both general and specific to the GRE, and these need to be developed and honed.
What’s on the test
- One Analytical Writing section with one 30-minute “analyze an issue” task
- Two Verbal Reasoning sections with a total of 27 questions over 41 minutes.
- Two Quantitative Reasoning sections with a total of 27 questions over 47 minutes
- One unscored and unidentified “research” or experimental section, which is used by the test-makers to try out new questions. This may appear in any order after the Analytical Writing section.
Putting that together, that’s just under two hours of testing.
The Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are adaptive. This means that the questions you’re fed on the second sections of each are determined in part by how you did on the first sections. When your raw score is scaled to your reportable score, the varying levels of difficulty for the sections are factored in.
You can get a good basic sense of what each section looks like from the ETS samples and descriptive videos.
The GRE is offered online or at a test center nearly every day of the year, usually with as little as 24-48 hours’ advance registration. In Massachusetts, there are test centers in Springfield, Worcester, and Boston, as well as several smaller cities.
The GRE is administered by ETS (the Educational Testing Service) which is wholly unaffiliated with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the folks who both administer the LSAT and the law school application process. What this means in practice is that you’ll need to have your GRE scores forwarded to the law schools to which you’re applying (unlike the LSAT, which is automatically reported to the law schools). Remember that if you take both tests, the law schools will see the LSAT automatically and factor it into their admissions decision.
ETS, like LSAC, provides a range of free materials to prepare you for their test, as well as additional fee-based materials, including practice tests. As with the LSAT, there are a variety of commercial prep companies who would gladly sell you expensive courses to help you prepare, and there are a number of different prep books out there as well. But remember: a higher priced option does not mean it will be a better prep method! First figure out what you need to succeed and then search out the best options for you.
The core elements of test preparation are the same for any standardized test:
- familiarize yourself with the test,
- learn the most effective strategies for approaching each type of question,
- practice on real tests and test sections (not “model” tests), and
- review your practice carefully to learn from your mistakes.
Repeat steps 3 and 4 as many times as you can, and go back to step 2 as necessary. We’ve set out the best approaches to test prep on our page on our LSAT prep, and they apply equally well to the GRE, so we won’t repeat them here.
The law schools that accept the GRE — and as of August 2023, over half of ABA-accredited law schools do so — all state clearly that they view the GRE the same as the LSAT, and give both tests equal weight in admissions. But remember that GRE-based law school admissions are still relatively new, and schools are still assessing how well the test predicts law school performance and bar passage at their own schools. Many admissions officials remain skeptical that it is as predictive of success in the first year of law school as they have found the LSAT to be. And the numbers of GRE-only test-takers remain small, so it’s tough for law schools to draw any hard conclusions from their limited data — especially in comparison to their decades-long experiences with the LSAT. The hesitation will likely be heightened by the planned shortening of the GRE in September 2023.
Accordingly, it’s fair to say that most admissions officials feel more comfortable using an LSAT score in their application assessments, but there’s no indication (yet) that comparable applicants with comparable LSAT and GRE scores are treated differently. Most law schools appear to be targeting the same percentile ranges on the GRE as they do on the LSAT—in other words, if they tend to accept 60th – 70th percentile LSAT scores, they’ll do the same with the GRE scores. For schools that enroll more than 10 GRE applicants, you can find the data on the score ranges for those applicants on the school’s 509 report.