Law School Applications: LSAT or GRE?
In 2016, for the first time, an ABA-accredited law school began accepting the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for admission to law school.
As of August 2023, over half of all ABA-accredited law schools accept the GRE for admission and in November 2021, the ABA officially approved its use by any law school that chooses to accept it. Schools that accept the GRE range from most selective to least selective, and are all over the United States. The number is increasing at a regular pace, so much so that those numbers are obsolete almost as soon as I post them. (For the 2023-24 application cycle, six of the eight Massachusetts law schools will accept the GRE.)
So, should you take the LSAT, the GRE, or both, in order to strengthen your application to law school?
The first consideration is whether all of the schools you intend to apply to are on the list of those accepting the GRE. If not, then it’s easy: you must take the LSAT.
The second question is whether you’ve already taken the LSAT. If so, there’s no point in taking the GRE. LSAC will forward your LSAT scores to all schools you apply to, and all law schools require you to submit LSAT scores if you’ve taken the test. No school allows you to substitute your GRE for your LSAT. And there’s not yet any clear indication that a very strong GRE would help an applicant overcome a less impressive LSAT.
The tougher considerations are for those of you who have not taken the LSAT and are planning to apply ONLY to schools that accept the GRE. Which test should you take? GRE-based law school admissions are still relatively new, and schools are still assessing how well the test predicts law school performance 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.
Both the LSAT and the GRE test reading comprehension and writing, but only the GRE actually scores the writing section. The LSAT requires an essay—which you take separately, on your own, not as part of the formal test administration. But that essay is simply forwarded to the law schools and not scored. The GRE essay is graded. The reading comprehension/verbal sections are also structured differently and test somewhat different skills.
The GRE has math, while the LSAT has “logic games.” The GRE’s math sections will feel somewhat familiar from your SAT or ACT experience before college. The LSAT’s logic games will only feel familiar to you if you’ve ever been a fan of logic puzzle books. For most test-takers, though. the logic games feel a little bit like reading a foreign language for the first time. That said, they’re also thought to be the most learnable part of the test, through focused prep. And if you’re math-phobic, the good news is there’s no actual math on the LSAT. If, on the other hand, math has been a strong suit for you so far, then the GRE might be more appealing, since it will test skills you’ve already acquired.
At the most general level, the GRE is testing skills you’ve already obtained, while the LSAT—in particular the logic games and the arguments sections—will require you to master new skills. Both exams, as timed, standardized tests, will require you to have good test-taking skills—speed, pacing, focus, and the ability to quickly distinguish right answers from almost-right alternatives.
So how should you make this decision? Probably the best way is to take a full-length, timed practice test of each type, and see how it goes. Did you perform better on one over the other? Does one feel more in sync with your capacities than the other? A significant part of this decision should be based on which testing experience will be more successful for you. (But don’t give any credence to all those posts you might find online claiming that one test is easier than the other. It really depends on the test-taker.)
You might also want to consider timing and availability. The GRE is offered nearly every day online and at many of its test centers. The LSAT is offered just eight times a year—usually every month except March, May, July, and December.
The in-person GRE is offered on a desktop computer (and online since COVID), and parts of the test are adaptive. Both the verbal (reading) sections and the quantitative (math) sections are adaptive by section, meaning that if you do well in your first verbal section, your second one will present you with harder questions (and vice versa).
The LSAT has been offered online since COVID and will continue to be in this format for the foreseeable future. It is not adaptive—the questions on each section are the same, regardless of how well you may have done on prior sections.
Recommendation: For now, the LSAT will remain the go-to test for the overwhelming majority of prospective law students, both because a large number of ABA-accredited law schools do not yet accept the GRE, and because of the skepticism mentioned above. It’s still the uncommon student who will face this dilemma in the first place. For those who do—for those whose target schools ALL accept the GRE—the recommendation is that you assess and then play to your strengths. Take the test you are more likely to do well on.