GRE vs. LSAT: Answers from the Deans

The introduction of the GRE to the law school admissions process has created a great deal of questions, confusion, and theories about how it’s being used. Almost everyday we get these questions, and as with the free-for-all of advice on the internet, the reality of how it impacts the admissions process can be confounding. Because of this confusion and lack of reliable advice, we wanted to help you sort out how to think about the GRE — so we took some of the most commonly asked questions to our friends, law school admissions deans! Many thanks to David Kirschner, Associate Dean and Dean of Admissions at USC Gould School of Law; Jay Shively, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at Wake Forest University School of Law; Kristi Jobson, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer at Harvard Law School; Nicole Vilches, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Chicago-Kent College of Law; Rob Schwartz, Assistant Dean of Admissions at UCLA School of Law; Gordon Smith, Dean of the Reuben Clark Law School at BYU; and Graeme Blake, Creator of LSAT Hacks for taking the time to respond to our questions!

Before we begin, just a quick note about the difference between the GRE and LSAT:

Graeme Blake from LSAT Hacks explains the difference: “The GRE is a math and verbal test used for general grad school admissions as well as business school admissions. The LSAT is a test of logic and analysis used for law school admissions. They do test somewhat different things. How effective the GRE is remains to be seen — schools are currently in a testing phase. The theory is that since both tests ultimately are testing precise thinking, the higher scorers in each group would be suited for law school.”

If you have not yet taken either the LSAT or GRE, this is a good question to ask because you can determine what test is best for you to take based on your own strengths. As Jay Shively from Wake Forest wisely pointed out, “It's important to know whether as an applicant one might be limiting their options if they don't take the LSAT… I anticipate that we'll continue to see the number and range of schools accepting the GRE grow exponentially as more is known about the impact on law schools, including bar passage rate, employability, and rankings. Today, though, [applicants should] be sure they have the necessary credentials for consideration.”

Let’s start with the questions from students still deciding between taking the GRE or the LSAT…

Aren’t they testing different things? How could you possibly use the GRE to replace the LSAT?

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): Despite the fact that the LSAT and GRE test different skills, the schools who have opted to accept the GRE so far have gone through correlation studies that strongly indicate that GRE is as predictive of law school performance as LSAT. Therefore schools that I am aware of are doing their best to treat the tests in similar ways as a part of their consideration process.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): Chicago-Kent decided to accept GRE scores following a validation study that showed that scoring from the quantitative reasoning section of the GRE is a valid predictor of first-year academic performance at Chicago-Kent.

Will schools limit the number of people they admit with GREs?

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): We do not know yet how many students will be admitted with GRE scores; we still expect the vast majority of our applicants to submit LSAT scores.

Gordon Smith (BYU): We have not limited the number of people who we will admit with a GRE score, but we have admitted fewer students with GRE scores than LSAT scores because we have fewer GRE applicants.

David Kirschner (USC): At Gould, we are not going to have a strict limitation, but in an effort to ensure that students admitted with the GRE (and no LSAT) perform at a consistent level based on our experience with the LSAT, we anticipate keeping the numbers small at first.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): We do not have a predetermined limit to the number of applicants that we will admit with GRE scores.

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): So far, limiting the number of candidates admitted with only GRE scores hasn't been an issue since we've been dealing in fairly small volumes of candidates applying in this category. Theoretically, I don't see why a school would limit the number of applicants or admitted students with GRE scores versus LSAT scores. If both tests correlate to law school performance as the studies indicate, I can't see why there would be a limit to admissions with either score.

For those of you who have already taken either the GRE or LSAT and are wondering if you should take the other…

Does it look like I am more committed if I take both the LSAT and GRE?

Gordon Smith (BYU): We use these examinations primarily to inform us about a prospective law student's critical thinking and analytical skills, not about commitment to law school.

David Kirschner (USC): Not necessarily. The amount of time required to adequately prepare for either test is enough to signify commitment. I would find no fault in an individual who takes the GRE alone in order to maximize efficiency in applying to multiple types of graduate programs. Rather than spend time preparing for both tests, I would like to see a prospective law student spend the appropriate amount of time in determining that a career in law is the right path for them.

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): No, I would not recommend taking both tests to show commitment.

*Note: Both Wake Forest and Chicago-Kent have policies that they do not accept GREs from students who have already taken the LSAT and consider the LSAT to be the primary test for admissions purposes.

*And a note from Spivey: just remember, the same principle behind “how many test takes is too many?” applies here — the number does not reset for a different type of test.

Does it look like I am less committed to Law if I only take the GRE?

Kristi Jobson (Harvard): We draw no inference, either positive or negative, from the fact that an applicant took the GRE instead of the LSAT or vice versa. There are many reasons why an applicant might take the GRE that are wholly unrelated to that individual’s commitment to the law. For example, the applicant may be living in a city where the LSAT is not offered, or the GRE simply worked better with that person’s schedule. There is no requirement, either explicit or implicit, that an applicant sit for both the LSAT and the GRE, and again, we draw no inference about anyone’s level of commitment to law school if an applicant decides to take both the LSAT and the GRE.

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): No. We believe anyone applying to the law school is committed to pursuing a legal career.

David Kirschner (USC): No, for the same reason mentioned above.

Okay, but how is it evaluated? We have so much information about the LSAT because there’s years of data to look at; how do I know if I’m competitive for your school if I took the GRE? Since schools are currently ranked with the LSAT, if I have both an LSAT and GRE will they ignore my LSAT if it’s lower than my GRE, or do they evaluate me on both?

*Note from Spivey: As you will see based on the responses below, this varies from school to school.

Some schools will evaluate you using all the scores you submit:

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): We will not ignore any standardized test score and we believe we will need to report all scores.

Gordon Smith (BYU): All of the information we receive is considered in evaluating applicants for admission. Moreover, we are required to report our LSAT scores at the 75th percentile, 50th percentile, and 25th percentile to the ABA, and if a student has taken the LSAT, that score will be included in our calculation of those percentiles.

David Kirschner (USC): We will evaluate an applicant on both. By all accounts, USNWR will craft a ranking system whereby any and all standardized test scores are included in their methodology. Because of this, any reported LSAT score will continue to matter. This will make it important for an applicant with a strong GRE score to consider the pros and cons of the LSAT prior to make a decision whether to take it or not. The obvious major disadvantage is the relatively small number of law schools that have currently indicated acceptance of the GRE.

At others, the LSAT will take precedence:

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): Candidates who apply with both an LSAT and GRE score will be considered primarily based on the LSAT score because of the ranking question. It's not that we believe that either test is more or less valid as a predictor of law school success but rather that we know how LSAT figures into the rankings and for now it is unclear how GRE will impact the ranking. US News and World Report is already asking how many of a school's incoming class was admitted with a test other than LSAT. It can only be a matter of time until they figure out a way to include the GRE as a part of the ranking methodology. This year I anticipate that out of an entering class of between 160-180 we'll enroll four students who only took the GRE.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): We consider the LSAT to be the primary test for admissions purposes, so your LSAT score will be a factor in the Committee’s review of your file. If you have also taken the GRE, you can request that we consider those scores as supplemental information in the review of your file.

When will we know what GRE scores schools are looking for? Right now, we at least have medians and 25th and 75th percentiles for the LSAT. Should we assume the percentiles for the LSAT are the percentiles they are looking for in the GRE?

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): We are in uncharted territory here. Law schools will presumably need to report GRE scores just like they report LSAT scores. But an applicant cannot and should not presume that the percentiles for the LSAT are going to be the same with the GRE

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): I can only speak for Wake Forest Law in saying that we are looking for similar performance percentiles on the GRE as we would on the LSAT. This doesn't mean that we expect every candidate to have an 83rd-85th percentile score that might correlate to our median 161-162 that we would see on the LSAT. However, we are definitely weighing their percentile performance on the GRE as we would the LSAT performance.

David Kirschner (USC): We are advising all applicants that, initially, we are looking for a combined GRE score (verbal and quant) that is equivalent to the same percentile as our median LSAT score. We have not gone as far as to identify 25th and 75th percentiles for GRE takers. That may come at some point in the future.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): Because we have just started to accept GRE scores, we do not have enough admissions data to publish this type of information for the GRE. You can consider the percentiles for the LSAT as one reference point.

When evaluating GRE scores -does verbal count more than quant or opposite?

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): We are looking at all parts of the GRE to determine a candidate’s potential for success in our program. Although we don't have a composite score to reference with a GRE, we try to put their performance on all sections in perspective along with the rest of the application.

Kristi Jobson (Harvard): We consider both your Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning scores, and would prefer to see excellent scores in both areas. And yes, lawyers engage in plenty of quantitative reasoning exercises in practice — anyone who tells you otherwise has never wrestled with an expert witness report. Your analytical acumen is just as important to us as your verbal skills.

David Kirschner (USC): We will evaluate verbal and quant on a sliding scale whereby neither is weighted more heavily than the other, but a stronger score in one category may help compensate for a weaker score in the other.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): Chicago-Kent’s validation study showed that the quantitative reasoning score was the valid predictor for first-year law school GPA, so we place particular emphasis on that score. However, we still consider the verbal reasoning and analytical writing scores.

Does Analytical Writing matter?

Kristi Jobson (Harvard): We absolutely do look at your Analytical Writing score. The two writing tasks require you develop and support a position and critique the arguments of others — crucial skills for any law student. Of all the qualities we look for in an applicant, excellent writing skills rank at the top. Of course, the Analytical Writing score is just one indicator of an individual’s writing skills, along with personal statements, commentary from recommenders, and significant writing experiences in undergraduate, graduate, and professional settings.

David Kirschner (USC): While the analytical writing portion is highly subjective, we will be looking for a score that at least demonstrates the applicant made a good faith effort at that portion of the exam. Just as we do not look fondly at pictures or poems in the writing sample portion of the LSAT, we will not look favorably upon a low score on the analytical writing portion.

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): Because it is scored, we also look closely at the writing section of the GRE.

If I take the GRE and I am essentially a splitter with high percentile scores in one area and lower in another, how will schools interpret that split? For example, how will a school interpret my scores if I’m in the 90th percentile on GRE Verbal, but in 50th percentile on GRE Quantitative?

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): Splitters are viewed as they might be in any situation. We'll review the application and the scores together to determine whether we believe a candidate will succeed in our program. We also look very closely at the writing section on the GRE since unlike the LSAT it is scored.

David Kirschner (USC): As mentioned previously, we will look at the verbal and quant scores on a sliding scale, whereby a stronger score on one section can compensate for a weaker score on the other. Our main focus will be on identifying applicants where the combined score (verbal and quant) is the equivalent of the median percentile of our LSAT.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): If you have any concern about your GRE scores, I suggest writing an addendum to provide additional information for the Admissions Committee. You can also use your personal statement to highlight the qualities that you believe make you a strong candidate for admission.

Also, ETS has score choice for the GRE. If I don’t want to use my GRE score, is it okay if I just dont send it to schools?

Jay Shively (Wake Forest): We will ask candidates to provide all GRE scores and have asked ETS to provide some mechanism whereby we can see at least how many times a candidate has taken the GRE. At this point this information is not available. Candidates may elect not to provide all scores, but it doesn't speak well of their potential for success in the legal profession if they start off the process by omitting something that's specifically been requested.

Rob Schwartz (UCLA): At UCLA, we will require all GRE scores for the past five years.

David Kirschner (USC): No, this is not okay. Per our application instructions, all applicants who take the GRE (instead of or in addition to the LSAT) must have ETS send USC Gould all GRE scores from the prior 5-year period. The electronic certification of the applicant indicates their agreement to abide by all rules contained in the application and we will take enforcement as a serious matter.

Nicole Vilches (Chicago-Kent): Currently, we do not require you to submit your GRE scores to Chicago-Kent if you have taken the LSAT.

*Note from Spivey: Policies for each school differ here, but if a school says you must submit, know that you could be putting yourself in jeopardy of a character and fitness issue if you choose to withhold any scores.

Jay Shively from Wake Forest was surprised to see that we hadn’t encountered any questions about how the GRE would affect scholarship consideration and provided the following insights:

As with the question of admissibility, an LSAT score would supersede the GRE in consideration for scholarship awards, if a candidate has both scores. However, so far candidates with only a GRE score are awarded merit scholarships in similar amounts and frequency as candidates with comparable LSAT scores. We are under no delusion that candidates will forgo scholarship funding simply to get out of taking the LSAT.

We’ve done a few different blog posts about the impact of the GRE, and we still advise that students who want to go to law school should take the LSAT simply because most schools have not moved to taking the GRE yet. But hopefully hearing these responses from the decision makers themselves will help to answer many of the questions that have been floating around!