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Law schools examine predictive value of GRE, LSAT

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The researchers who develop and evaluate tests designed to measure psychological characteristics like intelligence or scholastic aptitude are known as psychometricians.

“We define, gather and evaluate the sources of evidence that have been designed to support the interpretation and use of scores for a particular purpose,” says Chad Buckendahl. A founding partner with ACS Ventures in Las Vegas, he has a doctorate in quantitative and qualitative methods in education, as well as a master’s in legal studies.

If a validity study is done to evaluate the appropriateness of using particular test scores, the psychometrician would look at multiple information sources and see whether they seem to show that using a specific test score makes sense, in terms of what test providers want the exam to accomplish, Buckendahl says.

At this point, it appears that only the creators of the LSAT and the GRE are interested in having their tests used in law school admissions. However, some psychometricians say that most graduate entrance exams could likely give law schools a good sense of how applicants would perform.

“All of these tests—the GMAT, the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT—are all measuring similar constructs by the use of text,” says educational psychology professor Kurt Geisinger of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, although he cautions that he couldn’t say that for sure without extensive studies. Geisinger, who directs the school’s Buros Center for Testing, has been hired as an expert witness by a party suing the LSAC, and he has also served as a technical adviser for the ETS.

Whether entrance exams besides the LSAT and the GRE could accurately predict how candidates will perform in law school would depend on what the tests measure and how that relates to what is expected from those students, according to Buckendahl.

“The ability to communicate in written form, research and think analytically—these are traits that most graduate students will need to have to succeed,” Buckendahl says. “The question is to what extent and in what context those skills are being applied.”


Some critics contend that reliance on the LSAT for admissions has led to a more homogenous, less diverse student body. Many law schools rely on the LSAT in ways that are unsupported, in terms of its predictive value, and that’s not good for diversity, says Aaron Taylor, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence in Washington, D.C.

When Harvard Law School announced last March that it would accept the GRE in admissions, it stated that doing so would expand access to legal education for students nationally and globally. At Northwestern University, law school dean Daniel Rodriguez told the Chicago Tribune in May that students with more diverse study areas, like science and technology, were taking the GRE. But Taylor says both GRE and LSAT score trends are typified by racial, ethnic and socio-economic disparities.

“So unless law schools fundamentally alter the manner in which they use admissions tests, adoption of the GRE will only preserve the unfortunate status quo as it relates to diversity. Applicants with lower scores will still be shut out of law school to extents that are unsupported by the predictive value of the tests, whether it’s the LSAT or the GRE,” he says.

Taylor says the LSAC itself advises that law schools not use LSAT scores as the sole admissions criteria, or place excessive significance on score differences, and that law schools should avoid the improper use of cutoff scores.

“The LSAT is designed to be a partial predictor of first-year grades,” Taylor says. “It has value as an admission criterion, but it should not drive admission decisions. The same principles apply to the GRE.”

In terms of academic experience diversity, he’s doubtful the introduction of the GRE in law school admissions will change much.

“Adoption of the GRE is about growing the pool of potential law school applicants. The diversity justifications are questionable, at best,” he says.

A hearing on the council’s proposed revision, along with other suggested revisions to accreditation standards, is scheduled for April 12 in Washington, D.C.

Written comments on the proposed changes are being accepted through April 2. The draft revisions and information about how to submit comments can be found on the website of the legal ed section in the Resources section under Notice and Comment.

This article was published in the February 2018 issue of the ABA Journal with the title “Under Examination: As more law schools consider using the GRE as well as the LSAT, questions remain about the tests’ predictive value.”

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