To GRE or not to GRE? Seattle University Test Pilots GRE for Law School Admissions

There is an emerging trend among U.S. law schools to accept applications from prospective students who take only the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) standardized test, suggesting that all U.S. law schools will—sooner or later—have to decide whether to follow suit. In July, Seattle University School of Law joined the “sooner” camp, announcing that we will accept the GRE in lieu of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) as part of a limited pilot project.

We didn’t come to this decision lightly. In particular, we had to make sure we didn’t jeopardize our accreditation with the American Bar Association (ABA), which has not yet given its full blessing to the GRE—only the LSAT. On behalf of the law school’s faculty, I conducted a thorough internal study of the ABA’s requirements and how we could satisfy them. At the time I wrote my report, 37 law schools accepted the GRE; the number now stands at 46. Here’s a brief look at the consideration behind our decision.

Is the GRE General Test as good as the LSAT at predicting student success in law school?

It appears so. Granted, a law student has to be ready for the rigors of law school, but how different is that from being ready for a master’s in computer science or business administration? For seven decades, some version of the LSAT has been used to screen applicants for law school studies. The test includes logical reasoning, analytical reasoning, reading comprehension, and an unscored writing sample. The GRE, used for non-law graduate studies, measures vocabulary, reading comprehension, basic algebra, geometry, and analytical writing—hardly a meaningful difference in the general intellectual skills evaluated, Seattle U and other law schools have concluded.

Several studies, moreover, have demonstrated that the GRE General Test is indeed a valid and reliable measure of an applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing a program of legal education. One such study published by the Educational Testing Service in 2018, covered 21 law schools and more than 1,500 students, concluded “the GRE General Test is a strong, generalizably [sic] valid predictor of first-year law school grades.” Despite the positive results of these studies, the ABA continues to require law schools to conduct their own research if they allow applicants to submit GRE scores rather than take the LSAT.

That’s why at Seattle U Law, we looked at 53 people in the current applicant pool who had both LSAT and GRE scores. After conducting several analyses, including a look at the applicants’ undergraduate grade point averages, we demonstrated that the level of correlation between our applicants’ GRE scores and their LSAT scores is more than twice the level of correlation the ABA used in determining that the LSAT is a valid and reliable measure of an applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing a program of legal education. In other words, for our applicant pool, the GRE General Test not only meets ABA Standard 503 but significantly exceeds it.

Why accept the GRE?

Between 2015 and 2016, six times as many students took the GRE General Test than LSAT. The LSAT is only offered eight times a year, while the GRE General Test is offered daily, all year round, at more than 1,000 test centers in over 160 countries.

Considering this wider pool of potential students, it stands to reason that the GRE would allow for a more diverse applicant pool, with students from a wide range of academic backgrounds and multidisciplinary interests. This larger pool is also likely to promote greater gender, racial, and ethnic diversity, which the legal profession needs.

Especially in the greater Seattle area, it’s logical to make legal education more accessible to people with engineering, computer science, and biotech backgrounds.

Why haven’t law schools used the GRE General Test until recently?

Because the ABA has made it difficult to do so. The ABA’s Standard 503 reads: “A law school shall require each applicant for admission as a first-year J.D. degree student to take a valid and reliable admission test to assist the school and the applicant in assessing the applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.”

The ABA further states that any law school using a standardized test other than the LSAT must prove that the test is a valid and reliable measure of an applicant’s capability of satisfactorily completing the school’s program of legal education.

Are we doing even more to ensure that students admitted using GRE Scores will be successful at Seattle U Law?

You bet. That’s why we’re moving forward with this plan as a pilot project, capping the enrollment of GRE-only students at 10 per year, and reevaluating as we go. Given what we’ve seen so far, we expect this change to be a beneficial step forward for our school and the Washington legal community.