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Admission tests may become optional at law schools

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Admissions tests, long an ominous and pressure-filled requirement for application to law school, may soon become entirely optional.

A proposal working its way through the Chicago-based American Bar Association, which is the accrediting body for law schools, would eliminate the requirement of a "valid and reliable test" such as the LSAT -- and, more recently, the GRE -- as part of a law school's admission process.

The rule change was adopted by the council of the bar association's legal education section at a Friday meeting in Washington, D.C. But prospective law students may still want to keep a supply of sharpened pencils on hand. The proposal awaits an August review by bar association delegates before it can be finalized. And many law schools may not be so quick to abandon the LSAT as a primary admissions tool.

"I would expect law schools to continue to rely on an admissions test as a fundamental piece of their admissions policies, and likely the LSAT would be the test of choice in the foreseeable future," Barry Currier, managing director of ABA Accreditation said in a statement. "But the use of tests other than the LSAT, including the GRE, may add to the group of individuals who wish to study law, and that might be a positive development."

The LSAT was created at the urging of law schools 70 years ago and became a requirement for applicants to gain admission. The half-day standardized exam is now given six times a year at designated centers, up from four exams in previous years.

But its hold on the admissions process has been loosening in recent years, with a number of law schools -- including some in Chicago -- beginning to allow applicants to take the GRE as an alternative.

The University of Arizona College of Law announced in 2016 that it would accept either the GRE graduate school entry exam or the LSAT from applicants, a movement that gathered steam as more schools added the option, including Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law and John Marshall School of Law in Chicago.

More than 15 law schools since have concluded that the GRE, administered by the nonprofit Educational Testing Service, is a "valid and reliable" alternative to the LSAT, meeting the bar association admissions standard for accredited schools.

Making admissions tests optional would likely help the GRE gain traction, experts say.

"We've had a critical mass of students who've applied just with the GRE," said Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern's Pritzker School of Law. "With the decision made by the council of the ABA, we'll get more in the coming years."

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