When the GRE elbowed its way into the law school applications process, it promised to shakeup the LSAT complacency. After decades of monopoly power over law school admissions, the LSAT’s limitations — exclusively in-person testing, strict semi-annual administrations, and complete lack of cross-disciplinary application — had started to chafe and both the schools and prospective students saw opportunity in opening the door.
And while the GRE had its share of detractors complaining that the LSAT’s legal focus produced more reliable admissions benchmarking, the ABA conceded that schools could use the more universal standardized test.
But the GRE just announced some fundamental reforms that might make law schools think twice about how much weight they place on the exam.
Today, ETS announced that beginning this September, the GRE General Test will take less than two hours to complete – roughly half the time of the current test. This makes the GRE General Test the shortest and most efficient test among top professional, business and law school admissions test options. The shorter GRE test will continue to provide test takers and institutions with the same valid and reliable scores they have always counted on from ETS. Registration for the shorter test is now open for test dates beginning September 22, 2023.
On its own, this isn’t a bad reform. The GRE takes a lot longer than the LSAT to take right now and while these changes would make it shorter than its law school rival, the gap wouldn’t be all that large. And as a multistage test where the examinee’s results on one section influence the difficulty of the next section, the test can get a clearer picture of what’s really rattling around in a student’s head faster than a fixed exam. The fact that the new GRE promises results in less than 10 days is a welcome reform too.
Craig Harman, senior manager of content and curriculum for Kaplan’s GRE test prep programs, felt the changes should help students. “Overall, we think these are student-friendly changes that aspiring graduate, business, and law school students should welcome: shorter exam, scores back quicker, no more unscored section. Anybody who has been preparing for the GRE should not change the way they are preparing. Same question types, same computer-adaptive format. Keep doing what you’re doing.”
But what about the law schools? Because everyone likes shorter tests, but how are they shortening this test?
Changes to the test include:
- Removal of the “Analyze an Argument” task in the Analytical Writing section
- Reduced number of questions in the Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning sections
- Removal of the unscored section
Why would a law school care about a prospective student’s capacity to “Analyze an Argument,” huh? Obviously this doesn’t represent the bulk of the GRE’s score, but it is a separately reported score and one of the test’s selling points to critics who wonder what a test that’s half math problems offers law school admissions officers. Half of the verbal reasoning section is made up of reading comprehension questions too, suggesting that the new exam will involve even less interrogation of the skills that schools want to see out of future law students.
The folks behind the GRE pledge that the shortened format will deliver the same reliable results. And they’re probably right as far as it pertains to the core test-takers. Business school admissions will get the same sense of whether a candidate shows a good balance of reading and math skills. But for the law school market where the GRE was already a bit of a square peg in a round hole, taking away the argument analysis aspect and paring back reading comp touchpoints leaves admissions officers less to work with when weighing a GRE score against a standard LSAT result.
This doesn’t necessarily render the GRE useless. It’s still a solid test of general aptitude and law schools benefit when applicants considering multiple post-graduate options don’t feel like they have to take a one-off law school test. And maybe the revamped verbal section will import more argument analysis concepts to cover for the missing written section.
But from the rough details in this press release, these changes seem like a big win for the GRE in every discipline… except the law.
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.