LSAT on tablet

How Our Test Contributes to Comprehensive and Fair Law School Admissions

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has remained the gold standard in legal education since it was introduced over 70 years ago, even as it has evolved over those years. Accepted by every law school in the country, over 100,000 people take it every year, and 99.6% of the people who entered law school last year used the LSAT in their applications.

But why is that? The answer is that the LSAT is the only test specifically designed to provide essential information about whether a candidate has the skills needed to succeed in law school. A test is fair only when it is used for the purpose for which it was designed. In addition to being fair, the LSAT is also proven valid and reliable, key measures for educational assessments. Admission processes that use a valid and reliable standardized test as one factor in a holistic admission process are more equitable for all candidates and also more likely to enhance the diversity of the class. Without a valid and reliable admission test, intentional and unintentional bias is far more likely to infect the admission process by reinforcing privilege rather than rewarding potential.

Skills, Not Knowledge

The LSAT measures skills, not knowledge. It also measures only the fundamental skills required for success in law school and leaves to legal education itself the duty to develop the full suite of knowledge, skills, and values that lawyers need to succeed in their careers. That way, the door to admission is opened wide. In fact, it’s designed so that no specific subject matter knowledge is required and that is why candidates can major in any subject prior to entering law school. It measures how a test taker can comprehend and analyze complex texts, organize information and draw reasonable inferences from it, and analyze and evaluate reasoning and arguments. Those skills are ones critical to the study of law and to a successful career in the legal profession as well.

Because the LSAT is a test of skills, it can help to provide a more equal opportunity for students who come from less advantaged backgrounds and may not have attended an exclusive school or have high-powered connections. Great care goes into developing the LSAT to ensure that every question is free from racial, ethnic or gender bias. The Law School Admission Council’s test developers have expertise in professional standards of fairness, and every LSAT question must go through a rigorous evaluation process including both internally and external experts representing a wide range of demographic groups. Even after that process, every question undergoes pretesting by thousands of test takers in an unscored section of the LSAT. If a pretest question shows a statistically significant disparity between demographic groups, it is eliminated. In all, every question goes through such a thorough vetting process that it takes at least three years  — and often even longer —  for a question to get from the initial writing phase to being used as a scored question on the LSAT.

A Track Record of Validity

From the very start, the LSAT was created to provide an objective assessment of a test taker’s skills and potential for success in the first year of law school. But is it measuring the right things, and how good of a job is it doing? How predictive is it?

LSAC periodically surveys law school faculty to find out what skills are essential to success in their law school classes. The responses from those surveys consistently mirror the skills that are tested by the LSAT. In the most recent survey, the array of higher-order critical reading and reasoning skills assessed by the LSAT again ranked highest as the skills that are most important for success in law school.

Okay, the LSAT measures the right skills, but how do we know that LSAT scores predict success? The answer is the extensive empirical research that stands behind the scores. Every year, LSAC conducts correlation studies to assess how accurately LSAT scores predict future performance. The results are consistently clear: LSAT scores provide the most accurate prediction of a candidate’s first-year performance in law school. In other words, LSAT scores are the best single predictor of first-year law school performance, even better than candidates’ undergraduate grade-point average (GPA).

Thinking Critically and Thinking Efficiently

Some critics of standardized tests suggest that since the LSAT is a timed test, it unfairly penalizes students who are more deliberate and take longer to answer questions. But the skills required to perform analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and critical reading in an efficient manner and under time constraints are important to success in law school and a legal career. The LSAT rewards this mastery and efficiency without putting an undue emphasis on speed. And it’s important to note that without a time parameter, the LSAT would no longer be an equal assessment for all test takers, since some test takers would have the resources and schedule flexibility to spend more time on the test than others would.

Just One Part of the Picture

The LSAT is just one piece of information that law schools should consider as part of a comprehensive admission process. For example, information provided by applicants through their personal statements and letters of recommendation should be reviewed along with LSAT scores to provide a more complete picture of a candidate’s skills and likelihood of success in law school. Every candidate is unique with their own story of why they’re pursuing law school and how they’ve achieved prior successes and overcome tough challenges.

It may surprise you to learn that, although we create and administer the LSAT, we provide specific guidance to law schools that is designed to help them avoid overreliance on the LSAT in their admission decisions. (You can find those guidelines here.)

That’s because LSAC is committed to supporting a comprehensive approach to law school admission that maximizes equity and opportunity for everyone who dreams of a career in law. As part of that commitment, we will continue to invest time, energy, and resources in ensuring that the LSAT continues to set the standard for fairness, reliability, and validity when it comes to assessing the critical skills needed for law school success. We will also continue working with law schools to ensure a healthy ecosystem for law school admission that is based on integrity. 

About James Lorié

Director of Assessment Development
James Lorié is the director of assessment development at LSAC. He earned his BA in philosophy from Yale University and his MA in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo. Lorié has worked in test development at LSAC for over 20 years. He spearheaded the development of the most recent significant change to the content of the LSAT — the introduction of comparative reading into the reading comprehension section.