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Tuesday, April 10, 2018
When Admissions Tests Get You Down
The polarization of opinion regarding the merits of standardized testing is well-acknowledged in the world of higher education. At base, aptitude tests are used to measure an applicant's ability to do well in an academic setting. These tests are designed to be the great equalizer-the scientific method that ascends the myriad soft variables that otherwise differentiate students. Yet, like every great idea, standardized tests often work better in theory than in practice.
The debate has again surfaced in the context of law school admission. In an effort to widen a shrinking applicant pool, some law schools have begun dispensing with the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) requirement, replacing it in some instances with the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). Some 600,000 aspiring graduate students take the GRE each year, compared with around 125,000 LSAT takers. This makes sense, since the LSAT is largely useless unless you are applying to law school.
But what does a standardized test really measure? A student's ability to take a test? Academic confidence? Quick mental processing skills? Socioeconomic background? Since no one can scientifically argue that a test can fully measure intellect, schools couch it in softer language. High LSAT scores tend to be good "predictors" of law school and bar exam performance. Proponents of the exam argue that schools would be doing a disservice to students who perform poorly on the test by leading them to believe they have a bright future in the legal profession.
Can a single test possibly measure all the potential of a future lawyer? Are there no other factors in play when it comes to success?
Currently, more than 20 of the nation's 205 ABA-accredited law schools do not require the LSAT. This includes heavy hitters such as Harvard. Arguably, some schools don't need the LSAT, because they're already privy to an elite applicant pool. For others, the LSAT may be filtering out qualified students with great potential to serve their communities in legal practice. Whether a standardized test is a good measure of a person's ability to contribute to society is another matter altogether.
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