In Defense of the LSAT | Opinion

Standardized aptitude tests have once again come under fire, as last Friday the American Bar Association (ABA) took another step toward eliminating the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). LSAT antagonists claim they oppose the test because it is not an objective measure of aptitude. The truth is, they resist it for the exact opposite reason. They are not anti-LSAT so much as they are anti-objectivity. They would prefer to scrub all objective measures of aptitude from the law school application process so they can continue to balance school rosters according to their social and political preferences.

For years, LSAT scores have made up half of the admission criteria for virtually every law school in the United States. The other half is some mishmash of GPA, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and whatever other subjective criteria admissions boards choose to consider. As a former neurotic law student, I can attest that the non-LSAT admissions criteria are unnervingly opaque. But the LSAT is different—it's a single yardstick that measures every applicant, allowing applicants to easily be compared with one another.

True, nothing on the LSAT prepares someone for legal practice. But it provides a back-of-the-envelope measure of aptitude in law-adjacent skills—primarily logical reasoning and reading comprehension. And studies have consistently shown that LSAT performance is the single strongest predictor of academic success in law school.

So why oppose it?

Criticisms of the LSAT largely echo criticisms of standardized tests more generally.

Essentially, they boil down to the claim that the LSAT does not objectively measure ability because children from wealthy backgrounds can more easily afford elite prep courses and personalized tutoring.

It certainly seems unfair that such a significant portion of the admissions criteria favors the wealthy. But even critics of the LSAT concede that the same is true of nearly every other component of the admissions process. The wealthy can hire tutors to improve their GPA and snag better recommenders. And they can pack in more extracurriculars because they are less distracted by resource requirements.

A view of Harvard Yard on the
A view of Harvard Yard on the campus of Harvard University on July 08, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

In fact, by one reckoning, the poor benefit significantly from the fact that the LSAT is such a heavily weighted portion of the application calculus. Rather than hiring a cavalcade of tutors for each class or making time for a mountain of extracurriculars, limited resources can be focused on a single, highly important test. Moreover, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) periodically analyzes various methods of LSAT preparation. LSAC's data show that among the most effective is the organization's own $99 prep material. Sure, that's an expense, but it's hardly out of reach for most applicants. And sure enough, LSAC—which administers the LSAT—notes that doing away with the test has been shown to work against minorities and the economically disadvantaged.

LSAT opponents know all this. So why do they still single out the LSAT?

The truth is, their beef has nothing to do with the LSAT doing an allegedly poor job of measuring objective ability. In fact, it's just the opposite. They resist the LSAT specifically because it's pretty good at indicating innate aptitude. Fundamentally, LSAT opponents don't even oppose the test, per se, so much as they oppose any objective measures of ability. Why? Because objective measures of ability make it more challenging to balance school rosters according to applicants' social and political inclinations. Americans do not support schools consistently turning away students with measurably superior abilities, simply because they cannot check the "right" subjective boxes. LSAT antagonists would prefer to do away with such distractions so that they can get onto the business of fixing society's ills by packing schools with candidates of their preferred preference.

And the LSAT is far from the final target. Next on the chopping block are grades and class rankings themselves. Many universities instituted some form of pass/fail grading during the pandemic, and the discussion about whether to preserve the practice indefinitely is already under way. Grades and rankings must go because objective measures of in-school performance do not bode well for students mismatched from their peers by unfair affirmative action-driven admissions programs. Ultimately, LSAT opposition only makes sense if social activists ultimately try to rig the entire system—which, of course, is the goal.

Objective benchmarks are good. The LSAT is not perfect, but it's a heck of a lot better than whatever alchemy its opponents want to replace it with. High-quality law schools should ignore the ABA, as many in the legal world have done for some time already, and continue requiring applicants to take the LSAT as part of the admissions process.

Clayton Kozinski is a lawyer and graduate of Yale Law School, and is currently an advisor in the biotech industry.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.