Why the Law School Admission Test Needs to Go | Opinion

Most of us are familiar with the ongoing debate surrounding whether to keep or cut the ACT and SAT in undergraduate admissions. Now, a similar dispute may surface surrounding what to do with the Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

While serving as student body president of UCLA at the start of the pandemic, I joined forces with my fellow presidents from Yale, Stanford and USC in calling for an end to the ACT and SAT as a component of undergraduate admissions.

Now, as a law student and graduate student president at the University of Pennsylvania, I write with an eerie sense of déjà vu as the American Bar Association (ABA) seriously considers ending the LSAT testing requirement as a component for admission.

For many students currently enrolled in law school, we knew this news was possibly only a matter of time, as the LSAT is afflicted with many of the same inadequacies as its undergraduate test counterparts. The ABA primarily references the LSAT's questionable reliability in predicting competence as its reason for recommending doing away with the test.

But there are darker reasons why the LSAT needs to go.

Across the country, many undergraduate students from high-income backgrounds are able to pay thousands of dollars for elite LSAT preparation courses, receive personalized tutoring and front upwards of $200 for registering to take the LSAT and improve their score.

Similar to the ACT and SAT, the LSAT places disadvantaged students behind their wealthier peers in the race to gain admission to elite law schools with rigorous LSAT admission averages. This, paired with the ongoing attack on affirmative action in higher education, means that thousands of low-income and disadvantaged students applying to law school each year will never have an equitable chance at admission in an already extremely daunting and costly process.

The LSAT isn't the only component of the law school admissions process where wealth plays a role. Whether it be the ability to devote time to undergraduate extracurricular involvement or the resource-disparity that contributes to students' performances in classes, nearly all components of the admissions process skew against students who don't have the time, resources, money, or access to compete against their more-advantaged peers. These disadvantages were only exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which contributed to fierce debates among students and administrators over equitable grading policies. Despite the law school admissions process being littered with these same disparities, the LSAT is an opportune target to initiate a broader change to the way law schools admit students.

Supreme Court building
The Supreme Court building. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Universities have already responded to widespread calls for testing abolition by replacing or altogether ending standardized testing as a component for undergraduate admissions, and there's no reason to believe that law schools won't inevitably do the same. More importantly, as almost any law school student or test-prep agency will tell someone unfamiliar with the exam, the LSAT is "learnable," meaning that so long as you have the resources available to continue to study, you can eventually master the test. While this ability to learn the test serves as welcome news for many students seeking to attend prestigious law schools, it also means that students unable to take part in the courses, tutoring and retakes are further left behind in the admissions cycle.

Students who have taken part in the rigorous law school admission process and the stress of preparing for and taking the LSAT should be proud of their labor and dedication in attempting to gain access to a legal education. Because of this experience, though, those who have gone through the process are most responsible for exploring ways by which we can improve admissions to truly be accessible to all.

More needs to be done to explore how the LSAT is readily manipulated by the wealth and resources of those seeking admission to America's most prestigious law schools. But so long as the LSAT remains a primary factor in law school admissions, disadvantaged students will be outperformed by those who have the resources, time and money to raise their scores.

Putting an end to the LSAT will take more than a simple ABA recommendation, but recreating the way we admit students to institutions that seek to promote justice is a fight worth having.

Robert Blake Watson is a juris doctor and masters of education policy dual degree student at the University of Pennsylvania, and serves as president of the school's Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GAPSA).

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