Harvard Law is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States. It is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the world, and is also the largest law school in the U.S., with about as many students as Yale, Stanford and Chicago combined. So when Harvard Law makes news other law schools are likely to follow.
And Harvard Law recently announced some big news: starting next fall the GRE exam will be accepted as an alternative to the LSAT exam. Surveys suggest that nearly half of all law schools were not opposed to accepting GRE exam scores even before Harvard made its announcement, so this is probably just the beginning of a trend.
The upshot of all of this is that beginning next fall those prospective law students applying to Harvard Law can submit a GRE score instead of, or in addition to, an LSAT score. The University of Arizona Law School has already begun accepting the GRE score from applicants, and if the results from those law schools are as positive as expected, then additional law schools will likely join them in the very near future.
LSAT vs. GRE
I have taught the LSAT and currently teach the GRE and (as well as the GMAT), and have earned a perfect 170/170 on the GRE and a near-perfect 176 on the LSAT. Here are my thoughts on the LSAT versus the GRE:
The LSAT has long been the dreaded gatekeeper to law school admissions and the exam definitely rewards a certain type of test taker with a certain background. So, should you consider taking the GRE instead of the LSAT? Maybe you should!
First, who does not benefit from this development? Those who plan on applying exclusively to law school in the next couple of years should stick with the LSAT to have the most flexibility in the application process. As Harvard and Arizona are currently the only law schools that accept GRE scores from applicants, you’ll want to have a good LSAT score under your belt in case you decide to apply to any other JD programs.
Everyone else should at least consider the GRE. The Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, listed a few of the groups of students who might benefit from being able to use the GRE instead of the LSAT: “international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students…” I would add to that list students who have strong math skills, who have different possible career paths, or who have less time to devote to the process of preparing for an exam.
Advantages of Taking the GRE
Flexibility: The GRE is accepted for admission to nearly all graduate and business schools in addition to Harvard Law School and Arizona Law School (and hopefully a growing list of law schools). For anyone considering a variety of career options, the GRE is the best exam to take as it gives the test-taker the most flexibility. Even a great GMAT score is not accepted by law schools or graduate schools, and a perfect LSAT score will not get you into business or grad school. The GRE is the universal key that can open many doors – this is the number one reason to make the GRE your first choice.
Time Commitment: For many students, the LSAT is the exam that requires the most hours of preparation. The sheer variety of critical reasoning questions and “logic games” requires a student to master a huge range of information. On the other hand, the GRE tests skills that a student is more likely to possess already or can learn more readily through a preparation course or self-study. This is not to say that the GRE is not a challenge, it just may be a more reasonable challenge than the LSAT.
Credit for Your Strengths: Maybe you are strong in Quantitative areas… This can give you an important head start on the GRE, as math is not tested on the LSAT.
Convenience: The GRE is offered in convenient locations around the world on a continuous basis, with times generally available in the morning, afternoon and evening, making it easy to fit the GRE into your schedule. By comparison, the LSAT exam is only offered 4 times per year, usually at 8:00am. With the LSAT, you have to arrange your life around the exam, which can be difficult for test-takers with busy schedules.
Reasonable Retakes: If for any reason you do not earn the LSAT score that you hoped for, then you have to wait anywhere from two to four months before you can retake the exam. On the other hand, you can retake the GRE after just 21 days and you can take the exam 5 times in a year.
Advantages of Taking the LSAT
No Math Required: The LSAT exclusively tests skills that fall on the “Verbal” side of the GRE, meaning that you won’t have to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem, practice working with algebra, or brush up on your multiplication tables before you take it. If you’re a student who hasn’t studied math in a while, the LSAT allows you to engage your logical thinking (philosophy, political science, literature) brain without having to dig back into high school math skills.
Applicable to All Law School Applications: While what Harvard says typically filters down to nearly all schools eventually, right now the GRE is only accepted at a few law schools. If you plan to take the GRE to apply to Harvard and a few other elite JD programs, you’ll end up having to take the LSAT for those other applications, anyway.
Availability of Official Practice Problems: The LSAT has been administering essentially the same exam for decades, and has to retire its questions after each administration. The result? It has thousands of official exam questions to sell you for practice. By comparison the GRE underwent an overhaul in 2011 and has some official test questions for sale, but the LSAT provides several times as much authentic practice material.
Is the GRE Easier Than the LSAT?
It is not easy to get into Harvard or any of the other top law schools. The average LSAT score for the most recent class at Harvard Law is above the 99th percentile, so an applicant’s GRE score would need to be near-perfect to be competitive.
Please understand that if you do plan to take the GRE for admission to law school, business school, or a competitive graduate school program, you will need to earn the best score that you are capable of achieving. Taking the GRE is not a short cut or an “easy way” to get into a top law school (or business school). But it is another option and – for some people – a better option.
My advice is this: Unless you are committed to applying to law school in the next couple of years, consider taking the GRE. The GRE gives you the most options (graduate school, business school, law school) and its scores are reportable for 5 years. This means that if you take the GRE this year your scores will still be good for applications submitted in 2022.
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David Newland has scored in the 99th percentile on both the LSAT and the GMAT, and holds a perfect 170/170 score on the GRE. He taught the LSAT for nearly ten years for a leading firm, and has taught the GRE and GMAT for Veritas Prep since 2006. In 2008 he was named Veritas Prep’s Worldwide Instructor of the Year, and he has been a senior contributor to the Veritas Prep GRE and GMAT lesson materials. David holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School and teaches live online classes from a film studio in northern Vermont.