The continued steady decline of the LSAT

In 2015, I wrote a post called "The slow, steady decline of the LSAT." I described a number of problems that have arising in the LSAT--problems partially of the making of LSAC, which administers the test. LSAC (and the ABA, and USNWR) count the highest prospective law student's LSAT score--even though the average of scores is a more accurate predictor of success. LSAC entered a consent decree to refuse to flag accommodated test-takers, even though it conceded its test was only reliable under ordinary test-taking conditions. Schools began to avoid using the LSAT in admitting some students for USNWR purposes to improve their medians. Schools also obsessed over the LSAT median,e ven though index scores were a more reliable predictor of success, and even as 25th percentile--and lower--admitted students dropped at a faster rate, imperiling future success on the bar exam.

In the last two years, the LSAT has continued to decline.

First, schools have started to turn to the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. It's not for USNWR purposes, because USNWR factors in GRE score into its LSAT equivalent. Instead, it's because the GRE is a general exam, and the LSAT is a specific exam. And if there's little different between what the tests are measuring, why not permit people taking the more general exam considering a broader array of graduate programs to apply to law school? Admitted, perhaps the reliability of the GRE is more of an open question left for another day--but I would suspect that if law schools needed to rely on SAT scores, it wouldn't be dramatically worse than relying on LSAT scores; and I imagine we'll see some studies in the near future regarding the reliability of using GRE scores.

Second, LSAC has become bizarrely defensive of its test. To the extent it intends to go to war with law schools over its own test--and go to war in ways that are not terribly logical--it does so at its own peril.

Third, prospective law student may now retake the LSAT an unlimited number of times. Previously, test-takers were limited to 3 attempts in 2 years (that is, 8 administrations of the test); they would need special permission to retake more than that. Given the fact that schools only need to report the highest score--and given the fact that the highest score is less reliable than the average of scores--we can expect the value of the LSAT to decline to a still-greater degree.

Fourth, LSAC will now administer the LSAT 6 times a year instead of 4 times a year. The linked article offers understandable justifications--greater flexibility given the GRE's flexibility, more opportunities given the less-rigid law school admissions cycle, and so on. But given the unlimited number of opportunities to retake, plus the highest-score standard, we can expect, again, a still-greater decline in value of an LSAT score.

Many of the problems I've identified here are principally driven by one concern: the USNWR rankings. Without them, enterprising (and risk-taking) law schools might consider only the average, or only the first two or three attempts, or consider the index score to a greater degree, or weight the quality of the undergraduate institution and difficulty of the undergraduate major to a greater degree.

But USNWR rankings--which report the median LSAT score as a whopping one-eighth of the total rankings formula--continue to drive admissions decisions. As the LSAT declines in value, it places many schools in an increasingly untenable position--rely upon the increasingly-flawed metrics of the LSAT, or succumb to a USNWR ratings decline.