10 Key Differences Between the LSAT and GRE

US News & World Report
By Ilana Kowarski
June 11, 2018

The LSAT is a paper exam, but the GRE is usually administered on a computer.

Since 2016, when the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law announced that it would stop requiring applicants to submit LSAT scores and allow applicants to submit GRE scores instead, 20 other law schools have done the same, including Harvard Law School.

Though the LSAT is still required for admission to most J.D. programs, the willingness of some law schools to embrace the GRE has given applicants to those law schools a choice about which graduate school entrance exam they wish to take.

Emily Gold Waldman, associate dean for faculty development and strategic planning at Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law in White Plains, N.Y., says that her school recently decided to accept the GRE both in order to give J.D. applicants more flexibility and to broaden its J.D. applicant pool to include people who might be deterred by an LSAT requirement.

Waldman says that one group of aspiring lawyers her school is hoping to attract with its GRE-friendly policy are those who are currently attending graduate school or those who recently earned a graduate degree. Because these students would typically have a GRE score already, if they can apply to law school using that score without prepping for and paying for the LSAT, that makes the J.D. application process for those students faster, cheaper and easier.

“By saying that we’ll accept their GRE scores, we are saving them money, because they don’t have to take another test,” she says. “We’re saving them time, because they don’t need to prepare for another test and take off from work to take the test.”

Waldman says one pivotal factor that convinced leaders at Pace University to accept the GRE was a study comparing how accurate LSAT and GRE scores were at predicting first-year law school grades, which suggested that both types of tests were reliable indicators of a person’s ability to pass demanding first-year J.D. courses. That study was published by the Educational Testing Service, commonly known as ETS, which is the nonprofit organization that designs and administers the GRE.

“We’ve empirically confirmed that the GRE test is a valid and reliable tool for informing law schools’ admissions decisions,” David Payne, vice president and COO of global education at ETS, said in a press release about the GRE law school validity study.

However, the results of this study are disputed by the Law School Admissions Council, or LSAC, which is the nonprofit organization that creates the LSAT. On its website, the LSAC states that the GRE was “not designed for law school admission and is not valid or reliable for this purpose.”

Here are 10 key distinctions between the LSAT and GRE that law school admissions experts say J.D. applicants should bear in mind.

The LSAT is accepted at all law schools, but the GRE is only accepted at some. “The number of law schools accepting the GRE is still quite small, so the LSAT is still the best bet when it comes to choosing a test that is universally acceptable among law schools,” Erin Skelly, a graduate school admissions counselor at IvyWise, an admissions consulting firm, said in email.

The LSAT is a paper exam, while the GRE is usually administered on a computer. In contrast to the LSAT, which is always in a paper format, the GRE is offered in a paper or computer format. However, students in areas of the world where the computer version of the GRE is available are generally expected to take that version of the test. According to ETS, between July 2013 and June 2016, 98 percent of people who took the GRE general test took the computerized version.

Will Haynes, an Ohio-based test prep tutor manager for The Princeton Review, suggests that students who prefer to take a test on paper as opposed to on a computer may appreciate the traditional format of the LSAT. “As a paper and pencil test, the LSAT gives students the ability to write on the test booklet, cross out answers, and draw,” Haynes wrote in an email.

The computer-adaptive version of the GRE is a personalized test, but the LSAT is not personalized. Students who plan to take the computer-adaptive GRE should know that their accuracy in answering questions at the beginning of the exam will influence the difficulty level of the questions they are given at the end of the exam, Haynes says.

“This means the difficulty of a section can change depending on how you did on the previous section,” Haynes says. “For example, if you do really well on the first math section, the next math section will have harder questions. If don’t do so well on the first section, the second section can seem easier. This can really change a student’s approach or strategy and can mess with their psyche, not to mention there are random, unknown experimental sections that don’t count.”

In contrast, when a student takes the LSAT, the questions he or she is asked to tackle on the test are set in stone from the moment the test begins, so performance at the beginning of the test does not influence the difficulty level of questions later in the test.

The GRE includes math and vocabulary questions, whereas the LSAT does not. Haynes says that one of the most significant differences between the GRE and the LSAT is that the GRE includes quantitative reasoning sections, which can be challenging for students who have not taken math courses for a while.

“The Quantitative Comparison questions most often throw students for a loop,” Haynes says. “Students are given two quantities (that may contain variables, equations, shapes, numbers, etc.) and must decide if they are equal, if one is always bigger, or if there is no way to know. It gets complicated.”

Another difficult aspect of the GRE, he says, is that the test often includes tough vocabulary words that are not used in everyday conversations, so students preparing for the GRE typically need to beef up their vocabulary.

The LSAT includes logic games, but the GRE does not. Haynes says LSAT logic games are trickier than traditional standardized test questions.

“The Games section should remind you of something you’d see in a puzzle book you buy at the airport,” he wrote. “It involves setting up some kind of situation, creating rules, and then asking questions regarding logical and hypothetical situations. This is typically where students struggle the most.”

The GRE is administered more often than the LSAT. In contrast with the LSAT, which is only offered six times per given calendar year, the GRE is offered year-round.

There is no limit on how many times you can take the LSAT, but there are limits to how often you can take the GRE. GRE test takers are allowed to take the GRE once every 21 days and up to five times per calendar year. Though the LSAC previously restricted the number of times someone could take the LSAT during a two-year period, the LSAC reversed that policy in 2017.

GRE score reports only include the scores you choose to report, but LSAT score reports include all your test scores. GRE test takers can opt to report only their best scores to schools by using the ScoreSelect Option, but that option is not available to LSAT test takers.

On its website, the LSAC provides the following warning to law school applicants who are considering an LSAT retake. “If you are considering retaking the test, keep in mind that law schools will have access to your complete test record, not just your highest score,” the LSAC states. “Law schools are advised that your average score is probably the best estimate of your ability – especially if the tests were taken over a short period of time.”

The computerized GRE allows test takers to preview their score before electing whether to report it, whereas the LSAT does not. Haynes says that GRE test takers often take comfort in knowing that, if they bomb the exam, they will find out immediately and can cancel their score to prevent schools from seeing it.

The GRE is a more general test than the LSAT, which was created with law school applicants in mind. While the LSAT is designed to measure someone’s potential for a legal career, the GRE assesses whether someone has intellectual skills which are essential for pursuing any type of grad degree, such as the ability to think critically.

Haynes says that the GRE is similar to the ACT and SAT college entrance exams, although it is more challenging, but he says that the LSAT is a unique exam unlike any other.

“The LSAT really stands out when it comes to the Arguments (Logical Reasoning) section and the dreaded Games (Analytical Reasoning) section,” he wrote. “The arguments section contains a number of questions that test how arguments are put together, what assumptions are involved, and what strengthens/weakens an argument. This kind of logical thinking would actually be important when practicing law.”

Nikki Geula, the founder and CEO of Arete Educational Consulting, an admissions and test prep consulting firm, says J.D. applicants who are trying to decide which exam to prep for should take a practice test of both the GRE and LSAT and determine which test they feel most comfortable with.

“Practice tests are structured to resemble the format of the real exam,” Geula wrote. “They provide a great opportunity for students to gain insight into the test they are better suited for, areas in which they need to improve, and pacing troubles. They also help to boost confidence on test day.”