Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Pointed Objections to the ABA's Change in Reporting Requirements for LSAT Scores

Sam Stonefield, Associate Dean for External Affairs and Professor of Law at Western New England College of Law, has kindly given me permission to share the powerful objections he has sent to the ABA regarding the recent decision to permit schools to report only the highest LSAT of multiple scores:  Download stonefield_letter.rtf.  The whole letter is worth reading.  Comments are open; no anonymous postings


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Dean Easley's hypothetical applicant that was seriously ill when the test was administered does not support the change. Under the current rules, a student may cancel her LSAT entirely (it will not be graded or reported) during or soon after the exam.

Posted by: Jesse | Jun 20, 2006 7:58:57 AM

To Professor Stonefield's important observations, I would add that this change will have serious class-based effects. The LSAT is an expensive test, and prep courses cost a small fortune. If applicants can take the test over and over without penalty in an attempt to maximize their scores, affluent applicants will have access to a substantial advantage that applicants of modest means will not be able to afford. This class-based effect can, in turn, be expected to make the racial disparities in LSAT performance even worse, with no evaluative legitimacy attached to the disparity whatsoever.

Posted by: Tobias Barrington Wolff | Jun 20, 2006 8:44:19 AM

As the change might end up being to my favor, my perspective may be biased. Nonetheless, a few points:

1) The emphasis on the LSAT for non-minority applicants is already so great that it doesn't really have any room to increase.

2) Even if the scores of minority applicants drop relative to their peers as a consequence of the rule change, it's not clear that fewer minorities will be admitted--when applying affirmative action, adcomms do indeed seem to look beyond the numbers.

3) Easier access to fee waivers would ameliorate the speculative class-based effects that worry Wolff. Even in the absence of easier access, it's worth noting that the extra 200 odd dollars required to retake the test twice is a very small fraction of the cost of a legal education.

As someone who has crumbled under the pressure of the LSAT on numerous occasions in the past, I'm thankful for a change that vastly reduces the stakes of any given administration of the test.

Posted by: Luke Weiger | Jun 21, 2006 9:14:20 AM

In response to TBW's post, I would say that much of the class-based effects were present before the change. The LSAT costs only $118; if you can't afford this, how will you afford to apply to schools? The application process can easily cost $1000 or more. Further, how will one afford the $20k-$35k tuition per year once in law school? Sure there are fee waivers and financial aid, but these are not gurantees in any sense of the word.

I think the real class-based effect is the LSAT prep courses. These courses cost a lot--mine was $1250, a fairly typical price in my understanding--but usually raise candidates' LSAT scores significantly. LSAT prep-courses is where the non-wealthy lose out, since very few people realize their maximum potential score by self-studying (I speak from experience!).

Bottom line: taking the test 3 times (the most allowed in any two year period) will cost $354 in registration fees; if you have a college degree, you should be able to muster up $354. The real unfair advantage is in the prep courses, which cost upwards of $1300, but this problem was around before the recent ABA ruling.

Posted by: Doug | Jun 21, 2006 9:17:27 AM

I don't think prep courses are nearly as advantageous as people imagine them to be. So far as I can tell, serious and extended preperation for the LSAT often yields big score increases for two reasons: a) working problems frequently can greatly improve one's speed and b) once one learns how to diagram the games, they become much easier. You can easily obtain both of these benefits without taking a prep course. Just spend $60-80 on old prep tests and another $30 on a well-crafted LSAT guide.

However, it's worth noting that the socioeconomically advantaged are probably significantly more likely to be aware of the need for serious and extended prep.

Posted by: Luke Weiger | Jun 21, 2006 9:32:16 AM

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