Tuesday, December 2, 2008
[posted by Bill Henderson, crossposted to ELS Blog]
A couple of years ago, Paul Caron flagged an obscure ABA rule change that required law schools to report the highest LSAT score of an admitted student versus the prior practice of averaging. Paul and Moneylaw blogger Tom Bell foresaw a likely surge in the number of repeat test-takers -- but without any appreciable benefit. Repeat scores are, in fact, less accurate in predicting law school grades -- though, let's not kid ourselves, law schools are not looking at the LSAT anymore for predicting 1L performance. It also costs a lot of time and money. And if upper class white kids are better able to afford test preparation courses, it is likely to exacerbate the racial performance gap.
Well, the data is in for the October 2008 cycle. It is indisputable that applicants are figuring out the implications of a low LSAT score in the US rankings era (fewer admissions letters, few scholarship dollars) and the potential upside/no downside of taking the exam again. Despite a -1.7% drop in first-time takers, the repeater volume is up 16.8%. In the Northeast, where the positional competition is the most intense, there has been a staggering 33.7% increase.
From an individual perspective, I know it makes sense to take the test a second or third time. Indeed, it is comforting to many to have that option. But in the aggregate, this policy really just opens the door for a protracted zero sum game. If law schools were making better decisions because of the second or third scores, the additional time and expense could be justified. The second scores, however, are less reliable than the first and second combined.
Understanding these dynamics, the regulator (the ABA Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar) is supposed to set rules that are in the best interests of the students and the profession -- not law schools or testing agencies. Sam Stonefield of Western New England Law wrote a very detailed objection to this policy. He was prescient. I appreciate the time he took to spell it all out.