Raising the Bar

Dean Young, Senior Columnist

Justice Vue

Last week, it was announced that the American Bar Association had voted to remove the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, from admission requirements. This follows a trend of other law schools, graduate schools and undergraduate schools such as Hamline in removing tests from admissions requirements. But how necessary is such a change, and what does it mean for the future?

Hamline’s website lists its admissions as “test-optional,” meaning that scores from the ACT or SAT are permitted but not required. This change was initiated as a response to the pandemic, as previously reported on by the Oracle. The idea, which has been adopted by many similar institutions, reflects a desire to evaluate the students outside the metric of a single score. 

Perhaps the most critical aspect of the requirement removal is the recognition that scores are not perfectly illustrative of individual aptitude or achievement. 

Consider the LSAT example mentioned above: LSAT courses are given every year to facilitate higher test scores, and can range well over a thousand dollars. While it is very understandable (even prudent) that a student would want to take a course, it creates a barrier for some and leads to a disparity in reflected scores. 

This consideration is not to condemn the students but rather the system; it degrades actual achievement on the LSAT, and penalizes those who do not take a course. Most importantly, it illustrates that the test can be changed through learning, and that learning can be acquired monetarily. In short: points can be bought.

Clearly, the LSAT does not form a perfect metric of scholastic aptitude or raw talent, and the administration has taken note. However, an adequate substitute remains unclear. 

Some would suggest that GPA is a better metric; it surveys across several years, it highlights many subjects and progressions can be seen. While these things are true (and it likely is often a better measure of academic achievement), it appears to have similar shortcomings to a standardized test. 

Granted, one can not enroll in a GPA-boosting seminar class, however much like the LSAT, having resources certainly can affect the outcome. A student who comes from financial disadvantage, struggles with basic needs, or even simply has extra responsibilities, will likely not be able to allocate the same type of time or attention to coursework and GPA might reflect this. If they manage to overcome these hurdles, the GPA will not reflect this hidden challenge (and accompanying effort). 

The same could be argued with other extracurriculars or involvements. It leads me to wonder whether there is a test that could provide an accurate measurement of academic performance. Two options become apparent.

First, a test could be designed to test raw aptitude only, not anything that could be boosted through studying for a test. While this might provide a more absolute measure, is it what admissions officers really want to test? 

Essentially, this could lead to IQ tests being the sole determiner of entry, leaving access to an immutable characteristic (not to mention a number of other issues with using IQ tests, such as researchers pointing to racial classification embedded in the test). Any test of this nature would necessarily block out recognition of effort and accompanying character traits. 

Shouldn’t admissions have a strong interest in those who worked hard for their academic performance, perhaps even in opposition to natural predispositions?

A second option would look solely at effort. Raw talent would be irrelevant, and only dedication and hard work would show. However, this falls into the same issues raised above: a student can only dedicate time to work if they have the resource of time. Often, external factors such as food, housing, and employment can play the dominant role in exactly how much one can invest themselves into their project. 

One wonders whether the perfect metric will ever be created, and exactly what it might measure. However, it appears many are beginning to think standardized tests,  such as the MCAT, LSAT, GRE, SAT or ACT, do not fit the bill. 

They are not without their selling points: they provide a single metric that can be compared across a sample, simplifying the admissions process greatly. However, we should not consider these to be an absolute ranking system; and even systems such as GPA have limitations. 

Perhaps a better test will be created, but in the meantime, it is an important reminder to consider the student applicant holistically, as Hamline aims to do through its test-optional policy.