To prepare for the Law School Admission Test the summer before senior year at theUniversity at Buffalo—SUNY, James Ingram hired a tutor, worked through prep books, and even acquired a special LSAT watch to practice keeping track of the exam’s six strict 35-minute time intervals, five devoted to testing his ability to comprehend and analyze complex material and one to an unscored but important essay.
Not satisfied with his score of 158, Ingram doubled down on doing practice tests and took the LSAT again. His 166 impressed several top law schools, including those at Boston University, the University of Iowa, Emory University and George Washington University Law School, where he is a first-year student.
The top schools do remain extremely competitive, but overall the number of applicants is down considerably since law jobs began disappearing during the recession.
At GW Law, applications are off 21 percent since 2011, prompting a drop in median LSAT scores from 167 to 165. Boston College Law School and the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill School of Law, both of which accepted Ingram, have seen decreases in applications of 36 percent and 44 percent, respectively, and a similar drop in median scores.
Grad school advisers say it’s essential to get to know the test you are taking and to prep for it carefully. Here’s what to expect of the various other exams.
The test nearly doubled in length, with four multiple-choice sections each lasting 90 or 95 minutes. Instead of zeroing in just on scores and grades, reviewers also are increasingly doing a holistic review, looking at applicants’ backgrounds and experiences.
The Graduate Record Examination: The GRE tests verbal, quantitative reasoning and writing skills and is required for most programs in the arts and sciences. The three sections last 30 or 35 minutes each.
Many graduate programs look for balanced verbal and quantitative scores. Alexander Wiseman, associate professor at Lehigh University’s College of Education, says many applicants have strong verbal scores, but students who also show strength on the quantitative side have an edge.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management saw an eight-point increase in its 2016 average, and among the top 10 business schools there was a 3.4-point average increase, according to the latest U.S. News data. Most business schools also accept the GRE.
It’s important to know, too, Dunn says, that reviewers look for signs that the program and applicant are a good “fit.” He wishes more people obsessed with the tests would focus first on whether a program is the right match.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News “Best Graduate Schools 2018” guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.