The Increasingly Versatile GRE

Grad School Admissions | GRE prep | Law School Admissions | lsat | GMAT

In September, I spoke at an LSAT clinic at a North Texas law school. Before my presentation, the Dean of Admissions addressed the attendees and spoke about her own experience with the LSAT and her desire to emphasize the importance of well-rounded students. She downplayed the significance of the LSAT, suggesting that while an excellent LSAT score is important, a low score should not prevent otherwise qualified candidates from applying.

Truth be told, the LSAT is the gold standard in law school admissions, and a high LSAT score correlates with good performance in law school. Law schools are also invested in ensuring that their students have high average LSAT scores because, along with high average undergraduate GPAs, these averages are an important factor in determining law school rankings.

Therefore if you are an applicant considering only law school, I wholeheartedly recommend that you focus your attention exclusively on preparing for the LSAT. However, if you are a student who is considering other options, including grad school, business school, or a dual degree program, the GRE may be worth your consideration as well.  

CC-BY Kok Leng YeoThe University of Arizona Law School Now Accepts the GRE

As reported by NPR in May, the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona will now accept the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT. This fall, twelve new students were admitted there on the basis of applications that included only GRE scores—no LSAT. 

Is this just an isolated case? Yesterday, the National Law Journal gave some more background on efforts to expand adoption of the GRE by law schools:

Already, four law schools have conducted tests of the GRE's ability to predict success in law schools, and GRE administrator Educational Testing Service is now recruiting 10 to 15 schools for a national study that could open the door for all law schools to use the test alongside the LSAT.

Why should law schools consider accepting the GRE when they already have a test with an excellent reputation and decades of development behind it? This decision likely stems in part from a decreasing applicant pool. After hitting a fifteen-year high of 150,000 applicants around 2005, law school applications dropped by nearly two-thirds to just above 50,000 in 2015. In an effort to expand their pools of applicants, law schools can open more doors by accepting the GRE. Also, as I mentioned above, some applicants consider not only law school but also other programs: joint JD-MBA or JD-PhD programs. Admission to these dual degree programs had required applicants to take two standardized tests, but there has been another recent development for the GRE that presaged its nascent adoption by law schools. 

Increased Prominence for the GRE Among Business Schools

Accepted by only one-in-four business schools in 2009, the NLJ article cited above reports that now over ninety-percent of business schools accept the GRE in addition to the GMAT. While officially considered equivalent to the GMAT for business school applications, the GRE still suffers from a prestige gap and the widespread opinion that it is easier than the GMAT. Prudent applicants who wish only to pursue business school would still be wise to focus their efforts on the GMAT, unless they have a weakness in a certain area of the GMAT or a strength better tested by the GRE.

For instance, the most difficult GMAT Quantitative problems are marginally more difficult than their analogs on the GRE. In addition, the GMAT's structure as a pure Computer Adaptive Test (CAT) makes it more frustrating for some students than the GRE's section-adaptive Computer Based Test model, adopted during the latest redesign of the GRE several years ago.

In addition, a high GMAT score can serve purposes beyond business school. After earning their MBAs, job applicants often include their GMAT scores on their CVs. Further, high GMAT scores are widely recognized and respected, while the newer scaled score format of the GRE may make it less noteworthy on a résumé.

Bottom Line: Should You Consider Taking the GRE for Either Law School or Business School Admission?

I hope the explanation above clarified this question for you somewhat, but to summarize here are a few criteria to help you choose the standardized test that will best serve your needs:

  • Are you planning only to apply for business school or law school? If so, consider the standard tests first. Take a practice LSAT or a practice GMAT to assess your performance and your comfort with these exams.
  • If you have trouble with either and the programs you are applying to accept the GRE, consider taking a practice GRE as well. Compare your performance on the GRE to the other tests and weigh the importance of the choice of test to the programs you are applying to. The best answers for many admissions questions can be found by following my default advice for applicants: contact the admissions departments of the schools you wish to attend. You might be surprised that they often can be quite forthright about their expectations.
  • If you are considering applying to joint programs or are interested not only in law or business school but also in graduate school, you may need to take both the LSAT or GMAT and the GRE. However, in good news for those dreading preparation for two challenging standardized tests, the GRE is achieving new prominence and utility. While it is not yet universally adopted, the GRE has the potential to become a de facto standard for admissions to advanced degree programs. 


As an instructor, I am pleased to see the GRE gain new recognition in law and business school admissions. In some respects, the GMAT has long struck me as an unforgiving test on which students' performance can be determined not by their academic achievement or even problem solving skill but rather by their ability to deal with the anxiety induced by a relentless CAT gauntlet. While the LSAT is a personal favorite, I likewise understand students' frequent frustration with the relatively recondite nature of some of the concepts it tests.

If you had thought the GRE was a lesser cousin of the LSAT and GMAT, I hope you have found this post illuminating. The GRE is an excellent, well-rounded test. If it suits your needs, you should consider investigating it further.