In 37 days I will be taking the Law School Admissions Test. In 37 days, the fate of my law school admissions, and possible future career in law, will rest in a high stakes, four and a half hour test that will test my test taking skills, logic and reasoning skills, and most of all my endurance. The mere thought of this test makes me nervous, nauseas, sick and every other emotion and feeling that comes out of taking a standardized test that determines the fate of your future education. This is similar to the same feelings students all over the country will take in their pursuit of higher education and beyond.
In discussions of high stakes testing and this effect on education policy, the main argument is overwhelmingly centered on the end of the year exams for primary school students, whether this is in the form of EOG’s for North Carolina students or the FCAT for Florida students. Very little conversation is geared towards the high stakes testing that high school and collegiate students are subject to when testing for higher education. The SAT, one of the more prominent standardized tests for undergraduate admission, is taken by about two million students every year. Colleges will use the scores from these exams, to evaluate whether students have the mental capability to complete collegiate work at their institution. Some colleges even have “cut off” scores that limit students from attending if they do not achieve the desired score. If standardized tests are the entryway into higher education what is this telling our future generations?
This is telling our future generations that they must either be incredible test takers, wealthy enough to pay for private tutors or prep courses, or have incredible luck on the day of tests to even gain access to an institution that is meant as a gateway for economic prosperity. Not only does this system perpetuate the idea that only rich students succeed, but it also provides extensive detriments for students with disabilities and mental health disparities (“Test and Punish”).
In order to prepare for my law school admissions exam I was told by law school deans, admissions representatives, and professors alike to take a prep course. After much consideration I balked and paid for the exam. I am now taking a $1,400 prep course, which allows me 84 hours of small classroom time to “master” all of the strategies and tricks that will help me score well on the LSAT exam. While I am truly grateful that I have the opportunity and privilege of partaking in a course that will allow me hopefully succeed on the exam, I am both angry and uncomfortable in knowing that many students, especially from low income backgrounds, have a disadvantage right from the starting point. The emphasis on these prep courses disallow entry into a professional school solely because these students cannot afford the opportunities to excel on a test that is so imperative to admissions for law schools around the country. Not only does this test stratify law school admissions, but it also gives students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds the upper hand in gaining admissions to the better law schools, that has the potential of leading to more lucrative jobs (and in the current legal market, the school you attend is very important to future job prospects).
After careful evaluations, I now raise the question, should institutions of higher education place such a significant stake in standardized testing given the obvious flaws in the system? The answer could go either way. While it is important to have a component of admissions that is equal for all students wanting admission, having such a large emphasis on a test that gives advantages to certain classes of students can be argued to be unethical and unfair to students. In 37 days, I will take the LSAT at North Carolina Central University and pray that I will score high enough on a four and a half hour high stakes test to realize my dreams of being a lawyer.
**The tweet hyperlinked in this post is a quote of a statement I made regarding my feelings of LSAT testing.