In today’s post, we compare the GRE vs. the LSAT to help those thinking about graduate or professional school and deciding where their strengths lie. To get into most decent post-graduate programs, you are going to need to take a seriously difficult test of some kind. The GRE and the LSAT are both hard. However, though there is significant overlap in terms of the skills required and the form of the questions, these are very different tests.
First off (in case you are totally new to this) the LSAT is the one that gets you in law school and the GRE is the one that gets you into a whole host of other grad programs. Aside from that, the main difference is that the LSAT is almost exclusively a test of fluid intelligence, that is, your ability to think and solve problems in novel situations. In simple terms, this means the LSAT doesn’t test things you can memorize such as vocab or math formulas. The GRE on the other hand tests BOTH fluid intelligence and acquired knowledge (also known as crystallized knowledge). In this post, we cover the differences in detail. I bet you are also wondering which test is considered easier, which we will discuss as well.
DIFFERENCES: LSAT vs. GRE
To break it down, let’s take a look at what on each test:
- Logical Reasoning (50% of the test, two 35-minute long sections). The logical reasoning section consists of two 35 minute sections (half the scored sections of the test) that test your ability to analyze and reason from brief arguments. Each ‘argument’, which are about a paragraph or two in length, is followed by a prompt asking the test taker to do a task such as determining the assumption made by the argument or identifying logical errors made in the argument.
- Reading Comprehension (25% percent of the test, one 35-minute long section). The reading comprehension section is designed to test your ability to understand longer reading passages. The four passages average about 450 words in length. Tasks include identifying the author’s main point, finding support for specific information in the text, and making inferences based on the contents.
- Analytical Reasoning (more commonly known as ‘logic games’, 25% of the test, one 35-minute long section). In this section, test takers are given a scenario where a number of variables have to be ordered or group according to rules. The games section tests your ability to understand these rules and make logical inferences based on them. Questions will often add or change rules to test your ability to quickly understand new information.
- Writing Sample (unscored). This is a non-graded section of the test where the student is asked to make an argument of their own from a set of facts. Law schools may choose to use this section to evaluate writing ability.
- Verbal Section (1/3rd of test, two 30-minute sections. Unlike the LSAT, GRE takers are given a separate score for each section.) This section tests vocab and reasoning abilities. The section includes approximately 10 text completion questions, ten critical reading questions, and four sentence equivalence questions.
- Quantitative Section (1/3rd of the test, two 30-minute sections). This section tests basic mathematical skills.
- Analytical Writing Section. (1/3rd of the test, two 30-minute sections). The analytical writing section tests writing ability by prompting you to write two passages: on one you have 30 minutes to write about an issue selected from several different topics. On the other, you must pick an argument from a pool and discuss the argument’s soundness as well as ways that it could be improved.
Now that we got that out of the way let’s look at how these tests match up. Really the only significant overlap is that verbal section of the GRE does indeed test abilities similar to those tested on the logical reasoning and reading comprehension sections of the LSAT. However, the GRE verbal reasoning section also tests a learned skill, vocabulary (the LSAT does test vocabulary insofar as you have to understand English words to take the test, but the vocab used on the LSAT is never difficult). Also, the GRE verbal questions, even short ones, tend to more closely resemble LSAT reading comprehension questions than logical reasoning. Check here for sample GRE verbal questions.
Nothing even resembling the quantitative section of the GRE appears on the LSAT. Similarly, there is nothing at all like the LSAT logic games section contained on the GRE. As we said before, this is because the LSAT wholly avoids testing crystallized intelligence, i.e. stuff that you have to memorize. Learning a math formula would be an example of obtaining crystallized knowledge- once you know it by heart, you pretty much are going to get a question employing just that formula right. The LSAT has nothing that is like that. Even though you can learn the different tools you will need to understand problems, it’s designed so that each problem is going to be something you haven’t seen before. You’ll need to think on your feet to solve each and every problem.
The writing sections are also very different. As we explained here, law schools don’t really place much weight on the writing section. The LSAT writing section is unscored and you don’t have to study or practice before you do it. The GRE writing section is scored and you are advised to learn how to do it properly (this shouldn’t take too long, but still, it requires some sort of effort).
How Hard Is The GRE Compared to The LSAT?
I could mince words here, but instead I’m going to take a firm line on this. The LSAT is a harder test than the GRE. The LSAT is like the Ferrari of standardized, whereas the GRE is more like a Hyundai. Here’s why:
- Fewer people get perfect scores on the LSAT, even when you control for the fact that more people take the GRE than the LSAT. Getting a 180 on the LSAT is extremely rare. In 2008-2009 when a ton of people took it, only about 30 people got a perfect score. The only really fair comparison is to compare the verbal section to the whole of the LSAT. It is rare to hit a perfect score on the GRE verbal section, but it still happens a greater percentage of the time than it does on on the LSAT. Perfect quant scores are relatively common. Certain programs toss out an application if the applicant doesn’t have a perfect quant score. If a law school tried to do this with the LSAT, they wouldn’t have any students.
- I suspect if people prepped as hard for the GRE as for the LSAT, you’d see a lot more really high scores. Generally people don’t prep all that much for the GRE, and you still see more hitting the top scores.
- The LSAT doesn’t test any facts or formulas that you can memorize. You’ve got no crutch to lean on for any part of the LSAT. Even someone who is nearly perfect at games is going to stumble on one of them occasionally.
- The GRE could be way harder. It could for example, be as hard as the section specific GRE’s which are much more feared. On the other hand, if the LSAT were much harder, it would get silly. Get a 173 and you are still 7 points from a 180, yet you scored better than over 99% of other takers. Basically the test doesn’t need to be any harder to identify top candidates, as you start to get so few takers hitting these top levels that there aren’t enough to go around even at the very best schools.
- Usually, way more is riding on the LSAT. Because the LSAT alone usually accounts for over 50% of whether you get in to X school, the LSAT is essentially guaranteed to be more stressful. Apparently, that’s not the case with the GRE (read on).
How The Tests Are Used in Admissions: LSAT vs GRE.
I admit I don’t know much about how the GRE is used in admissions, so I’m going to let Wikipedia field this one:
Unlike other standardized admissions tests (such as the SAT, LSAT, and MCAT), the use and weight of GRE scores vary considerably not only from school to school, but from department to department, and from program to program also. Programs in liberal arts topics may only consider the applicant’s verbal score to be of interest, while mathematics and science programs may only consider quantitative ability; however, since most applicants to mathematics, science, or engineering graduate programs all have high quantitative scores, the verbal score can become a deciding factor even in these programs. (Source)
The LSAT on the other hand, I know a LOT about. The LSAT is so important to law school that it might as well be considered the law school entrance exam. A great score can overcome even a very low GPA. For more on that, see our post on getting into law school with a low GPA). Also get a full discussion of how important the LSAT is here.
Introduction to Prepping For The LSAT
Lawschooli.com is an LSAT and law school admissions and advice site, so we can start you off right if you decide to tackle the LSAT. First thing, just because the LSAT requires fluid intelligence doesn’t mean that it isn’t a learnable test. On the contrary, it require skills that can be significantly improved through practice and by learning the right way to approach questions. Though the content of the questions is always different and new, the form of the questions varies little test to test- the best strategies for these different forms can be learned.
If you want to destroy the LSAT the best thing is to start with the right prep books to show you how to approach the various question types quickly and accurately. Our recommendations may be found here.
After you’ve got those books, prep with our recommended LSAT Study Schedule and I promise you, you will be a fast and furious LSAT master by the day of the actual test.
Best of luck! If you’d like disagree with my assessment that the LSAT is harder than the GRE, let me know in the comments!