LSATs, MCATs, and the transatlantic testing divide

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As a speaker of the American tongue, I grew up firmly grounded in an education system with a strict linear progression; first came preschool and kindergarten, then elementary, middle, and high school. College followed, and then – this was the optional part – graduate or professional school.

Unlike in Britain, law and medicine are programs found only at the graduate level in the United States, requiring a bachelor’s degree to gain admittance. Whereas fellow undergraduates at Oxford might be lawyers or medics from the start of their university education, with the exception of a few early-entry medical school programs, in the US students don’t have to decide that they want to take either path until a few years into college, as long as they meet any course requirements.

But since I’m a second-year historian at Oxford, I’ve only got one year left after this at university, unlike my cohorts from American high schools. And it was because of this that I found myself taking the LSAT, or Law School Admission Test, last weekend.

What many students in the United States don’t realize when they take the SAT tests in high school is that many more standardized tests lie ahead. For law school, it’s the LSAT, and for medical school, the MCAT. For graduate programs in the liberal arts or public policy, the GRE is required, and later on, business school applicants face the GMAT. Sometimes it seems as if the list never ends.

This puzzles my friends at Oxford in some ways. While they had to sit for the HAT, or the TSA, or the LNAT before interviewing, it amazes them that I have to go through the whole thing again, for every step forward in my American education that I may want to take.

I never considered that this process might be different elsewhere in the world; after all, when I was taking the LSAT, I could just as easily have been in Canada or Australia, where the test is also required for law school admission, or sitting the exam anywhere in the world at one of the various administration locations for students from around the globe who want to attend law school in one of the aforementioned countries.

Each conduit, both British and American, has its merits and its flaws. Personally, I’m not too irked by this round of testing; I’d rather do it this way than have to decide at seventeen that law was the path I wanted to take. I’m still not sure if it’s what I want to do, and luckily I’ve got time to decide.

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