So first off, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone about the writing sample: Don’t worry about it too much. As long as you take it seriously, give it your best effort, and demonstrate that you are capable of writing, in English, in a coherent manner, then the writing section of the LSAT is highly unlikely to help (or hurt) your application.
If in fact, someone actually reads your LSAT writing sample when reviewing your application, then they’re probably going to recognize that they are reading an ungraded essay that you wrote after an intense 3-hour period in which you took perhaps the most important exam of your life… and they’re probably going to read it (if at all) in light of that fact. I doubt that anyone has gone in there and written an exceptionally brilliant treatise so moving that it swayed an admissions decision.
On the other hand, if you blow it off entirely, or blatantly ignore the stimulus and write a diatribe against standardized testing, or something silly like that, well, that’s sort of thing might make an admissions committee question your character.
Ok, now having said that… here are a few tips on how to write a passable essay
Tip #1: Remember that “there is no “right” or “wrong” choice: a reasonable argument can be made for either.”
Don’t waste much time worrying about which side you argue for. The issue is designed in such a way that a reasonable argument can be made for either side. Read the prompt & pick whichever side you initially lean toward. Then focus on developing as strong an argument as possible for that side.
Tip #2: Be sure to follow the ‘rules’ given & stay on topic
Keep your argument on topic! In the example above, we’re asked to argue for either the “national” or “regional” plan on the basis of two criteria: the company wants to increase its profits & ensure its long-term financial stability. Stick to that task.
In reality, there are probably a million different paths that the company could take aside from the “national” and “regional” plans.
For example: don’t come up with and argue for an alternative “acquisition” plan in which the company buys other strong regional players, even if you think that is ultimately the best real-world answer. That’s not what the question asks of you. You’re asked to argue for the “national” plan OR the “regional” plan.Do just that. Stick to the script.
In reality, there are also probably a million different criteria that the company could take into consideration aside from “increase profits” and “ensure long-term financial stability.”
For example: don’t come up with and develop an argument around an alternative “environmental impact” criteria that the company should take into consideration when making its decision. Even if you believe that is ultimately an important real-world consideration. That’s not what the question asks of you. You’re asked to weigh the given plans on the basis of the given criteria. Do just that. Stick to the Script.
Tip #3: Consider organizing your response using a modified version of the “IRAC” methodology.
“IRAC (pronounced EYE-rack) is an acronym that stands for Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. It functions as a methodology for legal analysis. The IRAC format is mostly used in hypothetical questions in law school and bar exams.” (thanks, wikipedia!)
Using IRAC is by no means required, so if you don’t find this tip useful, feel free to ignore it and write an otherwise well-organized essay. But you’re frequently going to be asked to argue using the IRAC method in law school… so using this general framework is a simple way to write a well-organized essay that will be familiar to anyone reviewing your law school application.
Issue: state the issue that you are being asked to analyze.
Rule: state the rule (criterion)
Application: apply the criterion to the facts presented in each alternative choice
Conclusion: conclude that the position you’re arguing for is the better choice, given how the stated criterion apply to the facts.
The LSAT Writing Sample asks you to write an essay in 35 minutes. It is wise to invest a few hours in preparation for your essay. Those who don’t prepare at all often write terrible essays. These essays might even be bad enough to endanger a student’s admission chances. Spend a few hours looking at sample essays to avoid any unnecessary mistakes.
The essay section is designed to test how well you can (1) organize a compelling argument using sound reasoning and supporting evidence and (2) express your thoughts clearly in written form. The essay section is NOT meant to test how many big vocabulary words you know, how much you know about the law or any other specific topic, or really even how creative you are.
What will the topic be?
You won’t be asked to write about a specific topic so much as you’ll be asked to respond to a specific scenario. The scenario will always be presented in the same form. Here’s a watered-down example (keep in mind that the scenario on your exam will be more involved):
John wants to buy a pet. He is choosing between a cat and a dog. He only has time to care for one pet. Write an essay in which you argue for the purchase of one type of pet over the other based on the following considerations:
- John wants a pet that will be relatively maintenance-free.
- John wants a pet that will be a true, loyal companion.
The first option, the cat, is a clean pet that does not typically damage or destroy household property. While the cat does need to be fed twice per day, it does not need to be taken for daily walks. The cat is very aloof and non-responsive to human interaction, but it does grow attached to its human owner over time.
The second option, the dog, requires daily attention. The dog has been known to damage household property, and it requires walks on a daily basis. With training, the dog can learn to be relatively self-sufficient. The dog responds to human interaction and craves the attention of its human owner, but it can’t communicate very well with humans.
As mentioned earlier, the scenario will always be presented in the same way. The first part will present a choice, the second part (the bullet statements) will present two considerations that need to be weighed in making that choice, and the third part will provide more information about the two choices at hand. Notice that there is no right or wrong answer here. In fact, the scenario is presented in such a way as to make it difficult to decide which option is better! They both have their pros and cons. What’s important is NOT which option you choose, but rather how you justify, or support, the choice that you do end up making.
How should I write my essay?
The following will outline a process for planning and writing your essay. It certainly isn’t the only way to do it, but it does provide a consistent, repeatable approach that you’ll be able to rely on.
Step 1: Compile information in grid form (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)
In the test booklet, set up a table that has the two choices along the top and the two considerations along the side. In the intersecting cells of the grid, include the appropriate pros and cons using a “+” before any pro and a “-“ before any con. For our example, it might look like this:
|Relatively Maintenance-Free||+ clean|
+ doesn’t destroy property
+ no walks
– needs food twice per day
|– daily attention|
– damages property
– daily walks
+ can learn to be relatively self-sufficient
|True, Loyal Companion||– aloof and non-responsive|
+ becomes attached to human owner
|+ responds to humans|
+ craves human attention
– can’t communicate well
You’re familiar with cats and dogs, so it’s probably already obvious to you that a cat would be a good low-maintenance choice and a dog would be good for companionship. Keep in mind, however, that the scenario you will see on your exam will be much less familiar to you. Organizing the information in grid form will make it much easier for you to see the relative strengths and weaknesses of each choice.
Step 2: Decide on a “more important” consideration (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)
At this point, you want to make a decision. Is it more important for John that the pet be maintenance-free or that it be a loyal companion? Again, there’s no right answer. Even so, you need to decide which you will make more important. Choose one that you can easily justify (even if it’s a made-up justification). For example, we’ll decide:
“Having a loyal companion is more important than having a low-maintenance pet because true friendship trumps all else. If John has a true companion and friend, the daily maintenance will become a labor of love instead of a hassle.”
Step 3: Make your choice! (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)
Your decision in step 2 should lead you to a clear choice. In this case, if we deem companionship to be the more important consideration, then we’ll want to choose the dog (since the dog clearly has more compelling plusses in that part of the grid).
“John should pick the dog because it will serve as a more loyal companion than the cat will.”
Step 4: Write the essay (25 minutes)
Plan on structuring your essay the same way every time. Here’s an easy template to follow:
Essay Section Template
A. Summarize the decision to be made.“The scenario presented above puts John in a position in which he will choose between purchasing a cat and purchasing a dog.”
B. Acknowledge the complexity of the decision. “Given the considerations and characteristics of the choices at hand, this is a very difficult decision in that each choice has its merits.”
C. State your opinion. “Even so, John would be better served by choosing the dog.”
A. State why the primary consideration (the one you chose to be the primary consideration) is more important and how your choice satisfies this consideration. “First, it is more important to have a pet that serves as a loyal companion than it is to have a pet that is maintenance-free…” (justify this statement, even if it’s a made-up justification) or “The dog will be a loyal companion in that it will …” (use the information from the grid to show how)
B. State why the other choice (cat) falls short in this regard.“The cat, on the other hand, is a poor match for anyone looking for a loyal pet …” (use the information from the grid to show how)
State how your choice still does an okay job with the secondary consideration.“Furthermore, while the dog isn’t an ideal choice for someone wanting a maintenance-free pet, it can learn to be relatively self-sufficient…” (use any other information from the grid to support this)
Summarize your argument
Step 5: Proofread! (5 minutes)
Spelling errors, misprints, grammatical errors, etc. will never go over well. While a few simple mistakes won’t kill you, you want to be sure your final essay is as clean as possible.
Practice this a few times on some real essay prompts and you should be all set. Good luck!