This article was updated 5/30/19.
Effective June 2019, students do not have to complete a writing sample immediately after taking the LSAT. Instead, they will complete LSAT Writing (the official new name) on their own time. Whether it be in the days, weeks, or even months following the test. But, it’s not just the name and location that has changed. Continue reading to learn all you need to know about the LSAT Writing Sample! What’s expected of you, how it’s administered, its general importance, and how to write the most compelling essay possible.
LSAT Writing is a 35-minute assignment. It requires you to write a persuasive essay in favor of a particular choice among two possible options. We’ll explore the specifics of the task, known as a “Decision Prompt,” shortly. First, let’s discuss some notable aspects of LSAT Writing itself.
1. It is mandatory.
Your file is not complete until you have submitted at least one writing sample. LSAC is serious about this! Your Law School Report (the compilation of your school records, test scores, writing sample, letters of recommendation, etc.) will not be sent to any law school you’ve applied to until it’s done. You officially have one year from your test date to complete a writing sample. Our advice is to get it over with sooner rather than later. You don’t want to drop the ball and miss your application deadlines! Keep in mind that LSAC claims that it may take 3-4 weeks to process your sample and update your file.
2. It only needs to be done once.
Candidates now only have to have a single writing sample on file, even if it’s from a past, paper-based test. Re-takers do not have to complete additional LSAT Writing unless they want to. Maybe you want to submit more than one! Perhaps you’d rather have a typed sample on file rather than a handwritten essay. Or maybe you feel after reading this post that you could do a better job. If you already have a writing sample on file and really want to submit another one, you’ll have to pay a small fee. Schools will receive the 3 most recent writing samples as part of your Law School Report.
3. It is unscored.
Yep, you read that right: your essay will not receive a number or value. Unlike the multiple-choice questions you recently tackled on the LSAT, the difference between “great” effort and something inarguably mediocre is more qualitative than quantitative. It comes down primarily to your ability to adhere to a handful of suggestions that I’ll outline in detail below.
LSAT Writing is sent to every law school to which you apply. Many will skim it, and some will read it carefully. So don’t blow it off!
The last thing you want an admissions committee that reads your essay to think you’re not serious about the process. Law school is brutal. It requires a Herculean level of dedication. Imagine what it says to a group debating your intentions and potential if you don’t commit yourself to a half-hour writing exercise. The risks of dismissiveness far outweigh the rewards. Plus, according to a few admissions directors we spoke with, they’re looking at the quality of your unedited and spontaneous essay as a further indicator of your writing chops. It’s skillset central to law school success.
You’re in this to win it, so let’s go nuts. I’m going to dissect LSAT Writing piece by piece. From the General Directions to the specific essay Directions to the details of an actual Prompt. And I’ll even give you the tools to craft an essay that any board would be pleased to receive.
You’ll need access to a computer running Windows or Mac OS, not Chrome OS. It has to have a webcam, a microphone, a single connected monitor, and an internet connection. You’ll definitely want to run the proctoring software in advance and get some experience via the practice environment on the LSAC site. You will receive a link to the “Get Aquainted with LSAT Writing” proctoring software in your LSAC.org account. That interface will offer common word-processing functions, including a spell-check function and the ability to cut, copy, and paste. There are also accessibility features such as a font magnifier, line reader, and speech-to-text compatibility.
The proctoring platform will use input from your keyboard, webcam, microphone, and computer screen to ensure you’re not getting outside assistance. You’ll have a video check-in process where you show a government-issued ID as well as your workspace to the camera. The platform will close any outside messaging or web-browsing applications and your actions will be recorded and reviewed by proctors.
“You will have 35 minutes in which to plan and write an essay on the topic provided [it will be a randomly selected prompt]. Read the topic and the accompanying directions carefully. You will probably find it best to spend a few minutes considering the topic and organizing your thoughts before you begin writing. In your essay, be sure to develop your ideas fully, leaving time, if possible, to review what you have written. Do not write on a topic other than the one specified. Writing on a topic of your own choice is not acceptable.
No special knowledge is required or expected for this writing exercise. Law schools are interested in the reasoning, clarity, organization, language usage, and writing mechanics displayed in your essay. How well you write is more important than how much you write.”
You will be able to use scratch paper to sketch out any notes or initial thoughts. Use it jot down pros and cons and develop a game plan for your overall response. Before you start, you will need to show the camera both sides of any scratch paper. If you wrap things up early, you’ll have time to proofread your writing and make quick edits as needed. And, trust me, there will almost certainly be some mistakes to touch up.
Next, this essay is all about your interpretation of the information they give you. It is not about your specific knowledge of the topic nor the volume of text you submit. Readers care about how persuasive your argument is and that’s it. Focus on crafting a convincing defense of your chosen path and worry less about subject knowledge and word count.
Oddly, there is a second set of directions immediately before the essay topic. These are more specific to the nature of the Prompt itself. Be sure to understand these directions prior to beginning your essay. Re-reading them wastes valuable time!
You Must Make a Choice
The scenario presented below describes two choices, either of which can be supported on the basis of the information given. Your essay should consider both choices and argue one over the other based on the specified criteria and provided facts. There is no “right” or “wrong” choice: a reasonable argument can be made for either. Again, easy enough. These directions outline the crucial points for what’s to come. You’ve got an either/or decision to make with no “right” choice. There’s information provided in support of both options and yet you have to choose one and stick to it.
This is critical.
You must take a side.
There’s no clear winner. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, but you can’t hedge here. You need to choose one and go all-in in your defense of it. However, and as we’ll see, that doesn’t mean blind devotion. The fact that you’re leaning one way doesn’t mean the alternative is without merit. Acknowledging the occasional failings of your path while simultaneously hinting at the upsides of the other is what great essays are made of. But more on that in a second.
Consider This Example
Let’s examine the Writing Sample from the June 2007 LSAT for a detailed look at exactly how this plays out. Go the link and review the sample, which is about BLZ Stores.
As you can see, you have to commit to one of two choices based on two criteria. In this case, increased and one assumes somewhat immediate, profitability and long-term financial stability. As is true of every LSAT Writing prompt, the dilemma is the same. Each choice will presumably better satisfy one governing objective while simultaneously under-performing with respect to the other. In other words, there’s no clear winner. An odd situation for a test all about right answers.
Here the two choices are particularly opaque: neither seems to clearly accomplish either goal. Still, you can expect to assign each option to an objective, and that provides a starting point. What are our objectives, and which plan better serves each?
- Increase profits, meaning we need a way to generate income and hopefully as quickly as possible. Although the “national plan” mentions profits, it is also a costly and seemingly high-risk move in the short-term. From a profit objective, it seems more prudent to pursue the “regional plan” where BLZ avoids serious debt by using its cash reserves to increase the size and number of its stores and quickly raise prices. Basically, this option requires little change in terms of infrastructure. Thus, it allows for some potentially speedy results, as previously observed in a trial store. It doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term growth/stability, however. It only applies to the stores in the company’s home region where we’re told competition is increasing. In a sense this is a much more incremental, small-scale change than the alternative. But, with the potential to produce modest but fast financial gains.
- Ensure long-term financial stability, meaning we need a way to safeguard against potential setbacks on the scale of years, perhaps decades. With the talk of increasingly heavy competition in BLZ’s home region, it seems as though the “national plan” offers the more appealing long-term, large-scale solution. Granted, there are greater risks than with the regional plan. BLZ will incur considerable debt, devote significant resources to new staff and marketing/distribution efforts. They’ll also face an uphill battle of not-so-great odds given the historical consequences for other companies that adopted this strategy. But with a strong reputation and the need to expand beyond their home region, the long-term viability of the company may well depend on this big picture approach.
Two things about those bullets. First, I’ve tried to categorize the two plans according to their likelihood of satisfying the criteria provided. Generally, it’s much more black and white to see which plan serves which objective. This particular Sample is annoyingly unclear. I also explained my reasoning for why I paired them as I did and mentioned the downsides of each. That’s roughly how you should begin the planning phase of your essay. Consider how to partner a choice with the criteria it most satisfies and why. Simultaneously determine the ways in which it falls short of perfection. Second, I wouldn’t actually write that all out on the real thing, at least not as I did here. I listed it merely to demonstrate the thought process behind the assignments I’ve chosen.
Instead, what I suggest you do to keep this process organized is create an x-, y-axis type graph on your scratch paper. Here you can list the Pros and Cons of each choice so that you do not overlook any as you begin to type. Something like this.
Now you can easily catalog the advantages and disadvantages of the two plans according to the criteria on offer. So if I were to then fill in each of those quadrants, it would appear as…
At this point, the only thing left to do before I get to writing is to pick a side. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer. Choose whichever option you feel you’re better able to defend based on the points you’ve just sketched out. Whichever happens to appeal to you or that you believe has more attractive pros and/or less detrimental cons.
For me, with this particular Prompt, I’d choose the regional plan. Here’s why. The regional plan seems to give better immediate prospects in terms of low-risk financial success. While it’s unlikely to be a permanent solution to the company’s long-term ambitions if it generates quick profits with little investment. In turn, it would minimize the consequences associated with eventually pursuing a more nationally-oriented expansion. In short, employ the regional plan now, make as much money as possible from your loyal, local customer base before the competition gets untenable. Then, use those gains to offset the “considerable debt” associated with something more aggressive down the road.
Note that I’m not recommending “do both!” That would be a mistake. I made a decision in favor of one over the other. However, my reasoning can still allow for the possibility that doing one now doesn’t inherently preclude the other’s potential existence at some point in the future. Unless, of course, the initial choice craters the company entirely, a very real concern with the national plan in this case.
You have to make a decision between competing options with no right or wrong answer and contrasting points for and against each choice based on a pair of desired outcomes. You must choose, despite neither being a perfect solution, spend several minutes determining which plan is better suited to the criteria provided, and make a quick sketch to note the pros and cons of each choice. Once you choose the plan you feel better equipped to defend, you defend it while acknowledging the downsides of your choice and the potential upsides of the alternative.
And now we write.
For a lot of students out there the most familiar essay structure is the old, high-school-favorite five paragraph response. That’s far too involved for this task. Instead, I encourage you to craft a simple, two-paragraph essay, as follows.
Paragraph 1: Your Choice
- Begin with a clear statement expressing which of the two options you’ve chosen. Then spend the remainder of the first paragraph in defense of that decision: explain why your pros are notable and relevant and the driving factors in the determination, and downplay the weaknesses that your selection contains. This is important! You need to explicitly mention that your choice does in fact have failings, at which point you can then describe why their consequences aren’t a deal-breaker.
- One of the primary considerations of anyone reading your essay will be whether you were candid and fair-minded in your treatment of an imperfect plan. Remember, admitting a degree of weakness can ultimately be a strength, provided you proactively address it and mitigate its nastier effects. This is your opportunity to do just that.
Paragraph 2: The Alternative
- In your second paragraph you’ll provide your reasoning for avoiding the other option, specifically by downplaying its advantages and emphasizing its shortcomings. Again, you need to grant that this choice has some merit. Doing so shows that you’re not only equitable—diplomacy of a type goes a long way here—but it also allows you to then de-emphasize those benefits.
- Finally, conclude this paragraph with a sentence that quickly restates your choice and, in broad terms, how the information you’ve provided speaks in favor of it.
Of course, if you have a few minutes remaining—and it’s a good idea to pace yourself so that you do—reread what you’ve written looking for typos, misspellings, and grammatical errors that the word processing functions might miss. These things won’t keep you out of law school if you’re otherwise qualified, but they hardly serve to make a great impression. Clean it up if you can.
I’ve provided more of a template for how to write the essay, rather than an “ideal” sample essay itself.
While I strongly encourage you to adhere to the points and pattern outlined above, the reason for this is that I am not here to dictate your writing style. Your voice is your own, and it’s important that it ring true and read authentically throughout your essay.
Are there soft rules you should follow? Yes. And the text here should give you a clear idea of what those are. But it’s up to you to fill in the gaps with words—and reasoning—of your creation. Fortunately, by following this guide I’m confident you’ll have no trouble expressing yourself commendably when it counts.