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The LSAT Writing Sample – Everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask

FAN2014392I was speaking with some of my students during our class break today and the conversation turned to the LSAT Writing Sample – the least feared section of the LSAT. I don’t think we’ve ever discussed it here in the Blog, and it is a part of the LSAT, so it’s worthy of at least one post.

Not surprising, we spend very little time on the Writing Sample in the Kaplan course. Why isn’t that a surprise? Because our definition of importance is based purely off the answers to two questions: “How many points is that worth on Test Day?” and “How much will it affect your law school application?”. Since the two answers for the Writing Sample are “none” and “not much”, we only cover it once in class.

So, here are the big questions that my students asked and the information you need about the Writing Sample.

Q: Why is the Writing Sample even on the LSAT?

A: Like everything else on the LSAT, the Writing Sample tests key law school skills – written communication and argument formulation.

Q: What’s the format of the Writing Sample?

A: With the exception of a failed experiment in 2007 (so if you look at released LSATs from a very short period of time, you may see a different style of prompt – you should promptly ignore those deviations!), every Writing Sample prompt is the same – a decision maker is choosing one of two options, based on two criteria. Your task is to write a persuasive argument in favour of one option over the other. Like the other sections of the LSAT, you have 35 minutes to plan and compose your essay. The Writing Sample is the last section of the LSAT.

Q: If the Writing Sample isn’t scored, what (if anything) do schools do with it?

A: Schools get a copy of your essay – some read it all the way through, some take a quick glance, some ignore it completely (to be safe, assume your target schools read it). If schools have a reason to doubt your language skills (e.g. if you’re an international student for whom English isn’t your first language), they’re more likely to carefully read your essay. The essay will be part of your permanent file.

Most schools give it a quick once-over and, assuming it’s not bad, just throw it in your file and don’t worry about it. A bad Writing Sample can seriously hurt your application, so you need to ensure that your essay is at least passable.

Some schools compare your Writing Sample to your admissions essays to see if you did, in fact, write your own personal statement. One can’t reasonably compare a 35-minute first-draft essay to an edited, re-edited and re-re-edited personal statement, but schools can definitely tell if the essays are written in the same “voice”. What’s the moral of the story? Write your own personal statement! (Note: this doesn’t mean that you can’t get help with your applications – but an ethical consultant will never offer to write your essays for you, she’ll just guide you through the process.)

Q: How much time should I devote to studying for the Writing Sample?

A: Not much! Make sure that you’re comfortable with the format, know how to manage the 35 minutes and have a template in mind going into Test Day. Especially if you’re comfortable with essay-writing in general, if you practice the Writing Sample on at least 3 full-length LSATs you should be in great shape for the real thing.

If you’re like most test-takers, you’ll actually find the Writing Sample to be relaxing; the tough parts of the LSAT are done and now you can de-stress and even have a bit of fun (hey, if you don’t enjoy arguing, why are you even applying to law school?).

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Do you have questions about the Writing Sample that my students didn’t pose? Now’s your chance – ask away!

Stuart Kovinsky

About Stuart Kovinsky

I'm Stuart Kovinsky, an out-of-the-closet LSAT geek from Toronto. I've been teaching for Kaplan for over 20 years (not counting a 5 year break to practice as a commercial litigator at a big Toronto firm) and, working both as a teacher and an admissions consultant, have coached a lot of students to their top choice schools. I'm also an ultimate frisbee enthusiast - when not in the classroom or behind the keyboard you'll often find me on the field.

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