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A Take-Home Writing Sample?!


Big news! Since the news came out that the LSAT is going computer-based next year, you might have wondered what’s going to happen to the writing sample. Well, we have news for you. It’s not for sure yet, but it might be an indication of what’s to come.

LSAC has invited some people to participate in a trial. The idea is that you get to complete the writing sample online, at home, after you take the LSAT. And if you take the LSAT multiple times, you’ll only have to do the writing sample once.

There’s no guarantee that this is how it will be implemented when the whole LSAT goes online, but keep in mind that LSAC trialed a digital version of the LSAT just last year, and now the real transition is happening next year. They’re moving pretty quickly on this stuff, rather uncharacteristically for them.

If this is the writing sample of the future, it’s great from a test taker perspective. Many of today’s LSAT test takers were probably born in, oh, 1997 or so. That means they started kindergarten in around 2002, and hit the fourth grade around 2006. My point is that, for some, the LSAT writing sample might be the only essay you write longhand in your entire life. When you type an essay, you get to edit things. You don’t have to worry about your handwriting. These are things we normally take for granted these days.

It’s also great news that you’ll only have to do the writing sample once. It might also seem nice to get to leave the test center right after section 5, but I’ll take the contrarian view on this one. Sure, it’ll be nice when you don’t have to stick around for the writing sample, but are you really going to want to log in to some website to do it later? I’d just as soon get it out of the way while I’m already miserable.

While all of this seems, overall, like good news from the test taker perspective, to my mind it raises a big question: why bother? I mean, why is it so important to keep the writing sample as part of the test in the first place? Nobody is under any illusion that law schools really care that much about the writing sample. Sure, they might glance at it, but it’s not one of the big things that make the difference between getting in or not.

Furthermore, one of the things I thought was actually useful about the writing sample is that law schools could be confident that you and you alone wrote the essay. Suppose they suspect you of paying someone to write your personal statement for you. Well, they know that you wrote your writing sample without help and they can compare the two. If the writing sample were to go online, what would stop you from paying the same person to write your writing sample? I imagine they’ll have some security, but what? Will your webcam have to be on?

Finally, if you’re taking the LSAT in September, the writing sample will be in pencil and paper, at the end of the test, as ever. A little quick advice: Don’t stress. Follow directions. Pick a side. Either side. Use the stated criteria to justify your pick. Apply the criteria to the given facts about the two options. Do that and you’ll be fine.