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The LSAT Writing Sample: What and Why

Scritchy-scratch, scritchy-scratch.

When I took the LSAT back in 10,000 BC, there was no writing sample. Just five sections of multiple choice fun, and then it was off to drink whiskey until my results came three weeks later. (Okay, I did things besides drink whiskey, but the evening after the LSAT was all whiskey.) Now, and since 2007, there is a sixth, written section to the LSAT.

What is the writing sample?

The writing sample requires you to write an argumentative essay, much like your law school finals. Here are the basics:

  • It is not graded and does not factor into your LSAT score.
  • It will, however, be sent on to schools without comment.
  • You’ll have 35 minutes to complete it, just like other sections.
  • It must be written in pencil.
  • It is (maddeningly) the only section for which you’ll have scratch paper.
  • Just like the rest of the exam, it requires no outside knowledge or legal expertise.
  • Now, what are you arguing about in this essay? Well, just like the multiple choice portion of the exams, the subject matter could be anything. However, the format is always the same. A person or organization must decide between two mutually exclusive options. You must pick one option over the other, arguing for the merits of that option and arguing against the other option. They will give you a number of facts that you can refer to as support for your argument.

    In case you were wondering, there’s no right answer as to which of the two options is the right one. So, feel free to pick either. You should pick the one that you believe you can make the strongest argument for.

    Why was the writing sample added to the LSAT?

    Many conspiracy theories abound as to why there is a writing sample: It helps ensure you haven’t traded places at the break with a better exam taker; it helps law schools figure out whether you actually wrote your personal statement; with a handwriting sample they can assume you identity and drain your bank account.

    Okay, the last one was a joke, but the writing sample is there for a very straightforward reason. It’s to test your ability to write an argumentative essay when your brain is fried because that’s basically law school finals in a nutshell. A major complaint about the LSAT is how divorced it seems from the law, even though it is indeed a test of your ability to reason in the same way that a lawyer should.

    As mentioned in the “what” section, this essay is passed on to law schools without comment. It is, by all accounts, not one of the more important parts of you application package. Admissions officers will probably do a brief readthrough, and, as long as you made the effort, they’ll be satisfied and move on to the more important parts of your application.

    So, the bottom line is that you should give your best effort (which, everyone understands, is not going to be perfect after 175 minutes of hardcore logic), but you shouldn’t worry much about it or spend a whole lot of time preparing for it. That said, you should do a couple of practice essays just to make sure you’re comfortable with the process and ready to address it on test day.