LSAT Writing Sample Driving You Crazy?
A lot of people tend to forget, but the LSAT actually has six sections, not five. Everyone knows about the reading comp, games, double logical reasoning and the experimental (which can be any of the three), but like a short guy at a bar, the writing sample tends to go unnoticed. Some of you may be hearing about it for the first time. And there’s a reason for this. In the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty inconsequential.
For one thing, it’s unscored. Really. Whether you write at the level of Shakespeare or Dan Brown, it has no effect on your 120-180 score. But this doesn’t mean you can skip it; if you leave it blank, they won’t score your test at all. Some people believe that its actual primary purpose is to prevent cheating; if they had reason to believe that someone else had taken the test for you, they could compare your handwriting with that on the test.
Also, it’s always at the end. If they threw it randomly into the mix of the other five sections, then that could make a difference in your study habits, as you would have to build even more endurance, making sure that you were still able to do logic games after writing a moronic essay. But that’s not a worry. So there is really no need to throw writing sample sections into your practice exams.
So what’s the point of the thing (aside from the cheating thing)? Well, law schools already know how you can write at your best, given infinite preparation, editing and revision time. They have your personal statement. But as anyone who knows anything about law school can tell you, you’re not going to have an infinite amount of time to do anything once you get there. So law schools also want to see how you write at your worst, when you’re approaching a mental breakdown. And you don’t get much more frazzled than after being schooled by an excruciatingly difficult three hour test.
The good news is that the writing sample is pretty easy. Basically, you get a situation where you argue for one of two courses of action while trying to satisfy two criteria. There is no “right choice.” As lawyers, you’ll be constantly arguing for things about which you are unsure, with insufficient information, so this is a little taste of things to come. For example, you might get something like this:
The freeways of Los Angeles have become far too crowded, and the city government has decided to do something about it this year. This will be accomplished by one of two possible means – either by widening and expanding the highway system, or by forcibly executing half the population. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:
• The city government wants to clear up traffic as soon as possible for as little money as possible
• The city government wants to keep as many of its constituents alive as possible
One option is to widen and expand the freeway system. This could potentially take many years and cost a lot of money. However, very few people would die in the process.
Alternatively, the city could kill half of its residents. This would be cheap, and after the bodies were disposed of, traffic would immediately be thinned out.
Again, there is no right or wrong choice. So first you pick a side. Don’t make up your own third option, and don’t try to somehow combine the two. Doing that doesn’t show that you’re creative and innovative. It shows that you’re an idiot who doesn’t know how to follow instructions. Also, don’t bring in your own criteria of what’s important. The only weights that matter are the two bulleted goals.
So let’s say you choose the mass killing option. What you want to do is play up the pros of your side (cheap and quick) and the cons of the other side (takes a long time and expensive). But you also need to concede your weaknesses (lots of people die) and the other side’s advantages (few people die), but just downplay them. Really, that’s it. You get 35 minutes to do it, but even if you outline and plan the whole thing out first (which you should), you’ll still probably find you have more than enough time. You shouldn’t feel like it has to be amazing prose. Nobody really writes an amazing essay; it’s adequate or it’s not.
So take a look at a few writing samples to get a feel for what they look like, and do a few as practice, but that’s all you need. Pretty much everyone does fine, and it really is pretty unimportant – virtually everything else in your application carries far more weight. So go back to studying for the rest of the test, that’s what will make the difference.