The LSAT has six sections. The last of those sections is often ignored, but since you’ll have to deal with it on test day, we’re going to talk about it today.
The writing sample always comes at the end of the LSAT, after all five multiple-choice sections. The proctors will collect your test booklets and answer sheets, then pass out the writing sample topic and the sheet on which you’ll write your essay. You’ll have 35 minutes to plan your essay and write.
The writing sample isn’t scored, but law schools will see it. It isn’t likely that your writing sample will play a big role in whether you get in, as long as you follow directions. It would look really bad if you were to blow off the writing sample entirely, or doodle pictures instead. Writing Twilight fan fiction probably isn’t the best idea either.
If law schools read your essay, they’re not expecting a masterpiece. The most important thing is that you write the essay you’re supposed to write. The prompt always follows the same format. You’re given a fictional situation and a choice that must be made between two options; for example, let’s say our protagonist is headed out for a night on the town and must choose between the pool hall and the nightclub. You’re also given two criteria to use in making your decision. Let’s say the criteria are having a good time that night and not spending too much money.
Your job is to argue that one option better fulfills the stated criteria. There’s no right answer; the prompt is always written so that each side has apparent advantages and disadvantages. But you have to pick a side. That’s what the directions ask you to do.
Start by brainstorming the pros and cons of each option with respect to the criteria. Go into it with an open mind; don’t commit to one side right away. Your essay will be stronger if you recognize what’s appealing about the side you argue against. Once you’ve brainstormed, pick a side.
Lead off with your thesis: one option is better than the other because it better fulfills the criteria. Make it clear right off the bat that you’re not being wishy-washy. You’re picking a side and sticking with it. Then, cover each criterion and why your option is better. You can use a little imagination, but stick to the criteria. In our example, how the protagonist will feel the next morning isn’t really relevant to either criterion, so skip it. If the other option has apparent advantages, mitigate them; explain why they’re not a big deal and why your option is still better.
A four-paragraph essay is fine: quick intro, first criterion, second criterion, conclusion. Follow the directions, make it clear that you passed the seventh grade (or if not, that you’ve acquired equivalent skills in the intervening years), get the essay done and don’t stress about it. You’ll probably be done early, and you’ll probably never again see a room of people look as bored as your fellow test takers will look with five minutes left on the writing sample. Be happy you’re done with the LSAT and daydream about whatever you’re going to be doing when you get out of the test center.
It’s not worth devoting serious time to preparing for the writing sample. Your LSAT score is much more important, and that’s an understatement. But it’s probably worth glancing over a prompt or two so you’re familiar with the format. There are a couple sample prompts on LSAC’s website. Look them over and spend a few minutes thinking of pros and cons for each side. If you really want to write one (just one) to practice, go ahead. But if you’re really doing it to procrastinate reading comp practice, know that you’ve sunk pretty low.