Changes to the LSAT Writing Sample, Coming in June

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Ever since LSAC announced that it would switch-up the format of the LSAT from the staid, old, traditional pencil-and-paper exam to the gleaming, new digital LSAT, we’ve been covering — quite extensively, I’d say — the changes coming in 2019. But we haven’t yet given proper due to the changes coming for the writing sample, which will debut in June 2019.

The writing sample has long been, well, if not the bane of LSAT takers existence — let’s be honest, that would be Reading Comp — at least the nagging stick in their collective craw. For all the exams pre-June 2019, here’s what would happen: You’d complete the first five multiple choice sections, 175 minutes of intense logical reasoning, logic gaming, and … reading comprehending. You’d be tired — nay, exhausted. You’d know that everything that actually counts towards your LSAT score had been completed. You’d be ready to hand your test booklet and answer sheet to the proctor and — dear God, finally — get out of that testing center, drive literally anywhere else, pick up the first adult beverage that you encountered and not put one down until you passed out in a blissful post-exam slumber. Except you couldn’t, at least not until 35 interminably long minutes had passed. You’d be required to spend an extra 35 minutes in the test center, painstakingly handwriting an essay for something called a “writing sample,” even if you’ve already done a writing sample for a previous LSAT.

But after June 2019, literally nothing in the last sentence will be true.

LSAC recently updated their website with FAQs on the new version of the writing sample that will be introduced on June 3, 2019, in conjunction with the June 2019 LSAT administration. Apparently, there will be changes made to what they’ll call the writing sample, when you’ll take what was FKA the writing sample, and how much it’s going to cost to take it. We’ve poured over these changes, and here are the highlights:

It’s now just called LSAT Writing

Apparently it’s no longer a small, Costco-sized sample of your writing. It’s just your writing. All of it. That you do on the LSAT, at least. Thus, it is your LSAT Writing.

It’s gonna cost an extra $15

The writing sample used to be a free add-on to your LSAT. The fajita veggies and romaine lettuce on the LSAT’s Chipotle burrito bowl. Now, you’ll have to pay $15 to sign up for the new and improved LSAT Writing. And it sounds like you’ll have to sign up for the LSAT Writing at the same time that you sign up for the LSAT. Annoying, but at least LSAT Writing won’t give you e. coli (we hope).

The format isn’t going to change

It’ll still be the same format that has been a minor annoyance to test takers for years. You’ll have 35 minutes to write a short, persuasive essay, in which you make an argument for one of two options presented to you, using the facts provided by the prompt.

That said, instead of doing this on boring, old paper with your illegible handwriting, you get to type this out. On a computer, using software that you’ll download from LSAC. Wherever you want.

So test day will be a little better

The most exciting change to the new LSAT Writing is that you’ll no longer take it in the test center. Instead of phoning in a persuasive essay after your mind has been drained by 175 minutes of logicking, you’ll get to do it at home (or wherever you may find an internet-enabled personal computer), on your own time. So on test day, once you finish the fifth multiple-choice section, you’ll get to strut right out of that test center. What will you do with those extra 35 minutes? Drink one-and-a-half beers? Watch two-thirds of an episode of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix? The world will be your oyster.

You will have to do it at some point (within a year) after taking the LSAT, though

So yeah, enjoy the day after the exam, but don’t forget about completing the dang thing. You’ll have to do it at some point within a year of taking the exam. And you’ll need to do it before your application is considered complete.

If you’ve taken the LSAT before (even a traditional paper-and-pencil test) you won’t have to sign up for LSAT Writing

Another exciting change! LSAC will need just one previous writing sample on file to compile your Law School Report (the portfolio of application materials you’ll assemble and submit to LSAC, which they then pass on to law schools). So if you’ve already taken the LSAT and completed the writing sample, you won’t need to sign up for the LSAT Writing. And those retaking the digital LSAT won’t have to retake the LSAT Writing.

Apparently, they just need a sample of your LSAT Writing. Which is confusing … because it’s no longer called the “writing sample.” But we’ll excuse the semantic confusion, since this change is a major boon for test takers who don’t love writing short persuasive essays about hypothetical situations.

Those paranoids who thought the writing sample was just an elaborate way to catch cheaters were probably wrong

I usually ask the students in my classes what they’ve heard about the writing sample. For whatever reason, it’s the section most prone to rumor- and scaremongering, so often the responses are amusingly wrong. The most common rumor I’ve heard, by far, was that the writing sample was actually a way to catch cheaters. That actually the writing sample was an elaborate rouse, there just to make sure that the handwriting the test takers used at the end of the exam matched the handwriting they used at the beginning of the exam, when they filled out their Scantron. That actually many a nefarious test taker would start the LSAT, maybe even do a section or two, and then switch places with someone hiding out in the restroom (who is presumably much better at the LSAT than the person who started the exam), and have that hired gun finish the exam. That actually the writing sample was just a way to catch people committing this elaborate con, based on a careful analysis of the test takers’ handwriting. I couldn’t disprove this theory, I suppose, but it always seemed a little far-fetched.

Given that LSAC seems perfectly content letting people type out their responses, I feel comfortable saying these paranoids were wrong.

That said, LSAC is still pretty serious with the security measures

LSAC trusts you to type this writing sample out and do it at home, but that trust only goes so far. The security measures of the new system are pretty serious-sounding. The software will have access to the webcam, microphone, and screen of your computer. In fact, the whole writing sample will be filmed and recorded, and then apparently reviewed by a proctor. You’ll have to show a valid government ID to your webcam. You’ll have to show your webcam that your workspace has only the pre-approved items and that you’re the only person in the room. The software will disable all other applications on your computer. You’ll be assigned a randomly-generated writing sample, so that you can’t count on just copying someone else’s writing sample.

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