The LSAT Writing sample is the last item you will complete before submitting your exam. You will likely be mentally exhausted from the stress and effort of completing the other five sections which are challenging and rigidly timed. Despite your exhaustion, powering through this last section to ensure you turn in a strong sample can only help you become a strong candidate for the law schools you're applying to.
In this guide, we'll talk a bit about what to expect on the LSAT writing section and what law schools want to see. Then, we'll show you how to prepare for the writing section, and give you a four-step process for writing a strong essay on test day.
What to Expect on the LSAT Writing Section
You will be given a detailed prompt that lays out a scenario or problem. The prompt will feature two options or solutions to choose from. There is no right answer. You simply choose the option you think best fits the scenario provided.
You can't argue for both or neither. You have to pick a side.
You will then have 35 minutes to craft a persuasive essay in which you argue why the option you chose is the best choice. Your arguments should be based solely on details provided in the prompt. Don't make assumptions and don't use outside examples.
There are no length requirements.
While it is mandatory to complete this section, it is not scored by LSAC. They simply send it to the law schools you listed along with your LSAT scores.
You can find more information about the writing section on the LSAC website.
What Law Schools Expect from Your Writing Sample
As you prepare for this section, you're going to hear some conflicting reports. Some will say the writing section isn't that important. Admissions officers care much more about your personal statement or statement of purpose as a writing sample than your LSAT essay.
This is reasonable. That personal statement shows what you're capable of when given adequate time and resources to craft something really meaningful.
However, other admissions officers argue that the LSAT essay is very important. Your statement of purpose is what you can do when you're not in a rush, when you have friends and family who can edit and provide feedback; in short, when you have time.
The LSAT essay shows how coherent you can be when you're under pressure and have only your own mind to work with. It's a better measure of raw writing talent as well as your own logic and argument skills.
To succeed in law school, you need to be prepared to write lots of essays, including some timed essay exams. For a career in law, your ability to be organized, coherent, and convincing even when you're speaking off the cuff is an important skill.
This LSAT essay is one way to demonstrate that you're capable of successfully completing law school and successfully navigating a career in law.
In the end, you shouldn't worry whether the admissions officers at the schools you're applying to care about the LSAT writing sample. You have to complete it one way or the other so you might as well give it your best effort. After all, this could end up being the item that tips the scale in your favor between you and a similarly strong competitor.
What Makes a Strong LSAT Writing Sample?
This is a spontaneous essay. That means you did not have the resources to do research or thoroughly prepare a perfect essay. It also means you had little to know time to edit or even reread the essay before submitting. The admissions board is not going to be looking for top quality or anything close to perfection.
They are going to be look for evidence of your raw talent. They want to see evidence that you have some fundamental abilities to organize and express a coherent chain of thoughts in written form.
The most important qualities your essay should have include:
- Clear, grammatically correct writing
- Logical, organized structure, including paragraphs that are focused on single, relevant topics
- Arguments that are grounded fully in evidence, not on personal opinions or assumptions
- Clear thesis statement
- Logical conclusion
How to Prepare for the LSAT Writing Sample
Even if you understand the importance of taking some time to practice for the LSAT writing section, it can be hard to know where or how to start. In this section, we'll give you a few tips to make sure you're ready for the writing sample come test day.
Set Your Study Schedule
Because this is an unscored section, it can be hard to justify taking precious study hours away from the scored sections of the LSAT to practice writing short essays. While it shouldn't be the main focus of your study time, devoting an hour or so a week to this will pay off.
Use the 5% rule. If your current LSAT study schedule is 20 hours a week, spend maybe one hour of that time on the writing section. If you're only studying 10 hours a week, spend about half an hour on writing.
Since the section is only 35 minutes, this 5% rule gives you time to practice 1-2 essays each week. That's enough to make sure you have a good rhythm established and you've solidified your approach to organizing your thoughts and managing your time. But it still leaves the majority of your time to study for the scored sections.
Practice Essay Construction
Writing this essay isn't like the normal essay writing process. You won't have any time or resources for research or editing. When you practice writing essays, mimic these conditions as much as possible. Don't rely on outside research. Don't write as if you have all the time in the world to edit and review.
Use only the writing prompt material and make sure you spend enough time clearly defining the requirements and planning out the structure of your essay. Use the following process to craft an essay.
- Read the prompt and create an outline of the requirements and the details. This should include what the problem or scenario is, what your two options are, and what the details of each option are.
- Create an outline. Your outline should include your introduction paragraph, at least three body paragraphs, and your conclusion paragraph. The introduction paragraph should include a clear thesis statement. Each paragraph should have a clear main topic with 2-3 supporting details or examples. The conclusion should simply summarize the argument you made in the essay.
- Write your essay. Take it one paragraph at a time. Refer to your outline to make sure each paragraph stays on topic and follows logically from the one before it. Also make sure you aren't including any of your own assumptions or opinions not grounded in specific details from the prompt.
- Edit your essay. Take a few minutes to read through your essay and correct spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.
- Critique your essay. Since this is a practice essay, read through it as if you were an admissions officer. How clear is the thesis statement? Do the body paragraphs really help support the thesis? Are all of the details and examples from the prompt? Do the arguments make sense?
For your first couple practice essays, time yourself but don't cut yourself at 35 minutes. Take the time you need to complete the process fully. Just use the timer to get a base measure of how long it currently takes you to finish an essay.
After those first couple sessions, work on completing the process a little faster each time until you get it down below 35 minutes.
Once you've successfully completed a practice essay that you're proud of in under 35 minutes, you're ready for the test! You don't need to continue practicing after this unless you feel like you'd benefit from a couple more sessions.
Find Writing Prompts
In your LSAT study guides, you will find some example prompts that you can use to practice writing your LSAT writing sample. If you run out of sample prompts, you can give yourself prompts based on other material.
For example, you might look at the business or politics section of a news site. Find an article discussing a policy debate in congress, a potential business merger, or a similar issue that has multiple sides. Based solely on the information provided in the article, identify two potential options, pick a side, and write a persuasive essay defending your decision.
Say you find an article about your local city council deciding whether to fund the construction of a new elementary school by either raising property taxes on residents or pulling funding from the parks department. Choose which option you prefer and write an essay explaining why, using evidence pulled only from that article.
If you find an article about a company that's deciding between either developing its own new product or buying out its competitor, decide which of those options you would choose as CEO of that company and write an essay about it.
Plan Your Test Day LSAT Writing Schedule
To create a strong LSAT writing sample in just 35 minutes, time management is key. If you spent enough time practicing the skills, you should be able to do all the necessary planning and execution within that time frame. Here's a sample of what your test day schedule might look like:
- 3 minutes: Read the prompt and breakdown the topic.
- 7 minutes: Write out a paragraph by paragraph outline
- 20 minutes: Write your essay. Referring to the outline to create each paragraph.
- 5 minutes: Quickly read through the essay to clean out any glaring errors or mistakes.
You can alter the timing based on the results of your practice writing. For example, if you find that you need less time for outlining but more time for editing, adjust to reflect those needs. If you tend to edit as you go and would rather use more time to write and then just do a quick final read-through, go for it.
4 Step LSAT Writing Process
Let's take a look at that schedule in action. For this sample, we'll use the prompt example provided on the LSAC website.
In the prompt, you are asked to use the details provided to choose either a "national plan" or the "regional plan" proposed to help a fictional company meet two goals: increase profits and ensure long-term financial stability.
Here's how the process might look:
Step 1: Read and breakdown the prompt (3 minutes)
The breakdown of the prompt might look like this:
- Requirement: choose the plan you think best serves the following two goals:
- Increase company profits
- Ensure long-term financial stability
- Facts about fictional company
- Only well-known in home region
- Has a strong positive reputation among those who know it
- Facing increasing competition in home region
- Has strong customer loyalty
- Plan 1: National Plan
- The plan: open multiple men's clothing stores nationwide
- Ability to offer lower prices due to savings from buying at scale
- Would improve company's ability to compete with the national chains that are moving into its home region
- Dramatic increase in profits, if successful
- Requires taking on a lot of debt
- Require spending a lot on additional staff, marketing, and distribution
- High risk of failure and expensive if it does fail
- Plan 2: Regional Plan
- The plan: Increase number and size of stores in current region and upgrade service and product quality
- No need to take on new debt
- No need to hire lots of new staff or investing more in marketing and distribution
- Ability to charge higher prices for higher quality
- A test run of this plan in one store showed increased sales and profits
- High population growth in current region means growing customer base
- Doesn't address price competition from the competitor chains in their region
- Limited growth potential since the company isn't expand into new regions
Every single bullet point above was stated in the prompt. No outside information or assumptions were made. Your breakdown of the prompt should be an outline of the facts that were presented to you, free of personal opinion.
You'll use this as a reference when creating your outline to make sure your supporting arguments are directly founded on details in the prompt. Creating this breakdown will help cut down the time you spend referring to the prompt for details.
Step 2: Write your outline (7 minutes)
From the above, we can see that the choice is between the high risk, high reward national plan or the low risk, low reward regional plan. For the sake of the essay, let's go for the high risk, high reward option. Now, let's outline our argument:
- 2-3 sentences describing the issue stated in the prompt and the company's current position.
- Thesis: The national plan is the most suitable choice to meet both of the company's stated goals of increasing profits and ensuring long-term financial stability.
- Paragraph 1: National plan has higher profit potential
- National plan allows company to maintain prices that are the same or lower than their competitors
- Increases the number of potential customers
- Potential to decrease per unit cost by buying at a larger scale will also increase profit margin
- Paragraph 2: National plan can provide more long-term stability
- Company will be better protected from regional market fluctuations (e.g.- local recessions)
- Opportunity to expand into regions with lower competition will hedge against potential profit loss from the high competition in current region
- Paragraph 3: Company is in a strong position to take on risk
- Positive local reputation suggests their business model is already strong
- Existing customer loyalty will provide stability while they get established in new regions
- The national plan may come with higher risk and higher costs but the company is currently in a strong position and this plan better satisfies both of the company's stated goals.
As you can see, the introduction simply restates the prompt in a couple sentences and then briefly states your response to the prompt.
Then, each paragraph focuses on one specific argument that supports your thesis. The arguments were each pulled from the prompt. You're not using any outside information or examples to support your thesis. You're just using what you know from the details provided in the prompt.
Three supporting paragraphs is a good number to aim for. It's enough to show that your argument is well thought-out and evidence based. But it's not so much that you won't have time to write them all out in the 35 minutes you have to complete the assignment.
If you have clear ideas for 4-5 supporting paragraphs, and each one directly relates to the prompt, go for it. However, any more than that, your essay will likely be too long to finish in time.
Finally, the conclusion summarizes the key points you discussed in the essay and restates your original thesis that the national plan is the preferred choice.
Step 3: Write your essay (20 minutes)
With an outline like the one above, your essay is already mostly written. For this step, focus on one paragraph at a time, turning each bullet point into a complete thought in 1-2 sentences. Make sure to include smooth transitions between each paragraph.
Don't concern yourself too much with language. Focus on getting your point across and packing in evidence to support your claims. You don't need to use the most advanced or academic sounding words you can think of. You just need to be convincing.
Often, the most convincing arguments are the ones that are most clearly and concisely stated. So, skip the thesaurus and just write naturally, using grammatically correct sentences.
Step 4: Edit your essay (5 minutes)
After you've fleshed out your outline into a full essay, use any remaining time on the clock to read through it and fix any major errors. Don't read too closely or get too finicky about perfecting the word choice.
Instead, just skim through it looking for obvious spelling errors and grammar mistakes or sentences that just don't make any sense.
If you end up finishing all four steps in less than 35 minutes, don't turn it in early. Just use the extra time to do a closer edit. While the admissions officers won't be looking for polished perfection, it won't hurt to get as close to polished as you can.