LSAT Writing Sample: What to Know

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

I am a prospective law school student. I have a very quick question. If I completed my LSAT writing section to the best of my ability, BUT I was not able to get the very last sentence on the page … should I retake it? — DM

In short, no.

Perfectionism, like oversharing, tempts many aspiring lawyers to sabotage their law school applications.

It is true that law is a detail-oriented profession, and a misfortunate typo or formatting mistake can have outsize impact. But just because you need to scrutinize your own application does not mean that admissions officers are equally painstaking.

[READ: How to Handle a Law School Application Mistake]

You should craft your law school application based on the assumption that the admissions officers who read it are well-intentioned professionals who are overworked and inattentive. They may have only a matter of minutes to review your application. They are likely to read everything, but they will not agonize over every ambiguity or omission.

To a speed-reading admissions officer, your LSAT writing sample is worth little more than a glance. It will go unnoticed unless it is so incoherent, inappropriate or incompetent that it casts doubt on your ability to handle law school. An abrupt ending is no cause for concern.

What Is the LSAT Writing Sample?

The LSAT writing sample is a mandatory 35-minute, digitally administered writing assessment. The prompt provided typically asks the writer to argue on behalf of one of two competing policy options, like whether a town should host an agricultural fair or a monster truck rally.

Applicants have a wide window of dates to complete the writing sample and need not take it concurrently with the test itself. This is a welcomed change from the way things worked previously. Before the launch of the digital LSAT last year, LSAT test-takers had to complete the writing sample just after taking the test, which was as fair as setting up a high jump competition just after the finish line of a triathlon.

[Read: How Law Schools Look at Applicants With Multiple LSAT Scores]

The LSAT writing sample is ungraded but included in the report that law school admissions officers receive. In practice, the essay is of negligible importance. After all, your personal statement, recommendation letters, transcript and other materials reflect your writing abilities better than your ability to persuade readers of the economic benefits of monster truck rallies. Indeed, since the writing prompt provides arguments to draw upon, it is not a good assessment of research or creative thinking skills.

This does not mean, however, that the writing sample can be ignored. Admissions officers are likely to review it for a general sense of your ability to think and write under timed conditions. If your personal statement seems like it could have been written by Tom Wolfe, but your LSAT writing sample seems more as if an actual wolf took over the keyboard, it may raise a red flag.

If your essay does not end gracefully, or if its style sounds mechanical, or if the structure is a bit redundant, it will not raise a flag. On the other hand, even an elegant or sophisticated LSAT writing sample may not improve your odds of admission. So, just aim to do a solid job.

How to Handle the LSAT Writing Sample

To avoid raising eyebrows, treat the LSAT writing sample as a test of clear, logically organized writing. Write plainly with straightforward and succinct prose, rather than show off.

[See: Law Schools Where Students Had the Highest LSAT Scores.]

Spend 10 minutes or so reviewing the prompt and organizing your argument. Choose a position and back it up with a few different points. In your first paragraph, introduce the issue and articulate a clear, decisive thesis. For example: The town should hold a monster truck rally rather than an agricultural fair.

In your second paragraph, lay out your arguments for your thesis. For example: A monster truck rally is more likely to bring visitors, will prove more educational to children and will advance the state of automotive research.

In the third paragraph, engage with counterarguments and explain why they should not outweigh your thesis. Acknowledge the benefits of agricultural fairs but show that they have too many drawbacks or too little benefit. For example: Animals are cute but make too much mess.

Finally, restate your thesis and, to avoid redundancy, perhaps add a qualification or a few questions for consideration. Perhaps combining both an agricultural fair with a monster truck rally would be a win-win solution. And if you don’t manage to finish the last line, then…

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