When you apply to law school, the LSAT is one of the most important components of the application. While it is possible to balance out a lower score with other activities, many top schools put a lot of emphasis on raw numbers. As you prepare for the LSAT, you may start to wonder how much time you need to devote to the writing sample. The final component of the LSAT is an unscored writing section that takes 35 minutes to complete. Even though the section is not scored, it will be included in the report that is sent to law school admissions officers, so it is not something that you can completely ignore.
How Schools Factor the LSAT Writing Sample into Admissions
Schools treat the writing sample differently from the LSAT. Many admissions officers say that the writing sample does not make much of a difference in the decision about whether to admit a student. People in this camp point out that the personal statement is also a writing sample that ultimately matters much more. For the most part, admissions officers will skim the writing sample to make sure there are no red flags, which means you still need to take it seriously. Generally, the writing sample is used to corroborate the rest of the application and to demonstrate how you work under time constraints.
At the same time, some admission officers have indicated that the writing sample is actually very important when making admissions decisions. People in this camp say that the writing sample is the best example of how a student would most likely perform in law school, which frequently forces students to write cogently under time constraints. Also, the personal statement is typically crafted over the course of weeks or even months, so it speaks to your abilities as an editor more so than as a writer. The admissions officers on either side make good points. And, at the end of the day, the conclusion is that you need to do your best on the writing sample to keep yourself in the running as a good candidate.
The writing sample provides you with a prompt, and the format is always the same. Thus, it is fairly easy to prepare for the section quickly, as the response typically becomes quite formulaic. The prompt will present a person or group with a decision to make and two factors that need to be taken into consideration. One decision will relate best to one factor while the other will relate to the second one. Your job will be to write a cogent argument for one decision or the other. The entire argument needs to be presented in writing within a 35-minute window.
How You Should Approach Structuring the LSAT Writing Sample
You should approach the writing sample in a logical manner to make sure you do not miss any of the important points. Your first job is to create a hierarchy of goals. One of the two factors that need to be taken into consideration has to be declared more important than the other. You will need to make this judgment and present a meaningful argument for why you are prioritizing one goal over the other. In the end, it makes the most sense to choose the one that you can make the more convincing argument for, even if it is not the one you would choose in real life. Once you have established a hierarchy of goals, you can argue that the person or group in the prompt should choose the option that best fulfills that most important goal.
Once you have established the best decision to make, you still have more work to do. Next, you need to determine that the other option fulfills the lesser goal more effectively. To do this, you should reiterate the hierarchy you made and provide a rationale for why the lesser goal does not matter in the situation at hand. While the argument will not be perfect, it needs to be clear about why you think it is not a big deal to fulfill the other goal, especially if the first one is being met. At this point, you should introduce some considerations that were not given to you in the prompt. Think outside of the box and provide a few points about why your option is the best or why the other one is not quite as important. Be succinct with the additional points you provide, but also make sure you fully explain your position.
Once you have accomplished this, you can conclude the sample. In a sentence or two, simply reiterate your position. You may want to include a new nuance or introduce some important questions to consider just so it doesn’t feel too formulaic or repetitive. The writing sample itself is intended to test whether you have the ability to make a cohesive and persuasive argument under time pressure.