I know the writing section isn’t scored and I’ve heard it doesn’t matter all that much, but I was wanting to get some overall suggestions on how to do it the way admissions people like. I’m taking the upcoming test and I haven’t given much thought to the writing portion. I’m confident in my writing skills so I would just appreciate any general advice.
Thanks for the question! I think the best way to answer is to start by taking a look at a real writing sample prompt from a real previous LSAT. Here’s an example of a pretty typical writing sample (excerpted from the June 2007 LSAT):
June 2007 Writing Sample Directions & Prompt
Directions: The scenario presented below describes two choices, either one of which can be supported on the basis of the information given. Your essay should consider both choices and argue for one over the other, based on the two specified criteria and the facts provided. There is no “right” or “wrong” choice: a reasonable argument can be made for either.
BLZ Stores, an established men’s clothing retailer with a chain of stores in a major metropolitan area, is selecting a plan for expansion.
Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one of the following plans over the other based on the following two criteria:
• The company wants to increase its profits.
• The company wants to ensure its long-term financial stability.
The “national plan” is to open a large number of men’s clothing stores throughout the country over a short period of time. In doing this, the company would incur considerable debt. It would also have to greatly increase staff and develop national marketing and distribution capabilities. Many regional companies that adopted this strategy increased their profits dramatically. A greater number tried and failed, suffering severe financial consequences. BLZ is not well known outside its home area. Research indicates that the BLZ name is viewed positively by those who know it. National clothing chains can offer lower prices because of their greater buying power. BLZ currently faces increasingly heavy competition in its home region from such chains.
The “regional plan” is to increase the number and size of stores in the company’s home region and upgrade their facilities, product quality, and service. This could be achieved for the most part with existing cash reserves. These upgrades would generally increase the prices that BLZ charges. In one trial store in which such changes were implemented, sales and profits have increased. The local population is growing. BLZ enjoys strong customer loyalty. Regional expansion could be accomplished primarily using BLZ’s experienced and loyal staff and would allow continued reliance on known and trusted suppliers, contractors, and other business connections.
So first off, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone about the writing sample: Don’t worry about it too much. As long as you take it seriously, give it your best effort, and demonstrate that you are capable of writing, in English, in a coherent manner, then the writing section of the LSAT is highly unlikely to help (or hurt) your application.
If in fact, someone actually reads your LSAT writing sample when reviewing your application, then they’re probably going to recognize that they are reading an ungraded essay that you wrote after an intense 3-hour period in which you took perhaps the most important exam of your life… and they’re probably going to read it (if at all) in light of that fact. I doubt that anyone has gone in there and written an exceptionally brilliant treatise so moving that it swayed an admissions decision.
On the other hand, if you blow it off entirely, or blatantly ignore the stimulus and write a diatribe against standardized testing, or something silly like that, well, that’s sort of thing might make an admissions committee question your character.
Ok, now having said that… here are a few tips on how to write a passable essay
Tip #1: Remember that “there is no “right” or “wrong” choice: a reasonable argument can be made for either.”
Don’t waste much time worrying about which side you argue for. The issue is designed in such a way that a reasonable argument can be made for either side. Read the prompt & pick whichever side you initially lean toward. Then focus on developing as strong an argument as possible for that side.
Tip #2: Be sure to follow the ‘rules’ given & stay on topic
Keep your argument on-topic! In the example above, we’re asked to argue for either the “national” or “regional” plan on the basis of two criteria: the company wants to increase its profits & ensure its long-term financial stability. Stick to that task.
In reality, there are probably a million different paths that the company could take aside from the “national” and “regional” plans.
For example: don’t come up with and argue for an alternative “acquisition” plan in which the company buys other strong regional players, even if you think that is ultimately the best real-world answer. That’s not what the question asks of you. You’re asked to argue for the “national” plan OR the “regional” plan. Do just that. Stick to the script.
In reality, there are also probably a million different criteria that the company could take into consideration aside from “increase profits” and “ensure long-term financial stability.”
For example: don’t come up with and develop an argument around an alternative “environmental impact” criteria that the company should take into consideration when making its decision. Even if you believe that is ultimately an important real-world consideration. That’s not what the question asks of you. You’re asked to weigh the given plans on the basis of the given criteria. Do just that. Stick to the Script.
Tip #3: Consider organizing your response using a modified version of the “IRAC” methodology.
“IRAC (pronounced EYE-rack) is an acronym that stands for Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. It functions as a methodology for legal analysis. The IRAC format is mostly used in hypothetical questions in law school and bar exams.” (thanks, Wikipedia!)
Using IRAC is by no means required, so if you don’t find this tip useful, feel free to ignore it and write an otherwise well-organized essay. But you’re frequently going to be asked to argue using the IRAC method in law school… so using this general framework is a simple way to write a well-organized essay that will be familiar to anyone reviewing your law school application.
Issue: state the issue that you are being asked to analyze.
Rule: state the rule (criterion)
Application: apply the criterion to the facts presented in each alternative choice
Conclusion: conclude that the position you’re arguing for is the better choice, given how the stated criterion apply to the facts.