LSAT For Dummies, 2nd Edition (2014)

Part V. The Writing Sample: Penning a Persuasive Argument

tip.eps Five Important Parts of the Writing Sample Essay

Your essay should include five paragraphs, structured this way:

·        Introduction: State your position in the first sentence, and follow that with one or two sentences that discuss the goals your party wants to achieve. The last sentence should include the word “because.” This is your thesis sentence, which explains why you've chosen the side you have.

·        Second paragraph: In four or five sentences, explain the reasons why the side you've chosen is best.

·        Third paragraph: In four or five sentences, compare your side's advantages to the other side's disadvantages.

·        Fourth paragraph: Discuss the disadvantages of the side you've chosen. Pointing out the failings of your side yourself is better than waiting for an opponent to spot them. You can then argue that they're not really disadvantages at all.

·        Conclusion: Sum up your argument and state for the last time why your side is best. Don't repeat your thesis statement verbatim, and don't mention a point you haven't already examined in the previous paragraphs, but do say something that leaves your reader with a positive sense of your argument.

webextras.eps Make sure your LSAT writing sample contains no grammar or punctuation errors by reading a free article at

In this part…

·        Find out how law schools use your LSAT writing sample.

·        Get familiar with writing sample prompts.

·        Use your writing time efficiently by sticking to a schedule.

·        Create a well-organized essay to effectively support your position.

Chapter 13. Pick a Side, Any Side: Responding to the Writing Sample Prompt

In This Chapter

arrow Choosing which writing sample viewpoint to argue

arrow Constructing an effective writing sample

arrow Checking out a couple of sample essays

The last thing you do on LSAT day is write a little essay. This essay doesn't count toward your LSAT score. The people at the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) don't read it, so many students don't take this part of the LSAT very seriously. They should, though. Do you want to know what happens to your writing sample? The good folks at the LSAC send a copy of it with your score report to every law school that receives your LSAT score.

The people who decide whether to admit you to law school are the only ones who get an opportunity to read your LSAT-inspired prose. Chances are they're not going to read it very carefully. After all, they have plenty of other stuff to read, and a short essay written in 35 minutes by hand isn't very informative. But your essay may make a difference; an admissions official may see some egregious mistake in your writing and decide not to admit you. (Alas, the converse is unlikely; an admissions committee probably won't decide to admit a student simply because his or her LSAT writing sample reads like a literary masterpiece.)

Because you have no idea who will read your writing sample, you want to be sure you produce your best effort. So spend a little time thinking about the exercise and polishing your writing skills. At the very least, preparing for the LSAT writing sample prompt allows you the opportunity to practice crafting the traditional five-paragraph essay. (Flip to Chapter 14 to read some sample essays.)

Pick a Side — No Ridin’ the Fence

The writing sample is a 35-minute exercise in written advocacy. The test gives you a situation in which someone has to choose between two alternatives, each of which has advantages and disadvantages. You write your answer by hand on the lined, double-sided response sheet provided to you. To get an idea of exactly how much space you have, check out the practice exam in Chapter 15.

Some recent topics have included the following:

·        Picking a travel package for a tour of South America on behalf of a travel club

·        Deciding which archaeological dig would most benefit the career of a young scholar

·        Choosing which school a local school board should close

·        Picking a city in which to hold a scholarly convention

·        Deciding whether to publish a famous manuscript or donate it to a university library

remember.eps You can argue every topic equally well in either direction. The object is to convincingly construct an argument for one side or the other.

remember.eps When you write your LSAT essay, keep in mind your likely audience. The people who read these essays are usually law professors on the admissions committees of their respective law schools. They're academics, so write as if you were writing something for school. Be intelligent, thoughtful, organized, and lucid. Don't be too conversational, don't use slang, never use sarcasm, and be very careful with humor. You don't want to annoy your reader with a flippant tone.

Walking through a Practice Essay

Here's a writing sample topic of the type that appears on the LSAT:

·        examplegre_fmt.eps Marilyn, a widow, wants to buy a pet and is trying to decide between two available dogs. Write an argument for Marilyn's choosing one dog over the other, keeping in mind the following goals:

o   Marilyn wants a dog to guard her house.

o   Marilyn wants a dog that's affectionate and inexpensive to feed.

The first dog is a German shepherd. This dog is large, strong, and well trained and is particularly recommended for use as a guard dog. It weighs 85 pounds and eats several pounds of dog food a day. It is neither vicious nor particularly affectionate toward humans.

·        The second dog is a Pekingese. This dog is small, has a long, silky coat, and makes an excellent lap dog. It formed a strong attachment to its former owner and is a devoted companion. At 20 pounds, this dog does not require much food. Its small stature makes it somewhat ineffective as a guard dog, though it will growl aggressively when angered.

Organizing your argument

Take up to five minutes to think about how to answer this question and make an outline. Pick a side — either side, though you probably feel a stronger gravitation toward one dog or the other. If you have a real preference, go with it. If you don't, quickly pick a side to argue. Both sides have good and bad points, so either one lends itself to a good, strong essay. You don't want to waste precious time agonizing over which pet to pick. You need every precious second to write the essay.

When you organize your thoughts, think about how you'll make your point. Create a five-paragraph outline:

1.     Introduce your thesis.

2.     Make your strongest point and support it.

3.     Continue with your second point and support it.

4.     Give a nod to the opposing viewpoint.

5.     Summarize your points.

Consider how you'll transition from one thought to another. The best essays flow smoothly from sentence to sentence and from paragraph to paragraph.

Setting priorities

Choosing a side is simply a matter of setting priorities. For example, in the dog case, if you decide that companionship is what Marilyn needs, choose the Pekingese. If, on the other hand, you think she needs a guard dog more than a lap dog, select the German shepherd. When you write the essay, you still make a case for why your choice satisfies the lesser priority as well.

Making an outline

After you pick your side and before you write your essay, jot down a quick outline on the test booklet. You have lots of ways to write this kind of essay, but during the LSAT really isn't the best time for you to get creative. If you follow the same basic five-paragraph structure, you'll get a serviceable essay every time. It won't be great literature, but it'll do the job.

Here's one way you can organize the essay about the dog, singing the praises of the Pekingese:

·        Introduction: The widow should pick the Pekingese because companionship is more important to her well-being than guarding.

·        Paragraph 2: Pekes are excellent companions, and widows living alone need companions.

·        Paragraph 3: Pekes are inexpensive to feed, and a widow on a fixed income should make this a priority.

·        Paragraph 4: Pekes aren't the best guard dogs, but they can bark and growl ferociously, and anyway, the widow's need for a guard dog is overstated.

·        Conclusion: The widow really ought to pick the Peke over the German shepherd.

Structuring the essay

Based on your outline, the essay will include these five paragraphs:

·        Make the introduction about three or four sentences long. Provide a brief summary of the prompt and a statement of your position. Include one or two sentences that discuss the goals your party wants to achieve; focus on the ones that your choice would meet.

The last sentence of the first paragraph should include the word “because.” This is your thesis sentence, the one that explains why you've chosen the side you have. For example, it could read, “Because the Pekingese would make the best companion and also be somewhat effective as a guard dog, the widow should pick the Pekingese for her pet.”

·        Write your first two body paragraphs to explain the reasons why the side you've chosen is best, and compare its advantages to the disadvantages of the other side. Make each of these paragraphs four or five sentences long; you don't have space for more than that.

·        Use the fourth paragraph to discuss disadvantages of the side you've chosen. No argument is perfect, and pointing out the failings of your side yourself is better than waiting for an opponent to spot them. If you do this, you can then argue that they're not really disadvantages at all. Minimize your side's weaknesses at the same time as you acknowledge them. In the same paragraph, you may want to point out the apparent advantages of the other side, but solely so you can explain why the other side's strengths aren't in fact strengths at all.

tip.eps One effective way of writing is to start each paragraph with a sentence that first states a disadvantage of your choice but then follows it with an advantage. Use the remaining sentences in the paragraph to back up the advantage. That way, the last thing the reader encounters is an advantage.

·        Draft your last paragraph to be your conclusion, where you sum up your argument and state for the last time why the side you've chosen is the best. Don't repeat your thesis statement verbatim, and don't mention a point you haven't already examined in the previous paragraphs, but do say something that leaves your reader with a positive sense of your argument. One or two sentences are enough. Don't skip a conclusion; you want to let your reader off smoothly with a definite sense of finality. Remember, this is the last thing the reader sees; you want it to leave a good impression.

This structure is very basic. You can probably think of other more exciting ways to approach the writing sample, and if you're experienced at doing that sort of thing, go right ahead. Otherwise, follow this outline and you'll always be able to toss off a decent short essay. It doesn't need to be brilliant; it just needs to be coherent and mistake-free.

tip.eps Another way to organize the essay is to write it in four paragraphs. Paragraph 1 is the introduction and Paragraph 4 is the conclusion. In Paragraph 2, discuss all the advantages of your choice. In Paragraph 3, discuss all the disadvantages of the other choice.

remember.eps The key to good writing is simplicity. Say what you have to say in the simplest way possible to make sure your readers understand you. Use precise words instead of long ones. Contrary to what many people believe, using longer words doesn't make your prose seem more intelligent.

warning.eps You absolutely must observe proper grammar and usage rules in your essay. You also must write out all words — no abbreviations. If your handwriting resembles chicken scratch, practice your penmanship. People won't know how brilliant you are if they can't read your handwriting.

One topic, two different essays

As you learn when you study law, there's always another side to the story. You can write equally cogent arguments for either position presented by the writing sample prompt. The rest of this chapter presents you with two ways of responding to the same essay task.

The pro-Pekingese approach

Say you decide to argue for the Pekingese, using the outline from the earlier “Organizing your argument” section. Here's how the essay could go:

·        Marilyn should choose the Pekingese to be her canine companion. She's a widow living alone on a fixed income, and what she needs most is a friendly dog that won't eat her out of house and home. She has found a loving Pekingese and a protective German shepherd. Because it will be more affectionate than the German shepherd and more friendly to her pocketbook and because its barking would in fact make it an effective guard dog, the Pekingese would be the best choice to offer the widow both friendship and protection.

·        Every week, the television news runs stories about the dangers of the elderly living alone; they suffer depression, don't eat enough, and decline much faster than their biology would dictate. The news has also run stories on the benefits of pets to old people; people with pets take much more interest in life and remain healthier themselves. To protect her health and ensure her general well-being, the widow requires an affectionate companion, and the Pekingese would be the best choice for companionship.

·        Widows are also prone to financial hardship. They must often make their husband's pensions and Social Security stretch for years without much additional income. The last thing Marilyn needs is a dog that would be a major expense to her. The Pekingese eats very little in comparison to the more voracious German shepherd and therefore would be cheaper to maintain.

·        A Pekingese is a small dog and therefore would likely be less effective than the German shepherd at offering defense in the unlikely event of a home invasion. Realistically, though, Marilyn has little need of a guard dog. People tend to exaggerate the likelihood of their homes being invaded, which is really a very uncommon event. In addition, the Pekingese could actually pass muster as a guard dog. A Pekingese can bark and growl ferociously, alerting Marilyn to potential intruders and frightening off criminals who hear it. The Pekingese has a growl much bigger than its stature and teeth. An angry Pekingese may be all the defense the widow needs if a stranger calls with mischief on his mind.

·        Marilyn most needs a loving pet that won't eat all her savings. A Pekingese would meet her needs perfectly, providing companionship for a reasonable price and actually guarding her home quite well. For this reason, she should choose the Pekingese.

Going with the German shepherd

What if you decide that the German shepherd is the better choice? Bigger teeth, fiercer growl, and all that? That's fine. Here's an example of how you could argue that point:

·        Life is very unsafe for older women living alone. A widow like Marilyn is virtually defenseless against burglars and ne'er-do-wells. She needs a dog that will make her feel safe. She also needs a dog for company. Because the German shepherd is by far the better dog for striking fear in the hearts of criminals and would also make a fine companion, Marilyn should choose the larger dog for her pet.

·        German shepherds make excellent guard dogs. They're large, imposing, intelligent, and have lots of big teeth that they're not afraid to use. The police often use German shepherds for work with criminals because they are so well suited to this task. These qualities would make the German shepherd an excellent choice as a guard for Marilyn.

·        This German shepherd will also make an excellent companion. It won't curl up in her lap while she watches television, but it will spend every possible minute in her presence. She will get exercise by taking it for long walks, which will improve her health and her bone density, possibly forestalling osteoporosis and hip fractures. And because the German shepherd is more intelligent than the Pekingese, Marilyn will find it easier to keep out of trouble in and out of her house.

·        The only drawback to the German shepherd is its size and appetite. This is a minor consideration; even the most expensive dog food is hardly ruinous, and Marilyn can always buy food in bulk at a discount warehouse, achieving substantial savings.

·        Marilyn's needs are clear: safety and companionship. The German shepherd is the better choice on both counts.

tip.eps Do your best to make your essay fill at least a side and a half of the lined response sheet. Less than that may make your essay appear skimpy to admissions officers.