LSAT Kung Fu Blog / How To Attack the LSAT Writing Sample
How To Attack the LSAT Writing Sample
No new post this week. Instead, I'm re-posting this one about the LSAT Writing Sample:
So we were at a key party last weekend with the usual crowd of professional wrestlers, dental hygienists who'd been hitting the nitrous pretty hard, Lil Wayne and T-Pain (AND ALSO T-Wayne, in an ironic twist), and the conversation came around, as it so often does at these things, to the subject of LSAT prep, and specifically, the LSAT Writing Sample.
It’s the sixth section of the test, it’s always administered at the end of the day (when your brain is mostly mush and all you really need to do is go to the nearest bar and order an Irish car bomb, stat), and it is not scored by LSAC.
Thing is, you’ve got thirty-five minutes, you’ve got nothing better to do, and it may be important to the admissions committee at the law school you really, really want to go to.
We say “may be” because we’ve heard conflicting reports. Several admissions officers have told us (on background) that the LSAT writing sample isn’t that important in the great majority of cases. These sources say (reasonably, in our opinion), that (1) Because their staffs haven’t been trained to assess this sample, they don’t expect them to try, that (2) They’ve got a writing sample (the Statement of Purpose, or Personal Statement) that they do consider important, and that (3) Their admissions committees will sometimes look at the LSAT Writing Sample, but mainly to get a sense of whether the applicant in question is really capable of the brilliance on evidence in the SOP. For these reasons, many admissions officers have downplayed the role of the writing sample – you are to take it seriously, but not to stress overmuch.
On the other hand, we have heard from a small number of admissions officers who have indicated that the LSAT Writing Sample really is important to the admission decision. These few sources say (again, very reasonably, in our opinion), that (1) The excellence of an applicant’s SOP has been crafted over weeks or months, and really says more about the applicant as an editor than as a writer, and that (2) The one thing we all know for sure is that the applicant wrote the LSAT Writing Sample, and that she did so under timed conditions, so that (3) The LSAT Writing Sample is maybe the best predictor of a prospective student’s success in law school (which is, like, totally about writing cogently under time pressure). For these reasons, some admissions officers have stressed the importance of the LSAT Writing Sample.
We believe in taking people at their word. When a majority of law schools are saying to us that they don’t really care about the writing sample, our thinking is, “Hey, don’t sweat it; just do your best” (Also, we think you should always do your best no matter what it is that you’re doing). But when a few schools begin to say that they think the thing is important, we tend to reevaluate our stance. Since we’re getting conflicting information, we’re playing it safe; we advise that you take real care with your LSAT Writing Sample. Don’t get all overwrought about it, but do think about how you’ll approach it, and make sure that you give it your best effort on test day.
With that in mind, let’s talk our way through the thing:
It’s always the same format: Some person (or group) has a decision to make, and must take two factors into consideration in making that decision. One option will better fulfill one of the factors, and the other option will better fulfill the other factor. Your assignment is to make an argument in favor of one course of action over the other.
The residents of the Golden Streams retirement community have decided to make it a summer of fun for their members by taking the whole community on a series of day trips to end the summer (for some of them, to end all summers, but, go out doing what you love, we say).
The community has two requirements it must meet in order to keep the retirees happy on their trips:
- The trips must be near the retirement community. These people aren’t as young as they used to be, and they don’t like riding on the bus.
- The trips must be as expensive as possible. These community members all have ungrateful children waiting them out for inheritances they don’t deserve. They want to spend it all before they go to that final Golden Stream in the sky, and they want the last check they write to bounce.
The Golden Streams community planning committee has obtained two offers for the day trips:
The first offer is from the Tour-a-Lot tour company, which proposes to take the residents on a series of trips to local Indian burial grounds. The fun will include scavenging for federally-protected Native American artifacts, drinking small glasses of water at several conveniently-located aid stations, and of course trampling on what little still remains of the sacred grounds of a peaceful, advanced, harmonious society that we’ve decimated. Cost for the tours is $250 per day. Each day’s travel will include bus rides ranging from 4 to 6 hours (round-trip).
The second offer is from Water-Lotta-Fun tours, which proposes to take the senior residents on a series of trips to area water parks. These parks include such popular water amusements as “The Screeching Hurricane of Water Doom Flumes,” “Death Canyon Falls,” and of course, the Lazy River. Cost for the parks will average just under $100 per day, which includes meals from the snack stands and unlimited restroom use. Each day’s travel will comprise bus rides between 30 minutes and 1 hour, round trip.
Your job is to make the strongest argument you can in favor of one of these options over the other. To do this, let’s make use of the following template for writing an ass-kicking LSAT Writing Sample:
- Create a hierarchy of goals. You’ve been given two goals. Decide which one is more important. This is a judgment on your part - choose whichever you can mount the strongest argument for. Explain why that goal is more important than the other.
- Argue that the person (or group) from the prompt should choose the option that better fulfills the more-important goal.
- Mitigate the fact that the unchosen option (probably) better fulfills the lesser goal. Reiterate the hierarchy, and offer some reason(s) why the lesser goal doesn’t matter so much.
- Introduce other considerations. Think beyond the page - what might be important points in favor of your option - or against the other option - that haven’t been addressed by the info in the prompt?
- Wrap it up. Even if it’s just two sentences, leave the essay with a conclusion that reiterates your position.
Let’s put this into practice for the Golden Streams community decision:
The Golden Streams retirement community should conduct their summer day trips with the Tour-a-Lot tour company’s trips to Indian Burial grounds. In making their decision, the community’s members should consider that the stated goal of spending their ingrate childen’s inheritance before they get their greedy hands on it is likely more important to them than the desire to stay close to their residence. After all, the bus rides may last for a few hours at a time, but spending all your money and leaving your children penniless is forever.
Given the hierarchical nature of these goals, the choice seems clear - with Tour-a-Lot, the community can spend nearly three times as much money each day as with the competing offer from Water-Lotta-Fun. The chance to spend that money will also come with the benefit of knowing that their time will be spent in dignity, without the need for bathing suits or water shoes.
Of course, the competing offer has the inducement of a shorter commute, but the residents must ask themselves at what cost does this shortened drive come? Yes, they’ll spend less bus time with Water-Lotta-Fun, but the very fact of a reduced commute further exacerbates the problem of low expenditure engendered by this option. On the longer rides necessitated by the trip to the burial grounds with Tour-a-Lot, the residents will get a concurrent rise in rest stops, with each stop affording them additional opportunities to spend their children’s inheritances. In this way, even the initially-supposed detriment of the Tour-a-Lot option produces a net gain for the Golden Streams community.
Further, the community members would be well-served to bear in mind that speedy travel and profligate spending are not the only considerations in choosing a summer trip. A water park day could prove disastrous for the community, with the threat of sunburn, incontinence, and broken hips brought on by the park’s long lines, frightening rides, and slick surfaces. These dangers must be weighed against the possible gain to be had from the shortening of travel times. As sober consideration is made, the community will doubtless conclude that the water parks, with their concomitant risks of injury and humiliation, would be a far less satisfactory choice than the Indian Burial Grounds.
Taken on balance, the choice seems clear: The denizens of the Golden Streams retirement community should opt for the more-expensive, though slightly farther-away, Tour-a-Lot plan over the Water-Lotta-Fun water parks idea. In this way, they can best assure themselves of securing their most important goal, with fewer risks for greater rewards. And their children may never see a red cent!
And that essay took me about 25 minutes to write, which would mean I’d have ten minutes of waiting to get the hell out of that test center. Notice that we accomplished our five goals, and got out. Fast, easy, pattern-dependent, and strong.
And speaking of being fast and easy, tell us how we’re doing: Check us out online or drop us a line at Info@VelocityLSAT.com, and visit The Forum (http://www.VelocityLSAT.com/Forum) to join the conversation, to share your thoughts on Golden Streams or to tell us how we could’ve done better, or to suggest topics for future conversations.
Until next week, be courageous and be true.