Applying Proper Grammar and Usage to Your LSAT Essay

Your position on the LSAT essay is only as clear as your writing style. Admissions officers pay attention to your grammar and usage, so follow these tips for keeping your essay crisp and clean.

Punctuation

The most common punctuation errors involve commas and semicolons. Semicolons join independent clauses when the thoughts they convey are related enough to keep them in the same sentence. You use commas to separate items in a series, to replace omitted words, and to set off clauses and parenthetical expressions. Remember these rules:

  • Insert a comma before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so) that joins two independent clauses. Comma splices occur when you join two independent clauses with just a comma and no coordinating conjunction. You make a run-on sentence when you join together two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction and no comma.

  • Include a comma between a beginning dependent clause and an independent clause. (But don’t put a comma between the clauses if the independent clause comes first.)

Sentence structure

Here are two problems with sentence structure that commonly occur in LSAT essays:

  • Sentence fragments: A sentence must have a subject and a verb and convey a complete thought. Watch out for dependent clauses masquerading as complete sentences. Even though they contain subjects and verbs, they begin with a subordinating conjunction, such as although, when, or while, that makes them incomplete without other information.

  • Modifier errors: Modifiers are words, phrases, and clauses that describe other words. The rule of thumb is to place descriptive elements as close to the words they modify as possible.

More do’s and don’ts

Here are a few more things to keep in mind when writing your LSAT essay:

  • Use simple, active sentences. Keep your sentences simple and active. The more complex your sentences, the greater your chances of making mistakes in grammar. You may think that long sentences will impress your readers, but they won’t.

  • Apply active voice. Another important characteristic of strong, persuasive sentences is the use of active voice. Active voice is clearer and more powerful than passive voice.

  • Provide clear transitions. Use transitions to tell the reader where you’re going with your argument. You need only a few seconds to provide your readers with words that signal whether the next paragraph is a continuation of the previous idea, whether it refutes the last paragraph, or whether you’re moving in a new direction. Smooth transitions demonstrate effective organization.

  • Use precise descriptions. Use descriptive words to keep your readers interested and informed. Specific, well-chosen words create images for your reader and make your points more impactful.

  • Avoid slang expressions. Stick to formal English and avoid contractions and slang. Your readers are familiar with formal English, so they expect you to use it in your essays.

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