How to Organize Your Writing Sample for the LSAT - dummies

How to Organize Your Writing Sample for the LSAT

By Lisa Zimmer Hatch, Scott A. Hatch, Amy Hackney Blackwell

It’s always a good idea to organize your approach to the LSAT writing sample. Some of the following tips can help you do just that. Here’s a writing sample topic of the type that appears on the LSAT:

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:

Marilyn wants a dog to guard her house.

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.

Take up to five minutes to think about how to answer this question and make an outline. Pick a side — either side. If you have a real preference, go with it. If you don’t, quickly pick a side. 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. You need every 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.

Set 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.

Make an outline

After you pick your side and before you write your essay, jot down a quick outline on the test booklet. If you follow the same basic five-paragraph structure, you’ll get a serviceable essay every time.

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.

How to structure the essay

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

  • Make the introduction about three or four sentences long. Start it by stating your position in your first sentence, such as, “The widow should choose the Pekingese.” Follow that with 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.

  • 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.

    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.

  • 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, but do say something that leaves your reader with a positive sense of your argument. One or two sentences are enough.

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.

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.

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.