The LSAT writing sample — How much should I worry?

Not at all.

That’s it. You should not worry about it. Not even a little bit.1

You’re welcome.

A bit of explanation for those who think I’m merely being glib:

Unlike some other standardized tests, the LSAT features a writing section that is not scored. The writing section appears at the end of the test, after test-takers have completed 175 minutes (plus a ten minute break) of what for most will be the most difficult and stressful test they’ve ever seen. Those test-takers will be given a prompt — in this case a brief statement of an issue — and a single lined sheet of paper, and told to write a brief essay about the issue. The essays are written in pencil, using one of the now-blunted number 2 pencils that test-takers have been using to bubble in their scantrons.

As I said, these essays are not graded; instead they are photocopied and a copy is sent to each school that gets a score report. The schools are told they can do with the essay what they wish.

What they do is ignore it.2

Why? Why ignore the only sample of extemporaneous writing they have for each applicant, when so much of law school (basically, every exam) is extemporaneous writing? I can’t speak with certainty for the admission committees but I have a guess: I think that trying to get any good, repeatable, uniform-across-applicants information from a single, one-page essay written under conditions like these would be silly, and I further think that law schools agree.

The above would be a sufficient reason for the admission committees to ignore the essays, but not a sufficient reason for me to conclude that they actually do ignore them. And the reasoning isn’t not why I’m telling you that you don’t need to worry. I’m telling you because over the years I’ve spoken with over a dozen people who are intimately involved behind the scenes in the admission process at several schools, and without exception they’ve told me the same thing: They ignore the writing sample.

Now, I’m not advising you not to write anything — that would be like waving a red flag at a bull3 you’ve been told by many reliable sources — but haven’t examined yourself — is blind. It would probably be safe, but taking the chance would be silly. I’m not even advising you to write random gibberish, or write something terrible; again, that would be a silly risk to take.

What I’m telling you is that everyone preparing for the LSAT has limited time, limited mental energy, probably limited budget for assistance, and quite possibly limited sanity4, all of which could be spent preparing for sections of the test that are known to matter a lot rather than for one that is almost certainly not going to matter at all. And if it’s not worth preparing for, it’s not worth worrying about.

The LSAT is tough enough; don’t make it even tougher.

Notes

  1. OK, maybe a teeny weeny bit; I’ll be writing a follow-up note on who should actually worry. (It’s not many people.)
  2. (usually)
  3. Bulls are actually color blind, so if you want to substitute the color of your choice for the red flag or cape or whatever else as the thing you really shouldn’t be waving at the very-probably-blind-but-still-really-big bull, go ahead. Further, I’m told that Spanish bullfighters’ capes are often pink, not red; I have no interest in seeing for myself. Anyway, I hope you get the point.
  4. 😋