This class is about LSAT Writing: why it matters, how it works, and how you can use it to maximize your chances of admission. Let’s start with some threshold questions.

Does LSAT Writing matter?

The short answer is yes: LSAT Writing actually matters. Admissions officers know that it’s the only part of the written application that can’t be “doctored,” in the words of 7Sage Consultant and former UVA reader Brigitte Suhr, and many of them use it to corroborate the personal statements of applicants who learned English as a second language. Even if an admissions officer doesn't give the writing sample a thorough read, she may simply check to make sure that the applicant took it seriously and followed directions. Another 7Sage admissions consultant, for example, recalled rejecting an applicant whose entire essay consisted of “Vote for Trump”—and to be clear, her rejection had nothing to do with politics. Finally, some admissions officers use the sample to see how the applicant writes under pressure.

To get a better sense of how often admissions officers read the writing sample, we surveyed our team of former law school admissions officers and some of our friends in the admissions community. Here’s a picture of the results:

A survey of admissions about how often they read LSAT writing

Writing sample doubters might point to the fact that nearly a third of our respondents rarely read the writing sample, but I’d turn that interpretation on its head: over seventy percent of the respondents said they sometimes, usually, or always read the writing sample, and all of them told us that they read it at least occasionally. Failing to prepare for the writing sample and hoping that none of your admissions readers will read it is a sucker’s bet. This is all the more true now that LSAT Writing went digital, which makes the essays much easier to read.

Do yourself a favor and take LSAT Writing seriously.

But how much does LSAT Writing matter?

As with many components of your application, LSAT Writing has more power to hurt you than to help you. This is a result of the funnel-like structure of admissions: most schools get more qualified applications than they can accept, so they’re looking for reasons to say no. You can torpedo yourself with a bad essay, but you can’t overcome an application problem with a great one.

Still, every qualitative factor can help a little, and your writing sample is no exception. Now that you can take the writing exam after your LSAT, there is no drawback to preparing for it: you don’t have to take study time away from the more important test.

Can you improve on the writing exam?

Yes. The writing exam is to writing what the Logic Games are to logic: a tiny exercise with predictable constraints. In other words, a game. If you learn the rules and strategies, you can do better.

How long do I need to study for LSAT Writing?

Not long at all! If you take a single practice exam, I think you’ll improve. However, I’d recommend that you study for about five days to a week, taking one practice exam a day and then reviewing the results.

But first, of course, you should read the rest of the lessons in this course.

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LSAT Writing is a mandatory, unscored, thirty-five-minute persuasive essay that you’ll complete on a computer—probably yours—through LSAC’s proctoring software.

Let’s unpack that.

1. It’s a thirty-five-minute persuasive essay.

You’ll have thirty-five minutes to read a half-page prompt and write your whole essay. LSAC will lay out two alternatives and ask you to argue for one or the other.

2. You can type it.

You’ll take LSAT Writing on your computer via LSAC’s software. The interface has basic word-processing functions, including spell-check and copy/paste, as well as digital “scratch paper.”

3. You don’t have to take LSAT Writing when you take the LSAT.

You can take LSAT Writing up to eight days before the test and up to a year after, but…

4. You have to take LSAT Writing before you get your score.

LSAC won’t release your LSAT score to you or to law schools until you have at least one LSAT Writing on file.

If you retake the LSAT, you can retake LSAT Writing, but you don’t have to. In other words, you only need to take LSAT Writing once.

If you take LSAT Writing more than once, admissions officers will have access to your three most recent reportable writing samples.

5. The Writing section is unscored.

The LSAC doesn’t score your writing sample or mediate it in any way, though (as we’ve already noted) it’s important that you don’t bomb it, and best if you can knock it out of the park.

6. You can practice LSAT Writing via LSAC.

You can practice one LSAT Writing exam on LSAC’s LawHub and more in this course. We highly recommend that you take at least three practice exams—though you can wait until after you finish the test. More on that to come!


All LSAT Writing prompts ask you to make an argument for one of two options—e.g., “Should Flo order tacos or pizza?” You’ll get two criteria for making your choice—say, “Flo wants to enjoy the meal”; “Flo wants to be heart-healthy.” Finally, you’ll get two short paragraphs of facts that illuminate how the options may or may not fulfill the criteria. The informational paragraphs may tell you, for example, that Flo feels weird about taco meat, which would seem to support the case for pizza on the basis of the first criterion, that Flo wants to enjoy her meal. LSAT Writing is a closed-universe test, so you’ll never have to draw on knowledge beyond the provided facts.

Let’s take a look at a real prompt.

The Setup: Two Options

We start with a few sentences laying out the alternatives. Here’s an example from PrepTest 80.

Tony, a beer brewer, is deciding whether to start a production brewery—a brewery that brews, packages, and distributes specialty beer to be sold at other locations—or to start a brewpub—a full-service restaurant that serves specialty beer brewed on-site.

The Criteria

Next, we get two criteria on which to base our argument.

Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • Tony wants to develop a reputation among beer critics and connoisseurs for producing high-quality beer.
  • Tony wants to be able to devote time and resources to the development of new beer offerings.

The Facts: Two Paragraphs

Finally, we get two short paragraphs of information. You can think of the first as a list of pros and cons for the first option, and the second as a list of pros and cons for the second option. Here are the facts from PrepTest 80 (with the headers added):

Brewery Pros and Cons

A production brewery would be able to distribute its products to a large geographic area. In order to get the brewery’s beers to be carried in stores or offered at bars, Tony would need to put time into sales and marketing. There are already a large number of breweries that distribute to the area. A production brewery’s products are likely to be reviewed by beer critics. A production brewery would initially need to focus on a small number of core offerings. If these proved to be popular, Tony would be able to introduce a series of experimental, limited-edition beer offerings.

Pub Pros and Cons

A brewpub would draw most of its customers from the local area, which has few brewpubs. Tony would need to oversee the day-to-day operations of the restaurant side of the business. Tony might be able to eventually hire a restaurant manager. Many customers at brewpubs are interested primarily in the food. Brewpubs are more likely to be reviewed by restaurant critics rather than beer critics. Beer connoisseurs enthusiastically seek out brewpubs, and share information about brewpubs on social media. Tony would interact directly with customers at a brewpub. Brewpubs brew batches of beer in relatively small volumes and can rotate their offerings relatively quickly.

Each sentence of each paragraph can be interpreted to support one of the options on the basis of one of the criteria.


Before we dive into the details, let’s talk about the big picture. There are three keys to acing LSAT Writing.

The Three Keys to Success

1. Don’t get fancy.

Your LSAT essay is not a personal statement. It’s an exam, and I would urge you to be boring. If you set out to compose the Gettysburg Address, you’re likely to overwrite or run out of time, and you won’t get a chance to revise. In any case, your readers don’t expect a rhetorical masterpiece. They just want to see if you can write something cogent and complete in thirty-five minutes.

2. Commit to a choice.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on LSAT Writing is being indecisive. You’ll always be able to argue effectively for either choice, so don’t waste your time hemming and hawing. Pick the choice that feels better to you—or else pick the second choice because its facts will be slightly more fresh when you start outlining.

3. Write with blinders.

You might have heard the word “blinders” used proverbially, but do you know where it comes from? Blinders are horse tack. You fit them over a draft animal’s eyes to keep it looking forward, through cutouts in the front.

When you’re writing an essay, you’re both the horse and driver, and you’ve got to keep moving forward. There will always be a better way to express the sentence you just wrote, but if you spend too much time tinkering, you’ll never get to the end.

Timing and Technique

Now it’s time to dive into the details. I encourage you to figure out your own timing and technique, but here’s what worked for me.

1. Read the Prompt (2 minutes)

Walk, don’t run, through the prompt. Read actively, the same way you read an LR stimulus, and try to lodge the criteria in your memory. Think about how each fact seems to fulfill or fail the criteria.

2. State Your Position (30 seconds)

If you consider yourself a strong writer, it might be tempting to pick the side of the argument that seems “harder.” Don’t do that. No one’s going to give you extra points for performing a difficult routine. No one will even know that your routine is difficult. Just pick the side that seems more defensible and write your position in a single simple sentence:

Tyrone should choose the role in the play.

If you already know your main arguments, you can include them:

Tyrone should choose the role in the play because it affords him a bigger opportunity to show off his talents and because there are fewer downsides.

This sentence will become the first in your essay.

3. Make a Rough Outline (4 minutes)

Start your outline by writing your main arguments:

  1. The play will help Tyrone achieve his goals
  2. The TV show is too risky

After you state your main arguments, jot down your main points for each argument:

  1. The play will help Tyrone achieve his goals
    1. High-quality role
    2. Exposure to critics

You’ll notice that I didn’t bother using full sentences in the example above. All you have to do is cue yourself up so you know where you’re going.

You’ll probably need to consult the prompt as you outline, but at this point, you should not simply be perusing the facts. You should instead be mining them for information that supports your position.

4. Draft, Writing Over Your Outline (25 minutes)

I recommend that you write over your outline, replacing or deleting it as you draft. Keep in mind the need to press forward. Get to the end of it so that you have time to revise.

5. Revise (5 minutes)

It’s not the end of the world if you run out of time, but your essay will be much more impressive if you can clean it up and add polish at the end.

A Word about Timing

Treat all of my annotations about timing as suggestions. If you find that you’re finishing your practice exams, and especially if you’re able to revise your work, then you should ignore the suggestions altogether. Focus on the writing, not the timing!

You should also expect that some prompts will take you longer to process and understand than others. That’s natural and okay! Processing the prompt is an important investment. If you’re still processing after ten minutes, though, it’s probably time to get writing.


LSAC offers no guidelines on the length of your essay, but our former admissions officers have found that essays shorter than 300 words tend to feel puny, while essays longer than 600 words sometimes suffer from redundancy.

Ultimately, you should let your outline guide the length. If you make at least two sub-arguments and incorporate most of the facts—including those that seem to contravene your position—your essay will be long enough.

Speaking of sub-arguments and contravening facts, it’s time to talk about structure.

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After taking LSAT Writing about ten times, I’ve found that the simplest structure leads to the most consistent results. Let’s review the Simple Pro and Anti essay, or SPA—then talk about alternatives.

Throughout this example, we’ll refer to the essay I wrote for PrepTest 79.

The SPA: a Simple Pro and Anti Essay

The idea of the SPA is to minimize distractions and maximize your writing time. Specifically, we want to maximize the time you spend on your analysis of the facts. The SPA gives you the best chance of impressing your reader with clean, compelling, logical prose.

Paragraph 1: The One-Sentence Intro

Some online advice-givers would have you summarize the prompt before diving into your argument—as if stating your position is too forward, like asking someone how many children they want on the first date.

There’s nothing wrong with summarizing the prompt, but it’s unnecessary. Always remember that you’re taking a writing exam. Your intro can be purely functional. Tell us your position so that we can follow along in the rest of the essay:

Tacos are the clear choice for Maya’s takeout order.

Stonewall Construction should bid on the Carlene Boulevard expansion project.

If you’re writing much more than that, you’re probably taking time away from the important parts.

Paragraph 2: Pro

The S in SPA stands for Simple; the P stands for Pro. Your first body paragraph is a simple list of pros (as in pros vs. cons). Walk us through the facts that support your choice, spinning them to make your point more emphatic and showing how they fulfill the criteria.

I recommend that you consider both criteria in the same paragraph, as in this example:

If Stonewall Construction hopes to burnish its reputation among potential clients and expand its range, it couldn't do better than to bid on the Carlene Boulevard expansion project, which it has a good chance of winning. In the best of circumstances, Stonewall would finish on time and under budget, providing a windfall of cash and a resounding demonstration of its competence when it comes to large projects. The company could invest its profit in more heavy equipment to increase its capacity for similar operations. But even if Stonewall were to lose money on the project, it would expand its workforce and gain valuable experience, improving its ability to handle large projects in the future.

Paragraph 3: Anti

The A in SPA stands for “Anti.” Just as the first body paragraph marshals the facts for your choice, the second paragraph marshals the facts against the other side. You’ll typically start by acknowledging the pros of the opposing position before mitigating them. You might argue that those pros aren’t as compelling as they seem or that they have an intrinsic downside. If you can’t neutralize the other side’s pros, you can always just explain why they are outweighed by your choice’s cons.

Because the anti paragraph tends to involve more creativity than the pro paragraph, we’ll break it down into parts.

The Beginning of the Anti Paragraph

Use the first sentence of your anti paragraph to telegraph your argument. Here, for example, is the first sentence of my anti paragraph for PrepTest 79:

The Hilltop Road resurfacing project, by contrast, has little to offer Stonewall in the way of profit, reputation, or expanded capacity, even if the construction goes well.

Sometimes you’ll need more than one sentence to introduce your anti paragraph. For example, let’s return to our “pizza vs. tacos” essay, which has two criteria: Flo wants to enjoy her meal, and Flo wants to be heart-healthy. We’ll begin the anti paragraph by acknowledging something that seems to support the first criterion, then pivoting:

Pizza is, admittedly, a tasty dinner option. However, it’s hard to imagine Flo enjoying her meal with the knowledge that each bite brings her closer to a coronary event.

Our strategy there is to dispute the connection between pizza’s tastiness and the criterion of enjoyment. But we could have also left the first criterion uncontested and simply focused on the second one:

Flo would, admittedly, enjoy a tasty pizza dinner, but her enjoyment is negligible compared to the overwhelming havoc pizza would wreak on every cell of her body.

I used this second strategy in PrepTest 86. Instead of trying to minimize or contest the opposing position’s pros, I just emphasized the concomitant cons:

Although the radio observatory is conducive to large, ground-breaking research projects, such projects monopolize the observatory for extended periods of time, making it impossible for other researchers or students to use it.

Formulas for Starting Your Anti Paragraph

To acknowledge an oppositional point and then dismiss it, you may find yourself reaching for the same constructions:

  • X is, admittedly…however…
  • Although…
  • And though…
  • It’s true that…but
  • Despite (some seeming advantage)…

When possible, though, I prefer the simplest possible approach:

  • Option B, on the other hand…
  • Option B, by contrast…(say why it totally sucks)

The Rest of the Anti Paragraph

Later in your anti paragraph, you may repeat the pattern of first invoking and then dismissing an advantage of the other side. In the following example, again from PrepTest 79, we handle two potential arguments for the opposing position before launching a final, pure attack. By “pure” attack, I mean that the last argument doesn’t grapple with an opposing argument; it just states a con of the other side.

The Hilltop Road resurfacing project, by contrast, has little to offer Stonewall in the way of profit, reputation, or expanded capacity, even if the construction goes well. Stonewall already enjoys a reputation for finishing small projects like Hilltop on time and within budget; finishing one more project on time and under budget can hardly be expected to make a difference. And though Stonewall might invest its earnings from the project into heavy equipment, the expected profit is meager. Finally, success on Hilltop Road would come with a cost, cementing (so to speak) Stonewall’s reputation as a company that only handles small projects. Construction firms that specialize in small projects find it increasingly difficult to win large ones. Given Stonewall’s large ambitions, it should avoid these small pickings.

Sentence-by-Sentence Key:

  1. Topic sentence
  2. Handles the argument (which we never state explicitly) that the Hilltop project will burnish Stonewall Construction’s reputation
  3. Introduces another opposing argument
  4. Handles second opposing argument
  5. Final, pure attack on Hilltop

Paragraph 4: The Conclusion

Don't skimp on the conclusion. This is the last impression you'll make on your reader, and is therefore more important than the intro. It's also easier to write and, usually, more substantive.

At a minimum, your conclusion should simply restate your arguments:

Stonewall Construction has every reason to bid on the Carlene Boulevard expansion project, where success would carry huge rewards and failure would come with the consolation prize of valuable experience. Stonewall would reap meager rewards, on the other hand, from the Hilltop Road resurfacing project, and the best-case scenario—finishing on time and under budget—would ironically lead to the worst result, typecasting Stonewall as a company that specializes in small projects and circumscribing its hopes for the future.

If you can add a bit of rhetorical pizzazz to the end of your conclusion, so much the better:

Tacos are the right choice for Flo's mouth, her stomach, and her beating heart.

Alternative Structures

The Simple Pro and Anti essay considers the alternatives one at a time: your side’s pros, their side’s cons. Sometimes, however, you may want to compare both choices in a single paragraph. Instead of stating why your position is good and the other position bad, you’ll argue that your side is better and the other side worse. You might structure the essay like this:

The Basic Comparative Essay

  1. Intro
  2. Comparative pro: Your side does a better job of fulfilling the criteria
  3. Comparative anti: Your side fails the criteria less severely
  4. Conclusion

Here’s a short example of a comparative essay in which I argue that Flo should order the tacos over pizza given that she (1) wants to enjoy her meal and (2) wants to be heart-healthy.

  1. Intro: Flo should order tacos instead of pizza.
  2. Comparative pro: Although Flo likes the taste of both dinner options, tacos afford her a better experience overall. Hard taco shells have a delicious crunch; soft tortillas feature a melt-in-your-mouth savor. Both have a more appealing texture than a sweaty triangle of melted mozzarella. Thus Flo is more likely to enjoy a meal of tacos.
  3. Comparative anti: Neither pizza nor tacos are as heart-healthy as, say, celery, but tacos are less likely than pizza to end Flo’s life precipitously. Most taco meats have less trans fats than pizza cheese. What’s more, spicy tacos may make Flo jump out of her seat, giving her an aerobic workout.
  4. Conclusion: Flo will enjoy tacos more than pizza, and tacos are less unhealthy than pizza.

You can also mix “simple” arguments, in which you only consider one of the alternatives, with comparative arguments, in which you consider both. I find myself reaching for this structure frequently:

The Simple Pro and Comparative Anti Essay—An Example

  1. Intro
  2. Simple pro: Tacos are tasty and enjoyable
  3. Comparative anti: Tacos are less unhealthy than pizza
  4. Conclusion

Stepping Back from the Taxonomy

In practice, these structures may bleed into each other. For example, you could write, “Tacos are super tasty and, unlike pizza, great vehicles for hot sauce.” Is that a simple or a comparative argument for tacos?

Nobody cares!

We’re not pinning essays to a cork board and affixing scientific labels. We’re just reviewing mental models that may help you outline. The difference between the “SPA” and the “comparative” essays boils down to a basic framing question. Should you consider a single alternative in a given paragraph or both alternatives at once?

I never wound up asking this question as I drafted an essay, but the framework helped me figure out a better approach to the exam. After discovering that I wrote cleaner essays and finished more quickly when I stuck to simpler structures, I decided to make the SPA my default and to write comparative paragraphs only occasionally.

One More Framework: Risk vs. Reward

LSAC’s Writing prompts often ask you to bet on an uncertain future. Our favorite example, PrepTest 79, asks us whether Stonewall Construction should choose project A or B even though we don’t know whether it will finish either project on time or under budget. In fact, we don’t even know whether Stonewall will win either bid. Prep Test 80, to take another example, asks if Tony should invest in a brewery or a pub even though we don’t know whether either venture will succeed.

In such prompts, you can’t argue that one option will be better than another no matter what happens. You can only say that one option is more likely to satisfy the criteria in the long run, and that it has a more attractive set of risks and rewards.

Risk vs. reward—or upside vs. downside—suggests another way of structuring your essay:

  1. Intro
  2. Upside: Your option has bigger potential rewards than the other option
  3. Downside: Your option is less risky than the other option
  4. Conclusion

This structure is a specialized version of the comparative essay. It’s just as easy to add risk-vs-reward logic into a simple pro and anti essay:

  1. Intro
  2. Your option has big potential rewards and little risk
  3. The other option has small potential rewards and lots of risk
  4. Conclusion

This is exactly what I did in my essay for PrepTest 79.

Final Word

I recommend that you do a bit of experimenting to figure out which structure tends to work best for you. Make that structure your default to save yourself time on the exam.


The best way to practice LSAT Writing is through LSAC’s LawHub, which offers a single real prompt with the same interface you’ll use on test day. After you take that, you can pick an LSAT Writing prompt from a PrepTest or go through the prompts in this class (which come from PrepTests 79 through 86). I recommend that you paste the prompts into a word processor, set a timer for thirty-five minutes, and start writing. Try not to read the prompt as you copy them. When you’re done, you can take a look at how I answered the same prompt under test conditions.

Don’t Cheat and Don’t Start Over

If you’re taking a practice exam, you might be tempted to pause your timer, write past the thirty-five-minute mark, or otherwise cheat. Don’t do that! If you don’t follow the rules when you practice, you’re not really practicing! Cheating here means cheating yourself out of a valuable lesson.

One more thing: if you find yourself dismayed by your progress on the practice essay—if you realize that you took too long to outline, that you’re not going to finish, that your argument makes no sense—don’t start over. Recovering from a rocky start is one of the most important skills you can practice. You might flounder at the beginning of the real exam, so you should teach yourself how to push through.

Making a Practice Schedule

I recommend taking at least three LSAT Writing exams: one to see what happens, the next to try a new technique, and the third to cement your approach. (You can, of course, take more than three practice tests, and might well benefit from it.)

1. The See-What-Happens Test

Don’t overthink your first practice LSAT: just, you know, see what happens. The key to improving is reviewing your essay when the timer runs out.

Is your argument simple and strong? Did you incorporate most of the facts? Did you rush the ending? Did you have time for any revision? If not, is your essay full of typos? If so, did your revision improve the essay, or did you introduce new errors?

If you found yourself running out of time, you might try spending less time on your outline or simplifying your argument structure. If you finished with time to spare but didn’t incorporate most of the facts, you might try spending more time on the outline. Adjust your approach and try again.

2. The Try-a-New-Technique Test

Review the lessons of your first practice test right before you take your second one: you want them fresh in your mind.

Take another test. When you’re done, you should evaluate as before. Remember that taking a practice test does not itself lead to improvement. The reflection that follows is what lets you learn, adjust, and improve.

If you’re still not satisfied with your essay, you should adjust your technique and repeat this step.

3. The Cement-Your-Technique Test

After you’ve taken at least one writing exam with a satisfactory result, you should try to repeat your success. Writing an LSAT essay will never feel as procedural as solving a Logic Game, but it will begin to feel more routine, and you will get better at it.

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Here’s a recap of what we’ve covered so far:

  • LSAT Writing is a thirty-five-minute, unscored persuasive essay exam. You’ll take it on a computer. It’s available eight days before and up to a year after your LSAT. You can retake it if you retake the LSAT.
  • This section matters. A bad essay can easily hurt your chances; a good essay might just help.
  • You’ll get two choices—e.g., “pizza or tacos”—two criteria by which to choose, and two paragraphs of facts, one for each choice.
  • Commit to a choice quickly and don’t try to get fancy.
  • Try to spend about five minutes reading and planning, twenty-five minutes writing, and five minutes revising, though your mileage will vary.
  • Stick to a simple structure:
    • A one-sentence intro, a one-paragraph argument for your choice, a one-paragraph argument against the other side (in which you’ll probably acknowledge a point in its favor), and a conclusion.
  • Practice LSAT Writing at least three times, ideally with LSAC’s Getting Acquainted with LSAT Writing

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few practical tips for test day:

  • Turn off notifications on your computer.
  • Put a sign on the door of your room if there’s any chance someone will knock; put a sign on your front door if there’s any chance someone will ring.
  • Turn off your phone.
  • Go over your plan, if you have one, or think about the lessons of your practice tests before you take the real thing.

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The Prompt

Tony, a beer brewer, is deciding whether to start a production brewery—a brewery that brews, packages, and distributes specialty beer to be sold at other locations—or to start a brewpub-a full-service restaurant that serves specialty beer brewed on-site. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • Tony wants to develop a reputation among beer critics and connoisseurs for producing high-quality beer.
  • Tony wants to be able to devote time and resources to the development of new beer offerings.

A production brewery would be able to distribute its products to a large geographic area. In order to get the brewery's beers to be carried in stores or offered at bars, Tony would need to put time into sales and marketing. There are already a large number of breweries that distribute to the area. A production brewery's products are likely to be reviewed by beer critics. A production brewery would initially need to focus on a small number of core offerings. If these proved to be popular, Tony would be able to introduce a series of experimental, limited-edition beer offerings.

A brewpub would draw most of its customers from the local area, which has few brewpubs. Tony would need to oversee the day-to-day operations of the restaurant side of the business. Tony might be able to eventually hire a restaurant manager. Many customers at brewpubs are interested primarily in the food. Brewpubs are more likely to be reviewed by restaurant critics rather than beer critics. Beer connoisseurs enthusiastically seek out brewpubs, and share information about brewpubs on social media. Tony would interact directly with customers at a brewpub. Brewpubs brew batches of beer in relatively small volumes and can rotate their offerings relatively quickly.

My Essay

Tony should choose to start a brewpub.

The brewpub will make it easier for Tony to develop high-quality beers, a sine qua non for success among critics and connoisseurs of beer. The necessities of industrial production would mean that, if Tony were to invest in a production brewery, he would have to focus on a small number of core beers. Such a narrow focus would prevent Tony from adjusting his offerings in response to new information from his critics and customers. A brewpub, by contrast, gives Tony the flexibility to iterate quickly and forces him to spend more time doing what he enjoys: making beer. The small-batch production model, in other words, is strictly better, for it would let Tony fail faster, evolve more nimbly, and ultimately produce tastier beers. As Tony can't hope to win the acclaim of beer critics and affection of beer connoisseurs without an exceptional product, this—the question of which venture would lead to better beers—is the most important consideration, and the clear answer is the brewpub.

Opening a brewpub has two other large advantages: it lets Tony enter a market with less competition, and it lets Tony interact directly with beer connoisseurs, the very faction he hopes to win over. It would be imprudent of Tony to open a new production brewery when his area is already saturated with breweries. On the other hand, there are relatively few brewpubs, which means that Tony's opportunity to stand out is larger. Beer connoisseurs tend to seek out brewpubs, and we can expect even more attention from beer connoisseurs than usual given the lack of local competition. What's more, the day-to-day work of running a brewpub would involve interacting with beer connoisseurs and building the sort of relationships that could lead to strong social endorsements. If Tony were to win over such connoisseurs, he might find himself becoming an internet darling and the beneficiary of priceless organic publicity. Thus, Tony's reputation stands to gain far more from the brewpub, which will put him in close contact with beer connoisseurs and, possibly, social media mavens.

Whether Tony opens a brewpub or a production brewery, he'll be forced to spend some of his time focusing on tasks he doesn't enjoy, but the downside of the brewpub is far less severe than the downside of the production brewery. Consider the brewery first. Given that Tony will need to place his beers in a national market, he'll be forced to devote much of his time to marketing, a task that comes with no intrinsic rewards. On the other hand, if he opens the brewpub, he'll have devote much of his time to the day-to-day operations of a restaurant. But this task, unlike marketing, is valuable in its own right. It will bring Tony closer to the consumers of his beer, and thus give him valuable information.

Because the brewpub will make it easier for Tony to produce fine beers and interact more with the constituents among whom he wants to build his reputation—and because the downsides of opening the brewpub are concomitantly smaller—Tony should open the brewpub.


The Prompt

A city councilor in a medium-sized city is deciding whether to support or oppose a proposal that would combine a decrease in the city's sales tax with the transformation of a portion of a highway in the councilor's district into a toll road. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for one option over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • The councilor wants the district to be an attractive shopping destination for people coming in from the suburbs
  • The councilor wants the continued support of voters in the district.

Currently, the city's sales tax is slightly higher than that of the surrounding suburbs. The sales tax applies only to goods that are not deemed essential. Most of the goods bought by non-locals are subject to the tax. The highway is the most popular route into the city. Alternative routes generally run at a third of the speed, except during rush hour when the highway slows to a crawl. The stretch of highway targeted by the proposal lies entirely within the councilor's district. Shopping districts have developed at most of the exits along this stretch. Most of the employees of these retail businesses live in the councilor's district.

Institution of the proposal is not expected to change the total revenue collected by the city. The sales tax would be decreased to slightly less than that of the surrounding suburbs. The stretch of highway would be the first toll road in the metropolitan area. Polls show that the majority of residents in the councilor's district believe it would be unfair to have to pay a toll. In other cities, dissatisfaction with tolls has fallen after they have been imposed. Traffic is expected to move more quickly during rush hour if a toll is imposed.

My Essay

The councilor should support the proposal.

If the councilor wants his district to be a shopping destination for consumers from neighboring suburbs, the city's sales tax should be his foremost consideration. The city's sales tax is currently higher than the average sales tax of surrounding suburbs; this in and of itself is an enormous disincentive for potential customers. By rectifying this imbalance and, in fact, making the city's sales tax lower than the sales tax of surrounding suburbs, the proposal will make it more likely for the shopping district on the affected stretch of highway to thrive.

Of course, the proposal also comes with a seeming disadvantage: it would turn a stretch of highway into a toll road, the first toll road in the metropolitan area. The toll may be a deterrent for potential shoppers. But if we put the district's potential suburban consumers into two broad categories, we can see that turning the highway into a toll road is an advantage in its own right. Consider first the suburban consumers who are sensitive to small fluctuations in prices. We'll call them the penny-pinchers. These penny pinchers are precisely the constituents who are most likely to be attracted by a lower sales tax, and if they are already willing to drive into the city to save money, there's good reason to think that they'd be willing to take a slightly longer trip—one that avoids the highway—to get to the shopping center in the councilor's district. Now consider the suburban consumers who are relatively insensitive to price—the consumers who may be driving into the city to buy goods they can't find locally, not to save money. This group of consumers is unlikely to be deterred by a toll road. On the contrary, such consumers may be happy to take the toll road if it means less rush-hour traffic. They would, in effect, be paying for a more convenient trip into the city.

We can see, then, that lower sales taxes and the institution of a toll road are likely to make the highway in the councilor's district a more attractive shopping destination for suburban consumers, thus fulfilling the councilor's first goal. But what of his own constituents? Will the proposal help or hurt his support at the polls? As counterintuitive as it may seem, the net effect of this proposal will be to increase the councilor's support.

Just as the toll road may disincentivize suburban shoppers, it is initially likely to upset the councilor's potential supporters. The majority of residents in the councilor's district have said that a toll road would be unfair. But in similar cases, hostility to toll roads has fallen after residents have had a chance to see the benefits of such roads. This proposal will bring more benefits to residents of the councilor's district than usual: it will decrease rush-hour traffic and bring more money into the district, shoring up the business on which so many of the councilor's constituents depend. We have good reason to believe, therefore, that the councilor's constituents will come around to the proposal, and the support he loses—if any—will be dwarfed by the advantages of making his district a bigger draw for suburban shoppers.

The councilor should support the proposal to lower the city's sales tax and turn a stretch of highway into a tollroad, for if the proposal were to pass, it would bring many more suburban shoppers to his district while having a positive impact on his support.


The Prompt

A filmmaker is preparing to direct a film that is set at a country estate during the eighteenth century. The filmmaker must choose which of two properties to use as the primary location for filming. Using the facts below, write an essay in which you argue for using one property over the other based on the following two criteria:

  • The location should be conducive to filming scenes that reflect the time and place in which the film is set.
  • The location should minimize any problems that could delay or disrupt filming.

Homestead Manor is a vacant, unfurnished farmhouse one hour's drive from the nearest town. Its architectural style is well-suited to the demands of the film. Some parts of the farmhouse are not in the good condition called for by the script. Certain visually appealing rooms have limited space for film equipment. Homestead Manor's electrical system is dated. Its grounds include a large barn suitable for securing equipment and other supplies. The farmhouse's interior could be styled to the filmmaker's tastes. Minor structural changes, such as adding or removing windows and doors, would be permitted.

Bristol House is a designated historic building and tourist attraction in a mid-sized city. Several hotels and restaurants are nearby, as is the local airport. Bristol House's interior design and furnishings reflect the era in which the film takes place. Furnishings from this era can be very difficult to find. Loud airplane noise is periodically audible inside Bristol House. Because of its historic status, any structural changes would need approval from the local government. Several officials from this government have offered to help facilitate filming. Equipment could not be stored on-site at Bristol House.

My Essay

The filmmaker should choose Homestead Manor because it is more conducive to his film's setting and less prone to disruptions.

Homestead Manor is more conducive to a film set on an eighteenth century country estate because the exterior is eminently suitable and the interior is easy to change. In the hierarchy of the filmmaker's concern, the location's exterior should be pre-eminent. He has little power to change factors like architecture or landscape, so he should choose a location that offers him the look and feel of an eighteenth century country estate. Bristol House fits the bill. Its architecture evokes the time period; its surroundings—rural and isolated—are presumably fitting as well, and certainly closer to the mark than the Bristol House's urban environment. And although the Bristol House's interior may be closer to the filmmaker's vision of an eighteenth century manor, Homestead Manor offers one other insuperable advantage: flexibility. The filmmaker has permission to restyle the interior and even, if necessary, make minor structural changes. Thus he should choose Homestead Manor, where the factors that can't be changed don't need to be, and the factors that do need to be changed can be.

Homestead Manor, though imperfect, is also less prone to predictable disruptions. Consider the factors that we know might disrupt the film. Some of Homestead Manor's most appealing rooms are too small for film equipment, yet the filmmaker can rectify the problem by adding windows and doorways. Some of Homestead Manor's rooms are dilapidated, yet the filmmaker has carte blanche to redecorate them. Finally, Homestead Manor has a dated electrical system, but such an obstacle is not insurmountable. The key point is that the filmmaker knows about the electrical system and can plan accordingly.

The Bristol House's known sources of potential disruptions, on the other hand, are much more difficult to mitigate. Unlike Homestead Manor, which has a large barn suitable for storing equipment, Bristol House offers no place to store equipment. Shooting at the hotel will be affected by minor daily delays as the crew brings their equipment to the location, and it will be more vulnerable to city traffic, road closures, or other factors which could prevent them from bringing in their equipment at all. The hotel is situated in a dense urban environment, subject to city noises and possibly even unwelcome intrusions from over-eager tourists. The hotel is close to an airport, and airplane noises are sometimes audible inside. If such a noise disrupts a shoot, what is the filmmaker's recourse? The filmmaker will either have to start the shoot over again or resolve the noise in expensive post-production.

Finally, Homestead Manor, unlike Bristol House, offers the flexibility to mitigate unpredictable disruptions. We have already noted that Homestead Manor is subject to relatively few restrictions vis a vis redecorating or even changing the structure. Bristol House, on the other hand, is a historic landmark. If the filmmaker wants to change something about the structure, his smallest whim will be subject to the caprices of municipal regulatory authorities, notwithstanding the helpful offers of local government officials. A filmmaker's job is, in part, to react to the unpredictable, and it will be much more difficult for the filmmaker to do that at the Bristol House.

Because Homestead Manor offers a more suitable exterior and a more flexible interior, it is the best choice.