LSAT Argumentative Writing and How to Prepare

The LSAT writing section is weird.

It's taken separately from the rest of the test. You can take it up to eight days before your test date, and you can even write it after your test if you prefer (though LSAC won’t release your LSAT score to you or to law schools until you’ve completed the writing section).

It's always taken remotely. You’ll take the section on a personal computer, not at a testing center.

And unlike the rest of the test, LSAT writing isn’t even scored (at least for now).

For these reasons, test-takers often consider the writing section to be an afterthought. And it’s true that a strong performance on LSAT writing typically requires far less study time than Logical Reasoning or Reading Comprehension. But the writing section still matters, and starting with the August 2024 test, it’s going to matter even more.

Which writing section am I taking?

Let’s get this out of the way first: if you’re taking the LSAT any time in June 2024 or earlier, you’ll be getting the old format of LSAT writing. Stop reading and go to the LSAT Writing (pre-August 2024) unit instead.

If, instead, you’re taking the test in August 2024 or later, you’ll get the new LSAT writing section, now called "LSAT Argumentative Writing." You’re in the right place. Read on.

There’s one exception, though. If you’re retaking the test in August 2024 or later and you’ve already completed the writing section under the old format during a previous test, you don’t need to take the new writing section.

What’s new about the LSAT argumentative writing section?

Short answer: it’s getting 15 minutes longer and assigns a more nuanced, open-ended writing exercise than the old “choose a side” writing section prompts.

Under the old format, LSAT writing consisted of a single 35-minute section that presented test-takers with a straightforward dilemma: two competing options are described (such as whether to support or oppose a proposal), along with some advantages and disadvantages to each option. The test-taker had to choose a side and use the pros and cons provided to construct a convincing argument in favor of that side.

The new argumentative writing section, meanwhile, will be carved up into two separately timed phases: an initial 15-minute phase to read the prompt and draft an outline, and a 35-minute phase to turn your outline into a fully-fleshed essay. (In case you’re wondering, the 35-minute portion starts as soon as that first 15-minute timer is up—there’s no pause in between and you can’t break them up into different sessions. You must complete all 50 minutes in a single sitting.)

So what, exactly, will you be writing? Gone are the “choose a side” writing prompts with their straightforward lists of pros and cons. Instead, you’ll be given a more open-ended question that allows you to take a wider range of positions. And instead of providing you with those clear pros and cons, argumentative writing provides you with series of perspectives from a wide range of sources. Some of the perspectives might conflict with each other; some might reinforce each other; and some might do neither. These perspectives are less about giving you dry facts to extract and insert into your essay, and more about giving you multiple alternative arguments and ideologies to engage with through the course of your essay.

The result of this new style of writing prompt is that you have more wiggle room in exactly what position you take and how you go about supporting it. But the core objective remains the same as always: define a position and argue for it.

One of our admissions consultants sums up this new direction well:

“The new approach, which asks for an argument based on the student's opinion and utilizing the contrasting viewpoints, provides a more open-ended platform for students to differentiate themselves.”

- Jacob Baska, 7Sage Admissions Consultant and former Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Notre Dame Law School

Why is LSAT writing changing?

According to LSAC, the new format is meant to “better assess the broader and more complex range of decision-making skills that writers engage in.” But why does LSAC think the old format wasn’t good enough, and why do they specifically want to change it on us now? Isn’t the test already changing enough in August? What’s the deal, LSAC?!

This is where our admissions consulting team is ready to weigh in.

“LSAC has been considering changes to the writing section for years. Law school deans are demanding a more thoughtful and rigorous writing sample.”

- Tracy Simmons, 7Sage Admissions Consultant and Assistant Dean of Admissions at University of San Diego School of Law

It turns out this new writing format wasn’t a snap decision by LSAC; they’ve been working on this for some time. Law schools have been asking them for a souped-up writing section, and employers have also said that they want summer students and graduates with sharper writing skills.

Why, though, are schools and employers making this demand? What’s the big deal with writing? Tracy offers some additional insight: “Admissions officers have been talking about the writing section becoming more important as AI becomes more prevalent.” Across disciplines, post-secondary institutions have been grappling with how to handle the increasing use of AI writing tools in academic writing. It makes sense that law schools would want to gauge applicants’ writing skills in the absence of external aids. The new argumentative writing section could well be (at least in part) a response to this, requiring test-takers to prove they have the chops to write nuanced and persuasive material all by themselves under carefully controlled conditions.

There’s another reason why law schools are asking for an updated writing section:

“Admissions officers want a scored writing sample similar to the GRE.”

- Samuel Riley, 7Sage Admissions Consultant and former Senior Director of Admissions Programs at University of Texas School of Law

The GRE, another standardized test that is accepted by some law schools as an alternative to the LSAT, features a scored writing section. At schools that accept either the LSAT or the GRE, admissions officers may be hard pressed to make an apples-to-apples comparison between one applicant with an LSAT score and another with a GRE score, given that only the GRE gives a quantitative evaluation of the applicant’s writing ability. It’s not surprising, then, that LSAC would want to experiment with the LSAT writing section in order to see how they might implement a writing score in the future. (More on this below.)

Is the writing section more important now?

First of all, it’s important to recognize that the old writing section was never unimportant. It’s always been something that schools can, and often do, evaluate when considering an applicant. But different schools weigh the writing sample differently. Some schools have always been serious about looking at the writing sample:

“We would read every one of the writing samples in terms of (1) organization and (2) argument. If either failed, there was no offer of admission. There can be many numerically strong candidates, and the writing sample is the one raw, unrevised piece of writing the applicant provides. For schools that have to be more selective, this piece of the application plays a huge role.”

- Tajira McCoy, 7Sage Admissions Consultant and former Director of Admissions and Scholarship Programs at Berkeley Law

Other schools, meanwhile, have used the writing sample as little more than a way to confirm that an applicant is serious:

“The writing sample was rarely looked at in detail, though back in the paper application days, I would make sure no one blew off the sample by drawing a picture of a rocket ship. (That really happened.)”

- Samuel Riley

To complicate things further, the importance of the writing sample can depend on the structure of a given school’s admissions committee:

“I’ve observed that faculty admissions committee members rely more heavily on the writing sample than admissions officers. Faculty often mention that LSAT writing is the truest indicator of students' writing abilities.”

- Jenifer Godfrey, 7Sage Admissions Consultant and former Assistant Dean for Admissions and Scholarships at the Bowen School of Law, University of Arkansas Little Rock

To get a full picture of just how important the writing section has historically been, we surveyed our entire admissions team and some of our friends in the admissions community on how often admissions officers read the writing sample. Here’s a picture of the results:

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.

So, LSAT writing has always been important. But is it becoming even more important with the introduction of this new writing format?

Here’s the answer: Yes, LSAT writing is becoming more important.

Consider: this change to LSAT writing is a response to a broad desire from law schools for a more rigorous writing section. If schools are asking for this change, it’s because they think that this new format will help them make better admissions decisions. And if schools think the new format of writing sample will be more helpful, it’s safe to assume that they’re going to weigh those samples more heavily when making offers of admission.

What’s this about a scored writing section?!

When LSAC first announced the argumentative writing section, they raised the idea of a scored writing section. Here’s what they said:

For the 2024-2025 testing cycle, LSAT Writing will remain an unscored part of the LSAT. Over the course of the 2024-2025 testing cycle, we will be analyzing data of the new LSAT [Argumentative] Writing prompt to assess its validity and reliability with a long-term goal of providing a scored LSAT Writing assessment that schools may use in their holistic admission process.

LSAC is telling us here that they have every intention of making LSAT writing a scored section in the future, but the earliest that could happen is the 2025-2026 testing cycle. For now, they’re using test-takers as guinea pigs to see how this new format works in practice.

So, if you’re planning to take the test any time between now and June 2025, you can rest easy. Your writing sample won’t be scored. Beyond that point, though... we’ll just have to wait and see. The LSAT loves to keep us on our toes!

How do I prepare for the argumentative writing section?

Good news: you can get a preview of the new format in action through your LSAC LawHub account. LSAC has released an example writing prompt over on LawHub that you can take as a timed mock writing section. To access it, sign in to LawHub, navigate to LSAT Test Prep, choose August 2024 Admin Test Format, and click on LSAT Argumentative Writing Prep.

You’ll be taken to the LawHub PrepTest interface, which will give you a good impression of how the section will appear on test day.

Phase 1: Drafting

The first portion you’ll complete is the 15-minute drafting phase that the LSAT calls “prewriting analysis.” During this phase, you’ll read the question prompt and the various perspectives on that prompt. This is your chance to gather your thoughts, decide on your position, and jot down a rough outline of your essay.

Those 15 minutes will fly by quickly, though. You’ll want to attack this section as though every second counts. Read through the question prompt and perspectives with a critical eye and a sense of urgency, as though this were an RC passage. Aim to get crystal-clear on your position and the structure of your argument during this phase. Doing so will allow you write with greater organization and clarity during the actual writing phase, which will lead to a more persuasive essay.

Here’s one recommended way to approach the drafting phase efficiently:

As soon as you read the question prompt, consider whether you already have an opinion or gut feeling about the issue.

  • If you do have an opinion—any opinion—embrace it and run with it.
    • Don’t worry about trying to stay objective or reserving your opinion until you've read each of the perspectives. There are no right or wrong positions here. You're not being evaluated on what position you take, but on how you support that position, and it's going to be quicker and easier to support a position you already have. So lean into your gut reaction to the question prompt.
    • As you read each perspective, jot down what you agree and don't agree with. Some perspectives will give you more to work with than others, and that’s okay. You should aim to engage with at least some of the points made in at least some of the perspectives, but you don’t need to address everything. A tight, focused argument is better than a wandering argument.
  • On the other hand, if you read the question prompt and honestly don’t have any opinion on the issue, don’t force it. Wait until you’ve read the perspectives before committing to a position.
    • As you read each perspective, jot down anything you find persuasive, as well as anything you find to be weak, flawed, or unpersuasive.
    • Once you've read each perspective, decide on your answer to the question. Don't labor over it; just go with whatever your gut is saying by now.

Whichever approach you take, make sure you actually write down your thesis statement. It will be much easier during the writing phase to support your position if you have a clear thesis statement.

Also, if you have personal experience or examples to draw on that are relevant to your position, work them in as support. Remember, the exercise isn’t to regurgitate the information provided in the various perspectives; it’s to write a compelling argument. You should definitely engage with those other perspectives, but framing your position through your own personal experience first might help you to find your footing on the issue being discussed. Emphasize that personal experience where it provides especially valuable or unique insight. You can then sprinkle in those other perspectives to round out your argument.

One other note: don’t waste time with proper spelling and grammar during this phase. No one will see your rough notes; only the final version is saved.

Phase 2: Writing

This is the main event. This is where you’ll take your rough notes from the previous phase and flesh them out into a structured essay.

Some points to keep in mind during this phase:

  • Your first paragraph should make your position very clear.
  • When writing your support paragraphs, consider the best order in which to present your points. You don’t necessarily need to respond to each perspective in turn. Raise each point you want to make in whatever order provides the best logical flow.
  • Round out your essay with a solid conclusion at the end. It doesn’t have to be Earth-shattering or poetic. But it should show how the points you’ve raised throughout the body of your essay relate back to your thesis statement.
  • You don’t need to limit yourself to engaging with only those perspectives that support your position. An effective argumentative strategy is to work in a perspective that’s opposed to your position, and then expose the flaws or shortcomings in that perspective.
  • You can engage with the perspectives in different ways stylistically, as well. You might directly quote some perspectives. (Be sure to use proper in-text citation style and identify the source of the quote. For example: As a certain university’s brochure notes, “[insert your chosen quote here]”). You might paraphrase certain elements of a perspective, again noting the source. Or you might directly respond to certain ideas within a perspective without explicitly identifying the source. (For example: Certain opponents of this view may contend [X], but in doing so they overlook the key consideration of [Y].) All are useful ways of pulling these perspectives into your text.
  • The section is as much about time management as any other LSAT section. If you’re running short on time, don’t aim for perfection. Aim to complete your essay first, flaws and all. Once you have your arguments fully written out, you can go back over your essay to fine tune it.
  • There’s no one-size-fits-all structure for an effective essay, but if you’re having trouble with organizing your ideas, here’s a good rule of thumb:

Paragraph 1: One-sentence intro in which you state your thesis

Paragraph 2: Argument #1, drawing on one of the perspectives

Paragraph 3: Argument #2, drawing on another perspective

Paragraph 4: Consider an opposing argument, and respond to that argument

Paragraph 5: Short conclusion in which you summarize your thesis

Example Essays

Below is a sample writing prompt followed by two example essays that both respond to that prompt. Both essays were written by 7Sage instructors under timed conditions in LawHub’s digital interface. Both are reproduced exactly as they were originally written, spelling errors and all.

Notice that while both essays (coincidentally) take a similar position, they use different points of support and draw on different perspectives. There is no “right” response to the writing prompt. What’s important is to prioritize the support, and draw on the perspectives, that you believe best emphasize the strengths of your position.

Sample Writing Prompt

This is an official writing prompt released by LSAC. You can access the same prompt in LawHub by navigating to LSAT Test Prep, choosing August 2024 Admin Test Format, and clicking on LSAT Argumentative Writing Prep.

Purpose of College

The principal aim of an undergraduate liberal arts education has traditionally been to cultivate a student's understanding of a broad range of important areas of knowledge, from the fine arts to the sciences, philosophy, language, economicsthese things have been seen as crucial to understanding, and participating, the larger world beyond the classroom. Some, however, believe that this kind of education has failed to provide students with the practical skills necessary to succeed in an increasingly competitive and career-focused society, suggesting we need to reconsider what university programs should look like. Such proposals are often framed as a pragmatic response to trends in the economy and predictions about the skills, knowledge, and training that will best serve students' career readiness. Given this proposed shift in emphasis toward skills-based education, it's worth considering what the overall goal of an undergraduate education should be.

KEY QUESTION: To what extent do colleges and universities serve their students' best interests when they emphasize career preparation?

Read and carefully consider the following perspectives. Each suggests a particular way of thinking about the issue captured in the Key Question.

Perspective 1:—an excerpt from a career advice blog

"Having recruited talent for a variety of organizations across industries, I've witnessed how the demands of today's job market make the cultivation of practical skills and specialized training more important than ever. If a student's time at university is an investment that ought to prepare them for the future, then surely career readiness must factor highly into what such institutions aim to provide. Schools that recognize this and adapt will produce graduates who are better equipped to explore a wide array of career paths, and who can adapt to changing job roles within ever-evolving industries. That's the way for today's student to make a meaningful contribution to societyby being well equipped to grow and change within an economic reality that is itself always growing and changing.

Perspective 2:an excerpt from a university's promotional brochure

"In college, I began making my way through this world and crafting a life for myself that reflects my values. But what are my values, and how did I come to hold these values rather than others? Once I realized I didn't have to unquestioningly accept the norms and values that had been given to me, I was free to decide for myself which values I wanted to hold on to, which to leave behind, and even which new values I felt drawn to. College provided the context in which I could reflect on my values, the reasons and evidence for them, and whether they are the right values for me. Would my classmates and I have been able to test out our ideas and ideals so effectively if my university were only focused on practical career skills? I don't believe sosuch work requires a dedicated exploration of ideas and knowledge for their own sake."

Perspective 3:an excerpt from a textbook on the sociology of education

"Across cultures, higher education has served primarily to aid the process of socialization by instilling cultural values, norms, and behaviors, thereby integrating people into the fabric of their respective societies. A university degree provides more than just those so-called 'soft skills' necessary for making white-collar work function smoothly, like interpersonal communication and teamwork. This emblem of accomplishment, the college degree, also provides a social signal that one is befitted to the upper middle class, if not higher. By serving as class membership badges, undergraduate degrees perpetuate social stratification and hierarchies, with the result that access to opportunity is determined largely not by merit, but more so by one's ability to conform to a particular set of valuesin short, to 'fit in.' In this manner, college places subtle constraints on students that go far beyond the more well-known problem of financial barriers to access."

Perspective 4:an excerpt from a journal on higher education

"The traditional structure of higher education needs a transformative overhaul. The modern university has its origins in medieval schools, which stressed rote memorization and obedience to the centralized authority of teachers, reflecting the broader civic and political context of those schools. But in today's world, we don't accept such a rigid, top-down system in our civic and political life. We expect citizens to be agents in the evolution of their communities.

Likewise, there's no reason to accept it in our educational lives. Instead, we ought to honor the agency of students in orchestrating their own educational experience. Some colleges have begun to change in the right direction, emphasizing dialogue over monologue and problem-solving over sheer information retention. This new form of relationship between student and university is critical, where teachers collaborate with students to discover new truths together, where student learning is based on their own guided learning experiences, and where curricula are created around topics that engage students' intrinsic motivation to learn. This moves us closer to creating the flourishing, diverse society we need."

Prewriting Analysis: Generating Ideas for Your Argumentative Essay

Spend the remainder of your prewriting time working through the prewriting questions presented below. These questions are intended to help you think critically about the issue and generate productive ideas for your essay. Record your thoughts in your digital scratch paper by making notes or lists, or by writing short answers to the questions.

Your notes in response to the prewriting questions will still be available to you while you write your essay, but they will not be evaluated or included as part of your essay. These questions are strictly provided to help guide your analysis of the perspectives and to help you develop your own argument in response to the Key Question.

Prewriting Questions

  • Which perspective(s) do you find most compelling?
  • What relevant insights do you see in the perspective(s)?
  • What principles or values do you see at work in the perspective(s)?
  • What strengths and weaknesses can you find in the perspective(s)?

Your argument should incorporate or address ideas from at least one of the perspectives provided. In addition, your own knowledge, experiences, and personal values can be valid sources of evidence, and you can include these in your essay:

  • What knowledge do you already have about this issue? Consider information you have read or heard, including things you've learned at home or school, etc.
  • What values influence your position on this issue? Consider your worldview or belief system, as well as any guiding principles or convictions you hold.
  • What experiences do you have that might be relevant to this issue? Consider any personal experience you might have with this or similar issues, or other relevant lessons learned form your own life.

Example Essay #1

What is the point of college? Why are millions of high school students stressing out over standardized tests and extracurricular activities each year? Why are millions of college graduates servicing hundreds of millions or billions of dollars of debt? Clearly, all the we spend on college admission–to say nothing of the money we spend on tuition—is an investment. But what, exactly, are we investing in?

The most straightforward answer is that we're investing in our careers. But the proposition that college is an investment in a career is perversely backward. It implies that we live to work, instead of working to live.

College students are not investing in their careers. They are investing in their lives. That's why I argue that colleges would not serve their students' best interests if they were to emphasize career preparation at the expense of a liberal education.

Education, as the inimitable Miss Jean Brodie puts it in the novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, comes from the latin "e" meaning "out of" and "duco" meaning lead. It is a leading out. Colleges exist to lead students out of a stultifying miasma of conventional wisdom and received pieties. They exist to lead students out from the rote-ness of "real life". They exist to lead a student out of the confusion of adolescence. Fours years in university—four years to do nothing but read, think, and talk to your peers—offer a rare and priceless chance for a young adult to figure out who he is. An education is, in other words, an investment in one's life and one's self—not just in one's career. As the writer of perspective two testifies, college is a chance to "reflect on [one's] values, the resaons and evidence for them, and whether they are the right values." To cut short this opportunity, to foist career training on students, would be to rob them of their last opportunity to reflect on what they want before they are forced to start chasing what they need. Indeed, college students are standing on the precipice of adulthood, with all its exigencies and emergencies. They are given one last chance to look over it, to prepare themselves, to think about who they want to be. A shift towards more career preparation would be tantamount to pushing those students off the edge.

I argue that we should think of a college education as an investment in one's life, not in one's career. But even if I were to concede that college is—at least in part—an investment in a career, it would not follow that colleges should emphasize career training. The return on one's investment should be measured in happiness, not earnings, and an education that prepares one for some career without helping one choose which career he wants can only lead to dissatisfaction. Discovering one's values is prerequisite to choosing a career wisely, which is in turn prerequisite to happiness.

There's a further irony in the position that colleges should put more emphasis on career preparation: by specializing students prematurely, colleges may unwittingly leave students less prepared. The career advice blog cited in perspective one acknowledges the possibility of "changing job roles within ever-evolving industries." How better to prepare students for those changing roles and evolving industries than to teach students how to think? The rhetorical and analytical skills that are the basis of any good liberal arts education—not to mention the habit of skepticism—is the most flexible and effective career preparation I can envision.

I don't mean to imply that colleges should not embark in any career preparation. Indeed, I believe that students should offer students the opportunity to prepare for the job market. But I feel strongly that the project of college is not "career preparation", it is life itself, for which a career is only the means. If colleges were to emphasize career preparation at the expense of a liberal arts education, they would deprive their students of a priceless opportunity to discover themselves. We don't live to work; we work to live, and at college, we discover what kind of life is worth having.

To see this essay written in real-time and hear the writer’s commentary on the writing process, continue to Lesson 2.

Example Essay #2

As a mechanical engineering graduate, I have experienced a discipline of post-secondary education that places significant value on marketable, practicable career skills. I have benefited greatly from this style of education, having worked in challenging and rewarding roles for which I was well and uniquely prepared and which would have been unavailable to me had I pursued a less career-oriented liberal arts education. Moreover, I was able to secure such roles while my peers in other, less marketable disciplines experienced difficulties in securing stable, long-term employment commensurate with their skills and suited to their interests. The job market clearly favored those of us who had prioritized a career-oriented education. However, I do not believe that colleges and universities necessarily serve their students' best interests by emphasizing career preparation as the overriding objective of a post-secondary education.

First, it is important to recognize that students' long-term interests and motivations for pursuing post-secondary education are varied. Many students come to an undergraduate education for reasons other than, or in addition to, cultivating marketable career skills. While some students may value their post-graduation career prospects less than I did when deciding on a major, it would be patronizing for me, or for university administrators, to prescribe students' values to them by emphasizing job skills over other educational goals.

Some may respond that the current socioeconomic climate simply demands that job prospects be the highest priority, and whether students like it or not, their interests are nevertheless best served by equipping them with specific workplace skills. However, there are two problems with this approach. The first issue is that not all students are prepared to decide on a career path when they matriculate, and hemming students into a dedicated, career-focused discipline would only serve to constrain their options upon graduation. Vocational and professional programs necessarily emphasize depth of knowledge over breadth, and students who graduate from such programs are primed for a limited array of career options. While this situation is acceptable and even preferable for those of us with a strong sense of our preferred careers, it would be a disservice to those students who require more latitude in their studies and eventual career options.

To see the second problem with emphasizing career skills over all other considerations requires that we take a historical perspective on the role of the university over time. Universities originated in medieval Europe, when religious institutions served as both the primary source of knowledge and truth and as one of the major sources of employment in the medieval knowledge economy. These medieval universities also existing at a time when job prospects for uneducated, unskilled laborers were bleak. Surely, a job in the seminary was preferable to working as a subsistence farmer. Yet one wonders what society would now look like had medieval universities emphasized workplace skills to secure positions in the church for all their students. Without the freedom of inquiry and breadth of intellectual exposure that universities offered in centuries past, it is difficult to imagine that the same scientific, political, legal, and social advancements that we now take for granted would have evolved so readily.

All this is not to say, however, that career-focused education shapes students into automatons that can only perform limited workplace functions. Indeed, my highly career-centric engineering education provided substantial intellectual benefits beyond the sphere of engineering. The depth of analytical skills I developed as an engineering student has shaped the ways in which I approach all manner of problems. These skills have even surfaced as I prepared for the LSAT, and I expect they will therefore be likewise valuable in law school and beyond. Similarly, the mathematical skills I developed have helped me to organize my abstract thinking skills beyond the realm of numeracy.

But these were skills I chose to cultivate because I was able to pursue a discipline according to my own interests and priorities. The skills I developed are not the sum total of all knowledge and skills available through a unversity education, and it would be a loss to students and society to artificially constrain the purpose of universities to mere job preparation. Capable and inquisitive minds are the best resource our society has. The more opportunities there are for students to cultivate such minds, irrespective of their job priorities, the better.

To see this essay written in real-time and hear the writer’s commentary on the writing process, go to Lesson 3.

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