January 2010 Sat Essay Format

The LSAT Essay: What It Is and How to Write It

by Manhattan Prep

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If you’re like many test-takers, the thought of writing a timed LSAT essay on an unfamiliar topic makes you feel a bit queasy. This is understandable. However, a little familiarity and preparation can go a long way. Let’s discuss the logistics of the essay section, and then we’ll talk about some strategies for organizing and writing your LSAT essay.

What is the LSAT Essay?

The LSAT essay section is always the sixth and final section of the exam. You’ll be given 35 minutes to respond to a specific prompt (don’t worry—no prior knowledge of any particular subject matter is required). You’ll write your LSAT essay using the same pencil, or pencils, that you brought with you to the exam, and you’ll be required to enter your response onto the lined paper given to you.

What Does It Test?

The LSAT essay section is designed to test how well you can (1) organize a compelling argument using sound reasoning and supporting evidence, and (2) express your thoughts clearly in written form. The LSAT essay section is NOT meant to test how many big vocabulary words you know, or how much you know about the law or any other specific topic, or really even how creative you are. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your task is to blow the reader away with impressive and complex thought processes, words, or sentence structures. Rather, you want to show that you can ably develop a simple argument and support it in a clear and compelling way. That’s it.

How is the LSAT Essay Scored?

It’s not! Your writing sample will be copied and sent along with your application to the law schools you’ve chosen, but no score will ever be assigned to your LSAT essay. It’s simply meant to be a supplemental tool that law schools can use to help them evaluate your candidacy if they choose to use it. Some schools may never look at it. Others might choose to read it so that they can get a sense for your extemporaneous writing skills (something they CAN’T get from your application). It really depends on the school. The fact that your LSAT essay will not be scored should take some of the pressure off, but you certainly don’t want to ignore this part of the exam. You never know how a school will use your essay, so it’s in your best interest to do the best job you can.

What Will the Topic Be?

You won’t be asked to write about a specific topic so much as you’ll be asked to respond to a specific scenario. The scenario will always be presented in the same form. Here’s a watered-down example (keep in mind that the scenario on your exam will be more involved):

John wants to buy a pet. He is choosing between a cat and a dog. He only has time to care for one pet. Write an essay in which you argue for the purchase of one type of pet over the other based on the following considerations:

• John wants a pet that will be relatively maintenance-free.
• John wants a pet that will be a true, loyal companion.

The first option, the cat, is a clean pet that does not typically damage or destroy household property. While the cat does need to be fed twice per day, it does not need to be taken for daily walks. The cat is very aloof and non-responsive to human interaction, but it does grow attached to its human owner over time.

The second option, the dog, requires daily attention. The dog has been known to damage household property, and it requires walks on a daily basis. With training, the dog can learn to be relatively self-sufficient. The dog responds to human interaction and craves the attention of its human owner, but it can’t communicate very well with humans.

As mentioned earlier, the scenario will always be presented in the same way. The first part will present a choice, the second part (the bullet statements) will present two considerations that need to be weighed in making that choice, and the third part will provide more information about the two choices at hand. Notice that there is no right or wrong answer here. In fact, the scenario is presented in such a way as to make it difficult to decide which option is better! They both have their pros and cons. What’s important is NOT which option you choose, but rather how you justify, or support, the choice that you do end up making.

How Should I Write My LSAT Essay?

The following will outline a process for planning and writing your LSAT essay. It certainly isn’t the only way to do it, but it does provide a consistent, repeatable approach that you’ll be able to rely on.

Step 1: Compile information in grid form (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)

In the test booklet, set up a table that has the two choices along the top and the two considerations along the side. In the intersecting cells of the grid, include the appropriate pros and cons using a “+” before any pro and a “-” before any con. For our example, it might look like this:

CatDog
Relatively maintenance-free+ clean
+ doesn’t destroy property
+ no walks
–  needs food twice per day
– daily attention
– damages property
– daily walks
+ can learn to be relatively self-sufficient
True, loyal companion– aloof and non-responsive
+ becomes attached to human owner
+ responds to humans
+ craves human attention
– can’t communicate well

You’re familiar with cats and dogs, so it’s probably already obvious to you that a cat would be a good low-maintenance choice and a dog would be good for companionship. Keep in mind, however, that the scenario you will see on your exam will be much less familiar to you. Organizing the information in grid form will make it much easier for you to see the relative strengths and weaknesses of each choice.

Step 2: Decide on a “more important” consideration (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)

At this point, you want to make a decision. Is it more important for John that the pet be maintenance-free or that it be a loyal companion? Again, there’s no right answer. Even so, you need to decide which you will make more important. Choose one that you can easily justify (even if it’s a made-up justification). For example, we’ll decide:

“Having a loyal companion is more important than having a low-maintenance pet, because true friendship trumps all else. If John has a true companion and friend, the daily maintenance will become a labor of love instead of a hassle.”

Step 3: Make your choice! (5 minutes total for steps 1-3)

Your decision in step 2 should lead you to a clear choice. In this case, if we deem companionship to be the more important consideration, then we’ll want to choose the dog (since the dog clearly has more compelling pluses in that part of the grid).

“John should pick the dog because it will serve as a more loyal companion than the cat will.”

Step 4: Write the essay (25 minutes)

Plan on structuring your LSAT essay the same way every time. Here’s an easy template to follow:

Paragraph 1:

A. Summarize the decision to be made.
“The scenario presented above puts John in a position in which he will choose between purchasing a cat and purchasing a dog.”

B. Acknowledge the complexity of the decision.
“Given the considerations and characteristics of the choices at hand, this is a very difficult decision in that each choice has its merits.”

C. State your opinion.
“Even so, John would be better served by choosing the dog.”

Paragraph 2:

A. State why the primary consideration (the one you chose to be the primary consideration) is more important and how your choice satisfies this consideration.
“First, it is more important to have a pet that serves as a loyal companion than it is to have a pet that is maintenance-free…” (justify this statement, even if it’s a made-up justification)
“The dog will be a loyal companion in that it will …” (use the information from the grid to show how)

B. State why the other choice (cat) falls short in this regard.
“The cat, on the other hand, is a poor match for anyone looking for a loyal pet …” (use the information from the grid to show how)

Paragraph 3: State how your choice still does an okay job with the secondary consideration
“Furthermore, while the dog isn’t an ideal choice for someone wanting a maintenance-free pet, it can learn to be relatively self-sufficient…” (use any other information from the grid to support this)

Paragraph 4:
Summarize your argument

Step 5: Proofread! (5 minutes)

Spelling errors, misprints, grammatical errors, etc. will never go over well. While a few simple mistakes won’t kill you, you want to be sure your final essay is as clean as possible.

Practice this a few times on some real essay prompts and you should be all set. Good luck! 📝


Don’t forget that you can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person LSAT courses absolutely free. We’re not kidding! Check out our upcoming courses here.

This post has been updated with current, accurate content for the new SAT that premiered in March 2016 by Magoosh test prep expert David Recine!
 
 
You know how much first impressions count for? The people who read and grade your SAT essay (there will be 2 of them) are going to see a couple of things immediately. First, there’s the length and the handwriting, but those only count for so much. Almost immediately, the reader will get to your introductory paragraph.

What you put in that intro is going to be a significant chunk of their first impression, so you’ve got to make sure it’s good.

I’m going to give you a formula to follow for a clear and focused introduction to your SAT essay. No, it won’t guarantee you a high score, but if you follow it, you’ll have fewer choices to make, and that’s a good thing.

In the New SAT’s essay prompt, you will write a response to an opinion piece, either an historical piece of writing (such as an essay by past political leader), or a recently-written editorial about a modern issue. The example opening paragraph below will be based on an article about the benefits of exposing young children to technology. Before you look at the example sentences below, review the article and essay prompt on the official SAT website here.

 

First sentence – identify and describe the source article

In your opening, you want to immediately identify the reading passage you’re responding to. Name the author, other relevant information such as when the source was written or where it was published, and very briefly describe the source’s content. This demonstrates fundamental reading comprehension. It also makes the purpose of your essay clear—you are analyzing a specific piece of writing.

In “The Digital Parent Trap,” an op-ed for Time Magazine, author Eliana Dockterman asserts the many benefits of exposing children to multimedia technology via computer, Internet and mobile platforms.
The name of the author and the purpose/subject of the article are essential. Include the title and publishing venue for the article if possible. (Sometimes a really long title may not fit well into a sentence, and the publishing venue can also be unwieldy or difficult to correctly determine.)
 

Second sentence – Explain more about the writer’s purpose and beliefs

Note that in the first sentence above, the brief description of the article’s content appeared at the very end. This placement allows the end of the first sentence to transition smoothly to the second sentence. The second sentence will expand on the ideas from the end of the previous sentence, giving more details about the article’s content, and what the author is trying to do.

Dockterman challenges the traditional beliefs that electronic media is bad for children, saying that exposure to electronic media actually benefits children cognitively, developmentally, and educationally.

Notice the way that this sentence summarizes all key points from the source article, and lists them in the order they appeared. Dockterman first mentions conventional bias against exposing children to electronic entertainment, and then challenges this bias by listing three benefits of mobile technology for children. It’s best to have the second sentence follow the sequence of ideas in the article, as this is the easiest, most straightforward way to give a summary.
 

Third sentence – Characterize the argument and give your opinion of it

Now that you’ve given a good description of the article and its content, it’s time to actually analyze the article. Think about your own feelings on what you just read, in terms of writing quality. What does the argument look like, structurally? And how well-constructed is the argument?

The author’s argument unfolds clearly as she provides evidence that anti-tech bias exists and is incorrect.

Be careful when you write this third sentence. You may agree with what the author has written, or you may have a difference of opinion. But the focus of the sentence should be your opinion of the author’s writing skill, not your feelings on the rightness or wrongness of the author’s claims. Try to keep this sentence relatively simple and focused.
 

Fourth sentence – Give the reason for your opinion

Once you’ve stated your opinion on the quality of writing in the article, you need to justify your characterization of the argument. In this case, sentence four will need to explain more about why the Time Magazine article in question “unfolds clearly,” how the author “outlines biases,” and why the author’s evidence is “believable.”
Citing statistics, scholarly research and quotations from experts, Eliana Dockterman credibly demonstrates all of her key assertions.
 

Fifth sentence – Preview the body of your essay

The fifth sentence is optional, but I advise including it more often than not. By previewing what you’ll cover in the body of the essay, you provide a strong transition between your introduction and the rest of your written piece. The New SAT essay format is more complex than the previous format, and it helps to have a lot of transitions to hold everything together.
Through an impressive array of external sources, the author crafts a multifaceted argument that adults should allow children to use technology and electronic media.

By mentioning an “array” of evidence and a “multifaceted argument,” this sentence indicates that the rest of the SAT essay will analyze multiple pieces of evidence and different aspects of Dockterman’s rhetoric. This helps prepare the reader (in this case SAT scorer) for the sophisticated full written analysis that will follow the introduction.

 

Practice this intro structure before the day of your SAT

The best way to remember any system is to use it, so make sure you try this structure out a few times. If you have it down pat on the day of your SAT, it’ll make your life a lot easier.

 

About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.


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