Example 1

Baldwin State University is located in Los Angeles, California and is required to accept California high school students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class. The university is striving to enhance its image as a progressive, quality school. It is also trying to recruit top-notch faculty members.

Two candidates are finalists for a tenure-track position in the Mathematics Department of Baldwin State with a specialization in statistics. You, as a faculty member, must write a recommendation supporting the appointment of one of the finalists. Baldwin State’s guidelines for the appointment indicate that the university:

• is looking for an assistant professor who is both a teacher and a scholar
• considers teaching, research, and university service (in that order), the criteria for promotion and tenure.

The first finalist is Ms. Margaret Jones, 26, who has just completed her doctorate in statistics from Yale University and graduated with highest honors. Jones received her B.A. degree from Oberlin College and her M.A. degree from the University of Pennsylvania, both degrees are in mathematics. She already has one year of full-time teaching experience in addition to three years as a Teaching Assistant. Her reviews from students are mixed and on a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being the highest), she averages a 2.85 on the question, “Rate the effectiveness of this instructor.” Although she is friendly, Jones has a nervous personality, talks rapidly, and tends to give answers which are longer than necessary when questioned. She holds regular office hours, but is generally unwilling to meet with students beyond those hours. Jones has co-authored three textbooks on mathematics and is currently working on her own book about statistics. She has assured the Mathematics Department of Baldwin State that she is eager to pursue her research agenda at the university.

Mr. John Smith is the other finalist. Smith is 30 years old and holds a doctorate in statistics from Oregon State University and a B.A. degree from Iowa State University where he majored in philosophy and economics. His M.A. degree was from the University of Washington-Seattle, where he majored in mathematics and took a minor in economics. Smith has three years of full-time teaching experience at the University of West Virginia and several years experience as a part-time lecturer and teaching assistant. His evaluations from students are exceptionally positive and they especially note his patience and willingness to spend extra time with them. His relaxed personality also encourages student participation in the classroom. Smith has thus far published two papers in respected journals and is co-authoring a textbook on statistics with applications to various fields. His research background is somewhat weak, but meets all university requirements.

Sample Essay

Baldwin State University is seeking a teacher-scholar who will help enhance the image of the university and help prove that we are more than just a state college accepting local high school graduates. A major part of realizing this goal will be recruiting skilled, teaching and student oriented faculty. While the university has made it clear that it expects its faculty to make research contributions, it is also clear that the university views teaching as its highest academic priority.

What we are essentially faced with is making a decision about the Mathematics Department’s academic priorities. Do we value teaching most highly or research mostly highly? If we are going to place emphasis on teaching, then Mr. Smith is clearly the better choice. On the other hand, should we choose to stress research, I suspect that we would be better off appointing Ms. Jones.

I believe that the university has given priority to its teaching mission and must therefore recommend that the department appoint Mr. Smith to the tenure track position of assistant professor.

Smith is clearly better suited to making teaching his first priority. He has three years of full-time experience at the University of West Virginia and I note that his student teaching evaluations are excellent. Moreover, his friendly, relaxed style will be an asset in retaining students as will his desire to spend as much time as necessary with students, even if this time is beyond his required office hours.

Certainly, another of the strong points of his candidacy is the fact that Smith has academic preparation in fields besides mathematics. His economics background is especially useful in allowing him to demonstrate practical applications of classroom lessons.

Though Smith’s research background is slightly shaky, it should be kept in mind at all times that his principal responsibility while on faculty will be teaching, a task at which he clearly excels. It should also be remembered that he has published two papers in respected journals and is co authoring a statistics textbook.

Ms. Jones’ academic credentials are indisputably outstanding and her research background is rather strong, especially for her age. She has co authored three textbooks and is working on a book of her own. In this position, however, the emphasis would be on teaching rather than research. The bulk of her time would be spent interacting with students. While Ms. Jones has excellent research potential, I think it only honest to say that her teaching skills are weak. Her student evaluations have consistently been poor (a 2.85 is less than the mediocre midpoint of a 1-to-5 scale) and suggest that there is a problem with her teaching rather than the attitude of her students. Her unwillingness to spend extra time with students is a critical flaw in the CHARACTER of any university faculty member and cannot be remedied by a teaching skills improvement seminar.

While she may be a talented researcher, Ms. Jones is clearly a mediocre teacher at best. This shortcoming automatically disqualifies her from further consideration for the position, as teaching would be a major portion of the responsibilities of this position.

I strongly recommend John Smith for the position. He has an excellent rapport with students and is a dedicated teacher. Furthermore, he is a knowledgeable scholar and has published serious works in noteworthy journals. His diverse educational background is also a major asset as it gives the university some flexibility in terms of his teaching assignments. It should also be kept in mind that his attendance at state universities would most likely give him a better understanding of the average student we normally enroll at Baldwin State University.

Essay Explanation

This essay is well written because it follows the basic guidelines of good writing. The situation is clearly presented in the opening paragraphs along with the author’s position. Both the problem and the author’s position are clearly and effectively stated; there is no ambiguity.

Varying sentence lengths and varying sentence structures are used in the essay to avoid the impression that the essay “drones” monotonously. This is more important than you might think. Style definitely counts in the grading of LSAT writing samples by individual law schools.

The essay discusses the strengths and weaknesses of both candidates in relation to the two criteria for appointment to the position. In supporting a position, relevant information regarding both candidates is presented. Opposing points are brought up and dealt with. In order for an essay to be credible, it must show that opposing viewpoints have been considered and outweighed. A one-sided essay is not effective.

Grammar, vocabulary and punctuation are all very important. Even the most well written essay can be destroyed if sloppy grammar, mispunctuation and spelling errors give the impression that the author is stupid.

Next LSAT: July 15th

Essay Quiz

(Test 1)

Total questions: 1

Quiz Length: 2 Minutes