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HOW TO WRITE A GOOD LAW SCHOOL EXAM

ISAACS LAW SOCIETY 2005

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction ........................................................................... 3 What to do before the exam ..................................................... 3 The Night Before..................................................................... 4 The Morning of the Exam ......................................................... 4 What to do During the Exam..................................................... 4 Read the Instructions Carefully .............................................. 4 Read the facts Carefully ........................................................ 4 Understand the question being asked......................................... 4 Throw the Pizza at the Wall (but dont go off the wall).................. 4 Write Legibly .......................................................................... 5 Write Clearly .......................................................................... 5 Outline your Answer to Essay Questions ..................................... 5 Relationship between Course & Exam Outlining ........................... 5 Sample Facts (from an old Torts exam)...................................... 6 Sample Answer Outline ............................................................ 6 Pat v. Bobbit & KU................................................................ 6 Prima facie case for Assault ...................................................... 7 Issue #1................................................................................ 7 a. Purposeful Desire............................................................ 7 b. Substantial Certainty....................................................... 7 c. Transferred .................................................................... 7 Issue #2 Reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.................. 7 a. contact imminent? .......................................................... 7 b. Bobbit able to carry out contact ........................................ 8 Issue #3 Damages are presumed.............................................. 8 Issue #4 Causation ................................................................. 8 Defences ............................................................................... 8 NOTICE that what you have done is IRAC and sub-IRAC!! .......... 8 What NOT to do during the Exam .............................................. 8 Do not abandon your common sense ......................................... 8 Do not stop at issue spotting .................................................... 8 Avoid the unjustified conclusion ................................................ 9 Do not regurgitate facts or statutes ........................................... 9 Do not invent facts.................................................................. 9 Avoid wordiness...................................................................... 9

3 How to Write a Good Law School Exam1 2002 Rogelio A. Lasso

Introduction
Even if your definition of success in law school does not include being in the top ten percent of the class, you surely want to do as well as you can on your law school exams. Most law school students receive law school grades that do not reflect their knowledge of the subject matter. Failure to obtain a good grade often has little to do with a students intellectual ability or mastery of the course. Rather, lack of proper preparation, poor test taking skills, and stress are the main reasons most students perform below their potential on exams. Please consider the following suggestions prior to taking the exam.

What to do before the exam


Preparation Preparation is crucial. There is simply no substitute. If you do not know the legal principles of the subject matter before the exam, you have severely reduced your chances of success. Preparation for your final exams should begin very early in the semester and continue until shortly before you take the exam. Preparation involves becoming well acquainted with the most important tools for law school success. This essential information will help you to make the huge leap from undergraduate learning to law school learning. The three most important preparation tools for success in law school exams are: 1. Case reading and briefing; 2. Creating a rule-based outline ; and 3. Taking practice exams. Most law schools offer some instruction on case briefing. However, in most law schools, providing instruction on the crucial tools of outlining and practice exams is left to second and third-year students, student organizations, friends and family members.2 This means that whether or not you will acquire those valuable friendships and informational resources is somewhat fortuitous.
Techniques for writing a good law school examination are as old as law school exams. Every how-to-succeed-in-law-school book gives attention to this topic. However, a short review of these common sense hints may assist you in doing well on your next exam. 2 See e.g. Cathaleen Roach, A River Runs Through It: Tapping into the Informational Stream to Move Students From Isolation to Autonomy, 36 Ariz. L. Rev. 667, 670 (1994).
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The Night Before


Whether the final exam is a two, three, or four hour marathon or a take-home examination, what you do the night before you take the exam is critical. You should think of the exam as equivalent to an athletic event that tests physical endurance, like a marathon. Exams are marathons that test your mental endurance. The best thing to do the night before an exam is to get a good nights sleep. Think about the following: If you are barely coherent at 8 am after getting enough sleep during the regular semester, imagine what sleep deprivation will do to your alertness and mental abilities.

The Morning of the Exam


Use more than one alarm. Remember Murphys law. If your alarm will fail at any time during the semester, it will likely fail the morning of an 8 am exam. Arriving late for a law school exam is not only embarrassing but you will have less time to finish which will add to your exam-taking stress. Set the alarms early enough so you can eat a healthy breakfast. You will need the nourishment for the mental marathon and eating during exams, even if allowed, will be a time consuming distraction.

What to do During the Exam Read the Instructions Carefully


The instructions tell you exactly what the professor wants in the answer. An amazing number of final exam mistakes are due to failure to follow the instructions. This is a foolish (and very common) way to loose points.

Read the facts Carefully


Make sure you know who are the players in a case scenario. Another common mistake involves making the right argument on behalf of the wrong party. Also a foolish way to loose points.

Understand the question being asked


For the same reasons you read the instructions, you should be clear regarding what exactly you are asked to resolve.

Throw the Pizza at the Wall (but dont go off the wall)
You are likely to spot many more issues within a set of facts than the professor is looking for. Some of the issues will be clearly important, some will be less important, some will be so peripheral to the main question that they wont be important at all. Although you want to make sure you spot all the important issues, you do not

5 want to spend much time resolving irrelevant, trivial, or peripheral issues. Outlining your answer will help prioritize the issues by their importance.

Write Legibly
Most professors do not grade by the pound. It is more important to write less information which is readable than to fill many blue books with hieroglyphics that professors cannot decipher. If the professor cannot read it, it is not there. If it is not there, you will not get credit. It is frustrating when you dont get credit for something you knew but didnt clearly communicate.

Write Clearly
A clearly written answer increases the likelihood the professor will find (and give you credit for) all the fine arguments you made.

Outline your Answer to Essay Questions


Perhaps the most common problem with essay answers is their lack of organization. Just as outlining the course materials helps organize them, outlining the answer to a final exam question helps organize your arguments.

Relationship between Course & Exam Outlining


There are several ways in which the course outline will help you during the final exam. Of course, the outline will help you prepare for the final exam by providing you with a well organized summary of the class materials. But the outline will also help you write a better exam. The most common mistake law students make in final exams is presenting arguments that are disorganized and barely coherent. For most of us, making logical, well reasoned arguments is not instinctive, even in the best of circumstances. The pressure and stress of writing a final exam in three or four hours is far from the best circumstances. Organizing in your mind the massive quantity of information you are asked to produce to answer a final exam question is a formidable task even for most gifted individuals. Transcribing the answer from your brain to the answer book is even more difficult without a photographic mind. Spotting the issue, recognizing the applicable law, and drawing the correct conclusion are not nearly enough. You also need to explain why you chose to apply that particular law and how the law applies to the facts of your case. And you need to perform these tasks in the right place in the answer. For example, a good analysis of how the plaintiffs conduct contributed to her own injury is wasted when it is placed within the prima facie case rather than as part of the defendants affirmative defences.

Outlining the answer provides the structure needed to arrange an extraordinary number of complex and interrelated concepts into a comprehensive and coherent argument. The outline you prepare for a course will provide you with the basic way to organize your answer to a final exam question in that course. Following is a sample examination question. of an outlined answer to an

Sample Facts (from an old Torts exam)


Pat is twenty-five years old. Since she was child, Pat has wanted to be a country doctor. When Pat was accepted to KU Medical School, she was 55 and weighed approximately 325 pounds. During the first week of December, 1992, Pat was assigned to a general surgery rotation and was told to obtain a lab coat, scrub shirts and pants. Pat was told these clothing items could be obtained from John Wayne Bobbit, KUs director of linen & laundry department. When Pat told Bobbit what she needed, Bobbit angrily told Pat that he did not have anything big enough to fit Pat, that he would have to custom make her hospital clothing, and that he would have to charge her. Pat told Bobbit she would be glad to pay extra even though she had been told that the hospital clothing was provided free of charge. Bobbit got angrier, grabbed a scalpel knife and began to wave it in front of Pat. Pat was scared and she asked Bobbit what he was doing. Bobbit walked toward Pat, waving the scalpel and told her that he was going to cut out enough of Pats extra lard so that she could fit into the hospital clothing. Pat ran out embarrassed, humiliated and angry. Pat feels she has been wronged and would like to know if she has any legal recourse. Write a memo advising me whether Pat has any viable claims. Include in your analysis who may be liable, why, and the chances of success for any and all claims.

Sample Answer Outline


Pat v. Bobbit & KU
P has several causes of action, including assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence against Bobbit and his employer, KU.

Prima facie case for Assault Issue #1


Intent to put in apprehension of imminent harm (words + action)

a.

Purposeful Desire
1. Plaintiff (P) will argue that Bs actions of coming toward her with a scalpel, together with his angry words demonstrate a purposeful desire to put P in apprehension of imminent harm; 2. Defendant(s) (D) will argue that Bs actions never included an affirmative threat and he never said he would hurt her. His actions may have been reckless but they do not demonstrate a purposeful desire to put P in apprehension of imminent harm.

Conclusion: Whether or not you believe there was a purposeful desire to put in apprehension of imminent harm.

b.

Substantial Certainty
1. P: yes, because 2. D: no, because

Conclusion:

c.

Transferred
1. P: yes, because 2. D: no, because

Conclusion:

Issue #2 Reasonable apprehension of imminent harm


a. contact imminent?
1. P will argue that 2. D will argue that

b.

Bobbit able to carry out contact


1. P will argue that 2. D will argue that

Conclusion:

Issue #3 Damages are presumed.


Briefly say why

Issue #4 Causation
a. Ps argument: b. Ds argument: Conclusion: Regarding whether P can state a prima facie case for assault.

Defences
If you have been asked to discuss defences, or if any defences apply, the arguments should be made separately.

NOTICE that what you have done is IRAC and sub-IRAC!!


The answer should also include similar analysis for other causes of action such as negligence.

What NOT to do during the Exam Do not abandon your common sense
Keep in mind what areas of law you have covered thoroughly in class and which were only superficially touched upon. Dont spend an inordinate amount of time on tenuous causes of action or issues leaving less time for more in-depth analysis of significant issues.

Do not stop at issue spotting


A common mistake is to spot the issue but not include much analysis. This problem occurs often when the student has spent most of her or his time dealing with tenuous causes of action or issues.

Avoid the unjustified conclusion


A related mistake is to spot the issue, perform the analysis in your head, and write down only a conclusion. In most law school exams, the most important part of the answer is the analysis rather than the conclusion.

Do not regurgitate facts or statutes


Particularly in open book exams. For example, it is a waste of time to write verbatim facts from the exam question or statutory provisions from the exam, the book, or notes. Include these only where appropriate as part of your analysis of the issues.

Do not invent facts


Although you may often make some reasonable factual inferences from the exam question, be careful not to go overboard. Even if these make your answer more credible, facts that are not in the exam question should be mentioned only when there is ambiguity in the exam that requires alternative analysis depending on different facts. For example, if the facts describe the P and D being in a bar all night but do not mention their sobriety; you can state that it is reasonable to assume they had a few drinks and discuss whether that affects the Ds intent. You should also, however, discuss the outcome if the D had not consumed any alcohol. But you should not answer the question assuming the parties had drunk several bottles of tequila and D was allergic to tequila. That is going too far.

Avoid wordiness
Most professors do not grade by the pound. As a matter of fact, when you consider that professors often have more than a hundred exams to grade each semester, it is easy to understand why they appreciate answers that are clear, succinct and to the point. The opposite is also true, when the professor has been grading all day, her or his reaction to a four-blue-book answer is likely not going to be positive. Isaacs Law Society would like to thank Professor Rogelio A. Lasso of the Washburn School of Law. If you would like to find our more about Professor Lasso or read more of his useful guides please follow the links from the following web address. http://classes.washburnlaw.edu/lass/