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Answering Law School Exam Questions

The following is a suggested template or approach to use when answering law school essay exam questions. Consider using four steps to answer an essay
test question.
I. First Reading
Read the facts through to see which legal issues they seem to raise.
Read the question asked very carefully until you understand it. The question controls and restricts the scope of your answer. When the scope of the
question is broad [like Describe the legal issues arising from these facts or Please state whether a court is likely to find liability] then your answer can cover a
number of issues. One the other hand, if the question is narrow [like what kind of damages are available for breach of the contract in this problem or did the
court have personal jurisdiction over party X] your answer must narrowly answer only the precise issue(s) asked. You will not receive any points for
discussing issues that the question did not ask for and will likely receive a negative halo that may affect the rest of your answer.
II. Supply and Organize the Law
Dump all of the relevant law out of your head onto a page of scratch paper. It does not have to be in any particular order and can just be key phrases, etc.
Organize the law on a piece of scratch paper.
o First, separate out the major issues. For example, the False Imprisonment (FI) Exam Example contains two major issues: (1) are the requirements for
false imprisonment liability met? And (2) does the intentional tort defense of Consent apply to avoid liability for false imprisonment in this case. You could
separate out the issues as FI and Consent.
o Second, under each major issue, separate out the subissue elements. List the elements vertically under the major issues on the left side of the page of
scratch paper. Thus, in the FI example, you see that the FI issue breaks out into possibly three functional subissues (issues that are separately analyzed
using their own standards):
False Imprisonment Elements
o Third, add any subissue elements or measuring tests to each of the subissue elements that you listed. While elements are separately analyzed under
their own standards, measuring tests are the standards that are compared to facts to resolve each element. List the subelements or measuring tests
vertically on the left side of the page too. In the FI question, and example might be:
False Imprisonment
1) Intent

o Intended
o Knew with substantial certainty

2) Confinement

o w/in certain limits
o no time minimum
o means
o physical
o threat
o asserted legal authority

3) Awareness
Actual Harm
III. Second Reading and Fact Assignment
Read the facts a second time; but this time you read them very carefully (a fine toothed comb comes to mind). You do a detailed reading in which your
goal is to find fact(s) that help resolve each of the elements and measuring tests that you have listed on your scratch paper. Search the facts carefully. Profs
may have seeded the fact statement with specific facts that apply to the element/measuring test like a smoking gun. You may get points for every one that
you find and apply to the relevant legal test.
List each fact, in some abbreviated or key-word form, alongside the element/measuring test that it relates to, but list it on the right side of the scratch
page. You should have some fact(s) alongside each of the elements/measuring tests or you should mark no fact. For example, you might have something
1) Intent

o Intended Yelled to stop, etc.

Once you have located the facts to analyze with the legal tests you effectively have created a substantive outline of your entire discussion, which you can
use as a check sheet in step IV.
IV. Write the Answer
Write the answer in full IRAC and roadmap form.
Use IRAC only for the lowest analytically independent elements and measuring tests in the discussion. Each of these elements has its own rules (Thus,
you would IRAC the Intent discussion).
Whenever a larger issue breaks down into subissue elements, use a roadmap sentence. Thus, since the discussion breaks down into two major issues,
the first (Roadmap) sentence of your answer might be: To resolve this question, two issues must be addressed, False imprisonment and the Consent
defense. Readers like this type of roadmap because it tells them where you are headed. If you, instead, said that the first issue is FI, the reader will not
know how many issues are coming. As another roadmap, the first sentence of your FI discussion can state: To determine whether LL is liable for false
imprisonment we must discuss whether she intended to confine BB, whether BB was confined and whether BB was aware that she was confined.
When time is very short you can skip the roadmaps, but otherwise they are useful for making your discussion look professional and organized to the
The IRACs that contain the discussions must be written fully from the perspective that the reader knows nothing about the law or facts. So, lay out your
discussion in baby steps so the reader can follow every step of your analysis and every factual comparison.
The I in the IRAC is very simple; for example, it could state: the first issue in FI is whether LL intended to confine BB.
The R is where you show the reader that you know the rules that govern the discussion. You should state all of them that are relevant to that particular
issue or element. Thus you could say: The intent requirement is met when the def intends to confine the plaintiff or when the def should know that his or her
acts would be substantially certain to cause confinement. In the confinement issue you would list all of the assorted measuring tests in the R.
The A should be a full, complete, and express comparison of the facts to the legal standards in the elements and measuring tests.
o I stress the work express; your comparisons must state the specific facts that support the analysis in a sentence that is tied to the legal standard or a
key word from the legal standard. If you received a comment on any of your last set of tests that your answers were conclusory, this factor (express factual
comparisons) is what you did not perform well enough.
o Use as many facts as you can find to support a particular analysis.
o Do not write any sentences containing just fact, unless they follow naturally from the preceding sentence. The thinking is that the Prof already told you
the facts, so do not simply parrot them; use them.
o Do not skip any of the subissue/measuring tests as being too trivial to mention; the Prof may think you missed the issue. Thus, you would say that no
minimum time of confinement exists, so the fact that BB was confined for only three minutes did not bar FI.
o When alternate measuring tests exist, analyze both briefly. Thus, you could say that LLs intent to confine BB can be shown from Facts A, B, and C.
Then go on to say, even if the facts show that LL did not intend to confine BB (merely intended to clarify whether BB had the book), they permit the inference
that LL knew with substantial certainty that by yelling for BB to stop and asking her to wait and permit the search she would be confining BB where she was.
The C in the IRAC is a very short, one sentence, statement of the conclusion. It does not summarize the reasons you just gave.
After each IRAC in the issue, just move on to the I in the next IRAC. Your roadmap for the issue told the reader the IRACS you would be doing.
This four-step form for answering questions can be used as a template for answering essay questions for any subject in law school and the bar exam.
Consider using the first one-fourth to one-third of your time to do steps 1-3 for each question.
If you would like to practice using this format for answering questions, please let me know. I have developed a series of questions in which I give you the
facts, law, and question. Feel free to write an answer to any one of the practice question, taking as long as you need to give it a good try. You can see me
with your answer or e-mail it to me and I can critique it, send you a suggested answer, and send you the next test in the series, if you would like. Please
send your answer attached to e-mail sent to Call me with any questions you have about this proposed template at 651-523-2298.
Happy studying and good luck on your tests.
Exam Tips
Here are a few practical tips to ensure that you get the best out of yourself in an exam.
1. Read the instructions at the top of the paper carefully. Usually you will need to answer some questions from part A and
some from part B and mistakes can be costly. The format of the exam generally stays the same, but you cant guarantee this
absolutely if you always take time to read the instructions carefully you wont get caught out!
2. Watch your timing! Typically you will have 3 hours in which to answer 4 questions (but see note above about making
sure you read the rubric, just in case this is not your situation!). This means that you will only have about 40 minutes per
question. After this time you need to finish and move on to the next, even if you feel you could say more. You can always
leave a gap and go back to fill in any extras at the end, if you have time. To do this requires real self discipline, and can be
very hard to do, but it is worth it. It is far easier to pass the exam with 4 complete so-so answers than with only 3 (or
fewer...) good ones. Failure to answer all of the questions required is one of the most common causes of disappointing exam
results, especially for otherwise very capable students, so dont let it happen to you!
3. Answer the question! This sounds very obvious, but you would be surprised at how many examination scripts fail to do
this. Students are often disappointed because they have revised hard and remembered a lot of information but still gain poor
results and this is usually the reason.
Essay questions
When you have spent a long time revising it can be a huge temptation to look at a question, see that it mentions, for
example, consideration and launch into 4 pages of writing down everything you can remember about
consideration....regardless of whether it relates to the question. Avoid this approach at all costs! Read the question carefully
and make sure that your answer is clearly focused on it. Of course you want to display your hard earned knowledge, but you
do need to make it appear relevant.
Ensure that essays are always well structured (it pays to take a little of your time to sketch out a brief plan first) and have an
introduction, a body and a conclusion. The introduction and conclusion must refer directly to the question asked, and it helps
if you can refer back to it a time or two in the body of your essay as well. This will help keep you focused and will do wonders
to persuade the examiner that you are well focused, even if you have wandered slightly!
Remember that the examiner has probably slaved for hours selecting an appropriate quotation to use or carefully crafting a
question to provoke interesting answers. Nothing is more annoying to an examiner than reading a pile of answers that have
plainly failed to appreciate this artistry and have offered a whole lot of waffle that has nothing to do with the question! It is
almost certain that every examiner will have to wade through a large pile of write all you know about... irrelevant answers.
Imagine the joy when he/she happens upon your clear, relevant and well-focused answer! Commonsense dictates that a
happy examiner is far more likely to be generous than an irritated one!
Problem questions
The same basic advice applies as to essays keep your answer relevant. Some problems can be very complex, so make sure
that you lay out your answer as clearly as you can this makes it easier to mark and you want to keep that examiner happy!
The basic technique for answering a problem question is to take each point as it comes and a) state the law, b) cite authority
(if you dont use authority, you havent stated the law!) and c) apply the law to the facts of the question. Most answers fall
down on c), but this part is vital. Anyone with a good memory can learn the law and slavishly recite it but only good
candidates, with a real understanding of the subject, are able to apply what they have learned to the given set of facts. As
with essays, above, the examiner has thought carefully about the question and created a set of facts to provoke certain
responses...and its only good manners to show that you have noticed! Do refer explicitly to the facts in your answer.
e.g. A question tells you that Farmer A said to Farmer B, I would like to buy that horse from you for 30. If I dont hear
anything from you Ill assume we have a deal. Farmer B was happy to sell his horse to Farmer A for 30, so didnt respond.
Student 1 explains generally all about offer and acceptance and, as part of this explanation, comments on the fact that
silence cannot normally constitute acceptance, citing Felthouse v Bindley as authority.
Student 2 states that an offer should be firm and definite and clearly communicated to the offeree and notes that Farmer As
statement I would like to buy that horse from you for 30 meets these criteria. It goes on to say that the statement if I
dont hear anything from you Ill assume we have a deal is very close to the facts of Felthouse v Bindley and, in this case, it
was decided that there cannot be an acceptance by silence, even when the other party is seemingly happy with the
agreement, as is the case with Farmer B in this scenario.
Which answer do you think would score higher marks?
Both of the above answers appear to show knowledge of the law but in Student 1s answer there is a lot of general
explanation and no real specific application. From the examiners point of view it is not entirely clear whether this student
fully understands the law and is able to apply it, or whether the mention of acceptance by silence and Felthouse v
Bindley was just a lucky hit!
Student 2s answer is much better. The examiner is left in no doubt that the student understands the issues clearly and is
confident in applying them to a given set of facts. This student has clearly recognised all of the issues within the facts and
has made use of them to show detailed and specific application. The student in this case doesnt necessarily remember any
more information than the Student 1 (he/she may even remember less!) but the answer technique is much better and will
gain far more marks.

4. are aiming to revise well and remember as much information as you can for the exam, but do keep in
mind the fact that showing a real understanding is far more important than proving that you are Mr Memory!
Of course you need to cite authority for statements of law and, ideally, you need to remember cases and dates. However, no
one is perfect and there may be a time in the exam when you just cant think of the name of the can happen to
everyone! If this happens, dont just skip the authority its far better to say as in the case where the granny,
granddaughter and lodger filled in the competition than it is to miss it out completely. This will tell the examiner that you
know what you are talking about, even if exam nerves got the better of you for a moment.
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