How to Write a Law School Exam Answer: Are you unsure of how to prepare for your law school exam? The first place to start is by checking your syllabus or asking your professor what the format of the final exam will be. If your exam is multi-faceted (i.e., essay, short answer and/or multiple choice), pay attention to the weight of each section. Prioritize your studying by starting with the most heavily weighted types of questions. Below we give you some tips on how to write a law school exam answer, based on the type of question asked.
How to Write a Law School Exam Answer
1. How to write a Law School Exam Answer for Essay Questions
You will most likely have to answer an essay question or two on exam day. If you are asked to do so, use the “IRAC” method unless your professor has told you during the semester to write your answers in a different format The letters in “IRAC” stand for the following words:
- “I” = “issue.”
- “R” = “rule.”
- “A” = “analysis.”
- “C” = “conclusion.”
The IRAC method is formulaic, as follows: “The issue is _____________. The rule is _____________. In this case, . . . (apply the law to the facts). In conclusion, __________ will likely win.”
This barebones structure serves merely as a starting point. Now, we will discuss how to fill in the gaps to write a high-scoring answer.
Law school essay questions require you to spot a lot of issues. You are likely to see two different question stems on your exam. Some questions are more pointed and ask you to assess all of Plaintiff’s claims against Defendant. Other questions will be more open-ended and ask you to “Discuss the issues.” As you identify issues, do not forget to consider possible defenses available to the defendant (e.g., consent, self-defense, defense of others, defense of property, etc.).
If you identify most or all of the issues accurately, you will be in a better position to write out the rule statement and analyze the relevant facts. In the beginning students are often unsure of their issue-spotting skills and question whether they are spotting issues raised by the fact pattern or issues that are only tangentially related to the question asked. So, to hone your issue-spotting skills, practice answering past exam questions and compare your response to the model answer and/or grading rubric. This will help you to recognize the most highly tested issues and see how these issues are likely to be tested.
After you identify the issues, state the relevant rules of law. What do we mean by relevant? Don’t waste time explaining the history of a particular rule or writing every single rule you learned with respect to a particular issue. Only write down the rules triggered by the fact pattern. If you write down rules peripherally related to the issue at hand, you will not get points for these statements. Further, you will be cutting into your time to analyze the issues that are central to the fact pattern. Don’t fall into this trap!
The majority of your points will come from your analysis—it is the most important part of your answer. (Note that even though it is the most important part, you need to be able to spot the issues and you need to know the rules well enough to analyze them! So, don’t overlook the necessity of issue-spotting and rule-stating! Because you will not get a lot of points on the analysis if you haven’t perfected those skills!)
Here, you want to apply the rule statement that you wrote out to the facts in the essay question. To write an outstanding answer, don’t simply analyze each of the elements of the rule. Rather, make lawyerly arguments on behalf of the Plaintiff and the Defendant for each issue that you identify. Consider any ambiguities presented by the fact pattern in helping you to determine what each side would argue. It’s OK to be creative, but make sure your arguments are logical. If you are struggling to figure out how to make such arguments, apply the relevant facts to the following strategies.
- Should the facts be interpreted in favor of Plaintiff or Defendant?
- Should the law be interpreted in favor of Plaintiff or Defendant?
- Are there any policy reasons that favor either party?
- If there are different approaches to resolve an issue, which one should govern? (e.g., the traditional rule vs. the model rule; the common law rule vs. the statutory rule; the majority rule vs. the minority rule)
- Should the holding of one case be followed instead of the holding of another case?
After you analyze the arguments for each party, state which party’s arguments are better supported.
As you decide which arguments to include, think back to what your professor highlighted during the class discussions. Did your professor cite different policy reasons for reaching a particular outcome? Did your professor discuss how seemingly contradictory cases addressed a certain issue? Each professor teaches his or her class differently, and it is essential that you write your exam answers with your professor’s lectures in mind.
The more practice exams that you do, the more detailed your analysis will be (and the more points you will receive!).
For each issue that you discuss, state which party is more likely to win and briefly explain why. Do not panic about whether you arrived at the correct conclusion; law school professors put more emphasis on your ability to analyze. Do not finish your discussion by waffling between whether the Plaintiff or Defendant will win (e.g., “It depends on what the court decides.”). Additionally, do not state your conclusion in absolute terms (e.g., “The Defendant will definitely win.”). Rather, use the words “probably” or “most likely” as you state your conclusion. For example, you could write: “For the reasons discussed above, the Plaintiff’s negligence claim will likely fail.”
If you follow this method as you do your practice exams and take ample time to review the model answers and grading rubrics, you should feel more comfortable with this format. We have some tips on self-grading your answer here!
2. How To Write A Law School Exam Answer: Multiple Choice Questions
It is very possible that your exam will include multiple choice questions. Do your best to hone your skills by answering your professor’s released questions (if available). If your professor has not released any questions, answer multiple choice questions in different supplements—Lexis Nexis Questions & Answers is a great resource. You can also consult bar exam review books, as the bar exam tests all of the first-year law school subjects.
Do not make the mistake of doing too many questions at once or waiting a week or more to review your answers. If you know the issue being tested but are fuzzy on the rule, look it up in your outline and then methodically go through each of the answer choices before deciding on one. It is best to start off by doing 10 questions a day and reviewing your answers the same day. Also, do not forget to do a few timed practice sessions to make sure that you are able to complete the questions within the time allotted.
3. How To Write a Law School Exam Answer: Short Answer Questions
Some professors will also ask you to complete short answer questions. First see whether your professor has released any short answer questions from previous exams. It is also a good idea to complete short answer questions that you find in supplements. The Examples and Explanations series is a great resource. When you answer the short answer questions, you are essentially following a mini-IRAC format. You will not be able to answer the question in the same amount of detail as an essay question, but you want to make sure your answer is concise and well organized.
We hope our post on how to write a law school exam answer helps you with your upcoming finals!
Christine, one of our bar exam and law school tutors, wrote this post. Christine has passed three bar exams, including California, New York, and New Jersey.
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