Show Your Work!! . . . And Other Last-Minute Tips for Writing Law School Exam Answers
Final exams are happening right now in every law school. Here are some last-minute tips for writing law school exam answers. These come from our law school exam course guide. To read more tips, download our free ebook here.
Five Tips for Writing Law School Exam Answers:
1. Show your work! Even if you do not use “IRAC” explicitly, still make sure that you have provided a logical analysis of all of the issues. Don’t make statements like, “Sarah will not be liable for battery because there was no actual contact that occurred…” without defining the elements of battery. A lot of students tend to be conclusory – and lose points because of it. To avoid this, make sure you are spelling out the rules of law as well as the analysis that gets you to whatever conclusion you arrive at for each issue you spot. It’s like when you were taking math tests in college or high school… you probably had to show your work to get full credit. Think of law school as being the same. Show your work. Spell out the rules of law before arriving at conclusions. The rule statements and the analysis that you provide gets you the most points anyway.
2. Underline and bold key elements of law. Draw attention to them. Show the professor that you know what you are talking about. Make it easy for him/her to give you points. (Note: On the other hand, however, do not underline, bold, or otherwise emphasize the elements of law, if you do not know them very well. This will only draw attention to what you do not know!)
3. Break up your answer into several paragraphs. It is a good idea to start each issue you are analyzing with a separate paragraph. This will make it easier for your professor to follow what you are saying and it will make it easier for your professor to give you points! Professors would much rather read nicely spaced-out and organized paragraphs than one long jumbled paragraph.
4. Focus on writing clearly and being organized. Do not worry about writing a super-eloquent response to the fact pattern. You only have a few hours to write an exam answer and your professor does not expect your answer to be perfect, eloquent, funny, or anything close to it. If you try to write a beautifully-crafted work of art in three hours you have, your analysis will suffer.
So instead, focus on identifying the issues, stating the rules of law and applying the law to the facts to arrive at conclusions. Sometimes math majors, engineers and others with non-language-related majors actually get higher points on law school exams even if they consider themselves to be worse writers. Why is that? They don’t focus on writing a flowery essay. They focus on writing their response using the IRAC “formula” – and get more points because of it.
5. In general, try to write long answers. The more you say, the more potential points you can earn. Professors cannot give you points if there is nothing there. (Of course, you do not want to ramble on about irrelevant rules of law or you will simply look unfocused. There is a fine balance).
Overall, the key idea to take away from these five tips for writing law school exam answers is simple: You want to make it easy for your professor to give you points. Make it clear what you are saying. Make it easy for your professor to see that you’ve spotted the issues, identified the key facts, stated the points of law accurately, and arrived at correct conclusions. Breaking up paragraphs, underlining key words, and “showing your work” are all ways to do this. So if you cannot remember all of these tips for writing law school exam answers, just remember this one core concept: Make it easy for your professor to give you points!
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