Performing well on law school exams is essential to success in law school. Law school exam writing is a specialized art that takes skill and practice. You will need to demonstrate both a substantive knowledge of the subject matter and superior writing skills. Below are five tips for crafting a successful law school exam response.
- Plan Your Response. Given the time pressures of every law school exam, it may be tempting to begin writing immediately. However, taking time to plan and outline your response is usually time well-spent. Planning before you write will help you organize your thoughts, spot additional issues, stay on track, address every point and draft a clear, concise response.
- Craft a well-organized essay. The ability to write clearly and concisely will gain you points even if you fail to spot all of the issues. Include an introduction stating the rule of law, draft supporting paragraphs that apply and analyze the rule and discuss counter-arguments (this is a step many students skip). Guide the reader – your professor – through your response with headings, introductory sentences, transitional phrases and concluding sentences. By crafting a well-organized essay, you will make the professor’s job easier and will earn more points.
- Remember IRAC. The “Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion” formula for law school exam writing is usually a successful approach. While spotting the issues is important, you should state the rule of law, apply it to the specific fact pattern presented and then analyze and resolve each issue. Don’t forget to include a conclusion summarizing each argument and explaining how you arrived at your conclusion. If there is no clear answer, you may want to list several alternative conclusions and explain why each conclusion is logical.
- Review past exams. Many professors maintain a file of exams they have given in past years. Professors frequently include the same or similar questions on exams year after year. Although past exams won’t include the answers, you can brainstorm responses with other students. Taking the professor’s past exams will also give you a flavor of his exam style and format. Some professors may even be kind enough to critique your answers or give you advice on how to best respond to the question.
- Budget your time. Some law school exam questions will be quite difficult to answer. A professor may plant such questions in an exam to test the student’s ability to manage his time. Do not get hung up on challenging questions. In the interest of time, it may be better to skip a difficult question to spend more time on other questions. Remember, the goal is not to draft the perfect exam answer - that may be impossible in the time provided. The goal is to draft an essay that is better than that of your peers. You are competing against your fellow students and the best essays – even if flawed or incomplete – will earn the top grades.