Law School Exam Writing Guide

Ten Tips to achieve on your Law School Exams

Law School Exam Writing Guide

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The first skill to succeed in law school begins with learning the law, a daunting task due to the sheer volume of material you must master. It is this skill the majority of law student excel in developing.

The second skill to succeed in law school is the ability to apply the law to facts in law school exams. This is the most important of the two skills because it determines law school ranking, which makes it the golden rule for success. Thus, it is necessary to make law school exam practice an equal partner with substantive law study.

Applying law to facts is easy to say and hard to do because it is a skill developed only through consistent practice.

Tip #1 - Practice Issue Spotting

Practice issue spotting by integrating exam practice in your study schedule. Start every exam by reading the instructions, generally referred to as the Call of the Question. The Call reveals what the examiners want, and it puts the examinee in a position to know what issues the exam is testing.

The best way to actively practice issue spotting is to obtain old exams your professor has given in the past, or those archived in your law school libraries. By practicing issue spotting with old exams, and then comparing your issue spotting with a sample answer, you will discover what you really know, what you missed, and what you do not understand. This process is the benchmark of learning because it gives you the insight to correct your mistakes, which enhances your skill.

The more familiar you become with facts, the more sensitive you will be to their meaning within the context of a law exam, which always results in improved issue spotting.

Tip #2 - Practice Organization

Organizing your issues on a skeletal outline is essential. The most costly mistake too many examinees make is not organizing their answer, which always results in a jumbled presentation in the writing stage. Law professors do not want a “stream of consciousness” writing style. They want a logical, concise presentation of the issues in a sensible order. The more familiar you become with organizing issues, the better you will meet your law professors’ expectations when you take your law school exams.

Tip #3 - Practice Outlining

An effective outline is the vehicle to use for organizing your issues, because the outline is your virtual map for writing the answer. The outline identifies the issues raised in the exam, lists their order of organization, and identifies the facts and elements that must be blended and explained in the writing phase. When this information is set out on an outline, it is the engine that drives the final answer.

As a general rule, one-quarter of the total time allocated to each exam should be spent outlining. Thus, if the exam is a 60-minute exercise, the first 20 minutes should be spent outlining.

Tip #4 – Practice Legal Analysis And Writing

The ability to link legal elements to relevant facts and then explain their connection with a blend of precision and simplicity is the essence of legal analysis and writing. To accomplish this, practice and feedback are essential.

Tip #5 – Practice The Legal Writing Formula

Remember that effective legal writing is a learned skill. It is impossible to learn to write unless you write. The formula for writing a legal issue in law school is IREAC.

(I) State the precise issue first by identifying it in a headnote.
(R) Follow the issue statement with the rule. Make sure the rule contains the legal elements.
(E) Depending on time, explain the meaning of the rule elements. This is optional unless your professor requires it.
(A) Apply each rule element to the relevant facts, element-by-element. This is the most important part of legal exam writing.
(C) Conclude to the issue.

Repeat this formula for every issue raised in the exam. Do not deviate from this formula, because it is the writing structure used in law school and by lawyers in practice.

Take practice exams under timed conditions because that is how you are tested in law school. Simulate the test-taking experience before you sit for your exams. By doing so, you will have an appreciation for how to analyze hypothetical facts, how to issue-spot, how to outline the issues on an outline before moving into the writing stage, how to use the IREAC writing format to frame your legal and factual arguments, and how to properly use your time. These are the skills you need to succeed.

Tip #6 – Get Feedback

It is nearly impossible to self-evaluate one’s own writing because it is the very rare student who can objectively evaluate his or her own work. Find a mentor who will evaluate your exam writing samples. Have your writing consistently evaluated by your professors, if they are willing to do so. If not, contact someone who has already mastered the skill, like a tutor. With professional feedback, you will know where you excel and where you need to improve. Knowing such vital information and making needed corrections will ensure success on your law school exams.

Tip #7 - #10 – Practice Consistently

Practice, practice, practice. Law school is about grades. Grades are about tests. Tests are about class ranking in law school. 100% of your class ranking is determined by how you perform on law exams, yet the majority of law students overlook this area.

Since performance on law school exams is the number one criterion that dictates success in law school, you must not only learn the law, but you must also maximize your exam aptitude by integrating examsmanship into your study plan.

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