What’s the single most important thing you can do on a law school exam? This one’s easy!
ANSWER THE QUESTION
If you don’t answer the question, directly and completely, you’re not going to do well. End of story. Game over. No way, no how. It’s critical.
But answering the question isn’t always as easy as you might think. Here are three different scenarios you might encounter:
The Basic Version
If you’re lucky, your professor will ask a specific, direct question, which will give you clues about how to answer it.
- Discuss any claims Peter might have against David, and any defenses David has.
- Discuss whether Denise will be found guilty of murder.
These are super specific, so you’d just need to read the question carefully, and answer it fully (discussing claims AND defenses, for example).
Often, if the questions are this specific, they’ll have several subparts, so you want to be sure to answer each subpart completely, with a separate header so it’s easy to read and grade.
And, as is key with very specific questions, don’t stray off course. If you think David has a possible claim against Peter, this is not the time to bring it up! That’s not what the question asked you to talk about.
The More Advanced Version
Oftentimes, however, your professor won’t ask such a direct question. Instead she’ll say something like:
- Analyze the claims and defenses of the parties.
- Analyze Denise’s possible criminal liability.
- Or, in the extreme, just “Analyze.”
What do you do in this scenario? Well, basically the same thing, except that you have to create the framework for your essay by asking yourself more specific questions.
If the question is “Analyze,” you probably want to turn it into something more specific in your head. So, more like “Analyze the claims and defenses of the parties.” Then you’d go through each person in the fact pattern one-by-one, and see what possible claims each person has against anyone else. (This is where a checklist really comes in handy, to jog your memory on potential claims and defenses.)
Because the question is less specific, you’ll want to set up your own structure, going logically through your analysis, with headers, etc. and using short transitions to make it clear where you’ve gone, and where you’re going. But you still have to stay on topic, and respond to the question.
The Ninja Version
Every now and then, you’ll encounter a situation where it seems like your professor didn’t ask exactly the question he thought he was asking. If you’re pretty sure your professor thought he was asking one thing, but the question — read very literally — doesn’t actually ask that, give serious thought to answering the question you think the professor thinks he asked.
I learned this the hard way! My very first law school exam was in a pre-class that didn’t really count, but was designed to let us practice taking a law school exam. Long story short, I took the exam, missed the point of the question, and failed it.
When I looked back over the test, I realized that the professor had wanted us to talk about something that we’d discussed repeatedly in class, and I didn’t mention it. To this day, I think the exam was badly written, and didn’t actually ask that, but what difference does it make? I still failed it!
Obviously, you have to be careful here, since most professors do their best to write clear exams, but, if you start to sense you’re missing an opportunity to discuss something important from the class, it’s probably to your advantage to work it in, even if it’s a little bit peripheral.
Otherwise, you might find yourself lamenting a badly written question, as I was!
Best of luck, and just remember: Do your best to ANSWER THE QUESTION!
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Similar posts you might like:
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How to Organize Your Exam Answers
The Single Most Important Word in a Law School Exam Answer
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