Most students think their course outline is just there to help them organize the material they learned in class. Not so. A good course outline can also help you pre-draft portions of your essay exams, which will save you time on the exam and help you produce a comprehensive, organized answer.
Although you won’t know what the precise question will be until you sit down to take the test, you do know that the exam will test some (or all) of the legal concepts covered in class and that you will need to be prepared to define and explain those legal concepts during the exam. To demonstrate, consider this segment of a first-semester torts outline:
I. Intentional Torts
2. Battery = An actor is subject to liability for battery if he acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of another and a harmful or offensive contact occurs.
- Intent element – Desire to touch or act with substantial certainty that a touching will occur.
- Harmful/Offensive Touch Element – Offensiveness is judged by asking whether a reasonable person would be offended by contact.
- May be satisfied by relatively trivial contact with another person if done in anger and/or if it would be offensive to a reasonable sense of dignity.
- Person of another element – touching must happen to another person or something closely connected to the person’s body.
Notice that the outline contains clear, comprehensive rule statements for each concept and element covered. Including complete rule statements for each concept in your outline is key, not just for learning the black letter law, but also for helping you pre-draft the definitions and explanations that you will include in your essay exam answer. In other words, when you’re writing an essay exam, the “R” portion of IRAC (or CRAC, or TREAT, or whatever acronym your school uses) should come from the rule statements that you previously created for your outline.
To build on our demonstration, imagine that you’re presented with an essay question where Ross and George are engaged in an argument. George takes a swing at Ross, who dodges the punch, although George’s fist barely brushes up against Ross’ sleeve in the process.
After starting your exam answer with a sentence identifying the battery and assault issues, you can simply recite the rule statements from your outline (which you’ve diligently memorized) as you proceed through the problem. When appropriate, follow each rule statement with an explanation (using the facts provided) as to why that rule is, or is not, satisfied.
Thus, using the rules statements from our outline excerpt above, the answer would look something like this:
An actor is subject to liability for battery if he acts intending to cause a harmful or offensive contact with the person of another and a harmful or offensive contact occurs.
Intent is defined as a desire to touch or act with substantial certainty that a touching will occur. Here, the intent element is satisfied because George’s arguing with Ross and then throwing a punch in his direction shows a desire to touch, or at least a substantial certainty that some contact will occur.
The offensiveness of the contact is judged by asking whether a reasonable person would be offended by the contact. This element may be satisfied by relatively trivial contact with another person if done in anger and/or if it would be offensive to a reasonable sense of dignity. Here, the offensiveness element is satisfied because the punch was thrown during an argument, suggesting it was done in anger, not as a joke. A reasonable person would likely be offended by being punched out of anger, even if the punch ultimately did not hurt the person or make full contact.
Lastly, a touching must happen to another person or something closely connected to the person’s body. Here, the person of another element is satisfied because George made contact, however trivial, with Ross’ sleeve, which is closely connected to the person’s body.
The answer would reach a conclusion as to the battery issue and then move on to address any remaining issues. Ultimately, a large portion of the essay answer was already written because you were able to pull the rule statements you needed to include (the “R” in IRAC) from the rule statements in your course outline. No time was wasted on the exam thinking about how to define intent or how to explain what harmful contact can include, because those definitions were already written for the outline. The outline’s rule statements are simply memorized (as best as possible) and repeated in the appropriate order and context on the exam.
Relying on pre-written rule statements and using this format to answer an essay exam will save you time on the test and likely lead to a more organized, comprehensive answer. Of course, it’s essential that you take the time to create a good outline: one that displays the correct relationships between concepts and includes accurate rule statements, definitions, and explanations for each legal concept and sub-concept covered in class.
Although success on essay exams will require mastery of many skills – issue spotting, analysis, time management, etc. – if you put in the hard work to create an outline that includes good rule statements, you will have laid the foundation for producing a high-quality essay exam answer, without even having to know the question!
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