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Basic Rules for a Law School Exam

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					Basic Rules For Taking a Law School Essay Exam

Taking a law school essay exam is similar to the Easter egg hunts you participated in as a child.
There were a number of brightly colored eggs scattered around in obvious places. This ensured
that all the participants would garner a reasonable number of eggs so no one would come up with
an empty basket and go home crying to mother. A smaller number of eggs are hidden in unusual
places requiring a diligent search. Then there are the very few "prize" eggs, usually requiring a
shovel if you are to end up taking them home to mom and pa.

I certainly am no expert at LAW SCHOOL essay exams. However, here are a few tips that may
assist you in loading down your basket with eggs. These are certainly not original and I start by
invoking Spitz's maxim: "There's an exception to every rule." I have assumed you are taking the
typical ninety-minute, two essay, and closed book exam. Your professor will give you the time
he has allotted for each part of the exam and you can adjust accordingly.

1. Rule of 14

There are usually 14 key legal issues per course. You must memorize this list and be able to
reproduce it in shorthand form. Practice writing out your list over and over until you can
reproduce it in less than one minute.

2. Rule of 10

There are six to ten major cases. You need know the facts from each case by heart. You will see
them on the exam. Again, memorize the cases in shorthand form and list them below the 14
issues. Practice so the list only takes you two or three minutes. When the test starts, immediately
prepare your 14/10 list and then put it to the side. We will come back to it later.

3. Rule of one-fourth (22.5 minutes for the mathematically challenged).

Take the first one fourth of the time allotted for the law school essay question to outline your
answer. Don't worry that everyone else is type, type, typing away. Start by reading the call of
the question. Then go to the fact pattern and highlight all the facts: names, dates, numbers, what
someone did, what someone said. Facts are your friend. You need to determine this first time
through the conflict pairs. Can Mary sue Jane? Can the State prosecute Joe? These are your
"case" names. Enter each of them on your outline as a major heading. Now it is time to start
gathering your "eggs." Read the fact pattern again and for each conflict pair list ALL the issues
raised by the facts. Then under each issue a quick listing of the P's claims and the D's defenses.
Read the call of the question again. Answering the wrong question correctly will not put eggs
in your basket.

4. Rule of one half (I think you have the picture).

Now start writing your exam. Simply reproduce your outline in bold type. Then put on your
Judge's hat. You are the judge and you have to decide this issue. What is the rule, doctrine or
case precedent you will use? Think of it like a pyramid. You have to build your legal base and
then proceed to the top. Start with "Under": under the common law, under the doctrine of, under
Rule so and so, under the XYZ test. You must have these memorized. The best way I have found
is to practice writing them out several times. Be sure to list all of the elements and to actually
NAME any test. If a case is associated with the element or test, cite the case.

Once you have your rule of law pyramid, put on your student hat and start your next paragraph
with "Here." This is where you apply the facts of the case to the issue. Again, NAME the test and
discuss ALL the elements, even if you think a particular one does not apply. Law school
professors are looking for you to use particular "MAGIC" words or terms and just using them in
the rule will only give you partial credit. Repeat them again in your analysis. ALWAYS ARGUE
BOTH SIDES. The way to get proficient with this part of the essay is to take past exams. Then
compare your answer to the model answer. Time is your enemy so when you hit the 70 minute
mark STOP. Even if you are not through STOP. Take a deep breath, you now have at least your
"gentleman's C" and have passed this portion of the exam.

5. The However Rule

Start a paragraph with "However." For the next ten minutes, go back through the question. Cross
out every fact you have used. Have you used everything you highlighted? If not, why not? Have
you missed a conflict pair or an issue? Have you discussed everyone? There is at least one issue
hidden slightly deeper in the fact pattern. By slowing down and taking a few minutes to think
about the situation, it will come to you. Then quickly do your rule of law and a two or three
sentence "Here" discussion. You now have your B+ so stop and move on the next essay and
repeat steps one through five.

6. The What If Rule

You are now 160 minutes into the exam and have 20 minutes left. Pull out your 14/10 list and
cross out the issues and cases you have used in the exam. The professor will probably test you on
75% of the issues in the course. Your task in the next 20 minutes is to find the issues you have
missed. There is an A- issue and there is an A issue. FIND THEM. What if it's this instead of
that? What if there is another rule of law that can be built on the base of your pyramid? What if
the professor is looking for one of the cases you haven't cited? If you are still stumped, put on
your Lawyer hat and start going through your cases. Assume the judge has just ruled against
your argument as a matter of law. Your pyramid has just come crashing down around your ears.
As an attorney, what are you going to do? The professor has left you clues in the facts so get out
your shovel and start digging.

7. The Therefore Rule
I have left out the conclusion on purpose. This is usually the least important part of your law
school essay answer and has the fewest points. If and only if you have time, you can put in a
conclusion. This was the hardest part for me. It is not the answer but how you present your case
that determines your grade.

What is the easiest way to get eggs? Memorize the rules of law and correctly repeat them on the
test. All this requires you to do is memorization. Where do you find concise statements of the
law? Start with recent cases in your state or look up recommended jury instructions for your
state. Find out if your state puts out past bar exam questions and answers. Look at model answers
from old exams. A number of schools put old exam banks online for public access. You can find
a list on the 1L law student page at A Day in the Life of a Law Student

Once you have your rules down, start practicing your analysis with various fact patterns.
Correctly stating the rules and spotting ALL the issues will only get you a C at best. How well
you can apply the facts is what will separate you from the rest of the class. DO NOT KEEP
GOING OVER AND OVER YOUR OUTLINE.

Start preparing early. If you wait until the end of classes, it will be too late. Do your own outline
and then start practicing hypos. There are certain issues that you know will be on the law school
essay exam. In contracts, someone is going to make an offer, in torts, someone is going to get
hurt and in criminal law, someone is going to be murdered. Be ready for the easy issues so you
can spend time digging for the hidden ones. Good luck and happy Easter.

				
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