Professor Mitten’s Exam Taking Essentials for Essay Questions

[Editor’s Note: This month, faculty members are posting on their exam taking tips. This is the third post in the series.]

Law school essay exams are a completely different kind of essay exam than what students might be used to.  Here, Professor Mitten shares his essentials for taking law school essay exams.

1.         Carefully read question at least twice and sort out what happened.  It may be helpful to draw a chronological diagram of the parties’ conduct.

2.         Determine the question(s) that you are being asked to consider.  For example, it may be broad (e.g., discuss the parties’ respective claims) or very specific (e.g., consider A’s claims against B).  Some professors (like me) will give you credit only for answering the question asked.

3.         Identify each plaintiff’s claims and address each claim separately.  For example, in torts, tell the professor who (plaintiff) is suing whom (defendant) for what (tort)?

4.         Identify the applicable rule of law that governs and list all elements (i.e., what must plaintiff prove to prevail?)

5.         Carefully analyze plaintiff’s legal theory, which requires: i) considering all elements of the applicable rule; ii) using the given facts; and iii) arguing both sides’ respective positions.

6.         Based on your analysis, determine the likely resolution of plaintiff’s claim by an impartial third party such as the judge or jury.

7.         Identify and analyze defendant’s affirmative defenses while following the steps in #3-6.

8.         Know what you want to say before writing.  The best answer is not necessarily the longest one.  Rambling B.S. and verbosity will negatively affect your grade.

9.         Spotting and fully analyzing the issues raised by the facts are far more important than having “the right answer” (since there may not be one).  Organize your thoughts carefully, express them briefly, and then move on.  When writing, keep in mind that your answer needs to be clear, concise, and complete. Your answer should reflect the product of following #3-7.

10.       Exercise proper time management when taking an exam.  You may assume that the recommended time for each essay question corresponds to its relative point value, so allocate your time accordingly.

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