Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
General tips to follow while writing an essay exam answer:
- Remember to read the exam instructions carefully. It may sound obvious, but you can lose valuable points if you disregard the professor’s instructions. If the professor wants you to write on every other page or double space your answers, do it.
- Remember to organize and outline your answer before you start to write. This will keep you on track and ensure you cover the most important issues first.
- Keep your sentences simple, short, and to the point. You do not want to confuse yourself while writing or the professor while he/she grades your exam.
- Use your new language. You are learning the language of law and should reflect your understanding of it on exams.
- Know your professors and write for them. Pay attention to what they stress in class, as this is probably how they want their exams answered. If they stress policy, talk policy in your answer. It is also helpful to review your professor’s old exams, as this may give you clues as to how they want questions answered.
- Discuss every legal controversy you identify. Even if the issue appears too obvious, give it a sentence or two in the answer. It is important to at least let him/her know that you recognize the issue.
- Remember to use “because”. It is not enough to just identify issues; you need to explain them as well. The “because” will demonstrate to your professor that you understand the concept and can explain why that concept applies to the circumstances in the question.
- Do not just recite facts. You will use the facts to argue for or against your conclusions and apply them in your answer.
Remember to take practice essay exams. Doing so will help you to be more comfortable with the types of questions asked and the time limits imposed. You will also hone your analytic skills and learn the information better.
These questions are shorter than and often answered differently from the longer essay question.
- The most important thing to remember in answering these questions is to focus on the question that you are being asked to answer. Be sure that you know what you're being asked to answer, and answer it precisely. Don't delve off into areas that you are not being asked to answer thinking that it might get you points. You may not have much time or space to apply IRAC, nor may you be asked to supply an answer that requires an IRAC-type analysis.
- Developing a strategy for answering a short question really requires advance preparation, and here's where the value of looking at old exams is paramount.
- Look at the old exams to determine your professor's style.
- What type of short questions does the professor ask? Then write out your answer to a few of the questions.
- If possible, ask the professor how much detail she expects in the answer or look at the model answer.
- You may be surprised to find that the answer that gets full credit is the one that gets right to the point, not the one that provides the most information.
Exam Structure Workshop
Presented by Matt Carluzzo, Assistant Dean of Students and Academic Success
Tips for structuring and drafting a law school essay exam
Forget the old adage that there's no right answer on a law school exam. With multiple choice questions, there is a right answer.
Many strategies have been developed to help students answer questions on multiple choice standardized exams, like the bar exam, but they are not totally applicable to a law school exam because bar exam questions are designed to be answered in just over a minute. Professors draft multiple choice questions differently.
One helpful strategy in reading any multiple choice question is to:
- go to the end of the problem and first read the question you are being asked to answer. This allows you to match the facts in the problem to the issues raised in the question;
- go back to the beginning and read the entire problem--carefully; and
- then read the answer options.