• Answering Law School Exam Questions

    The following is a suggested template or approach to use when answering law school essay exam questions, courtesy of Steve Liebo, ASP tutor. Consider using four steps to answer an essay test question.

    First Reading 

    Read the facts through to see which legal issues they seem to raise.

    Read the question asked very carefully until you understand it. The question controls and restricts the scope of your answer. When the scope of the question is broad [like Describe the legal issues arising from these facts or Please state whether a court is likely to find liability] then your answer can cover a number of issues. One the other hand, if the question is narrow [like what kind of damages are available for breach of the contract in this problem or did the court have personal jurisdiction over party X] your answer must narrowly answer only the precise issue(s) asked. You will not receive any points for discussing issues that the question did not ask for and will likely receive a negative halo that may affect the rest of your answer.

    Supply and Organize the Law 

    Dump all of the relevant law out of your head onto a page of scratch paper. It does not have to be in any particular order and can just be key phrases, etc.

    Organize the law on a piece of scratch paper.

    First, separate out the major issues. For example, the False Imprisonment (FI) Exam Example contains two major issues: (1) are the requirements for false imprisonment liability met? And (2) does the intentional tort defense of Consent apply to avoid liability for false imprisonment in this case. You could separate out the issues as FI and Consent.

    Second, under each major issue, separate out the subissue elements. List the elements vertically under the major issues on the left side of the page of scratch paper.  Thus, in the FI example, you see that the FI issue breaks out into possibly three functional subissues (issues that are separately analyzed using their own standards):

    False Imprisonment Elements

    • Intent
    • Confinement
    • Awareness/Injury

    Third, add any subissue elements or measuring tests to each of the subissue elements that you listed. While elements are separately analyzed under their own standards, measuring tests are the standards that are compared to facts to resolve each element. List the subelements or measuring tests vertically on the left side of the page too. In the FI question, and example might be:

    False Imprisonment

    1) Intent

    • Intended
    • Knew with substantial certainty

    2) Confinement

    • Within certain limits
    • No time minimum
    • Means
    • Physical
    • Threat
    • Asserted legal authority 

    3) Awareness or Actual Harm

    Second Reading and Fact Assignment 

    Read the facts a second time; but this time you read them very carefully (a fine toothed comb comes to mind). You do a detailed reading in which your goal is to find fact(s) that help resolve each of the elements and measuring tests that you have listed on your scratch paper. Search the facts carefully. Profs may have seeded the fact statement with specific facts that apply to the element/measuring test like a smoking gun. You may get points for every one that you find and apply to the relevant legal test.

    List each fact, in some abbreviated or key-word form, alongside the element/measuring test that it relates to, but list it on the right side of the scratch page. You should have some fact(s) alongside each of the elements/measuring tests or you should mark no fact. For example, you might have something like:


    1) Intent

    • Intended Yelled to stop, etc.

    Once you have located the facts to analyze with the legal tests you effectively have created a substantive outline of your entire discussion, which you can use as a check sheet in step IV.

    Write the Answer 

    Write the answer in full IRAC and roadmap form.

    Use IRAC only for the lowest analytically independent elements and measuring tests in the discussion. Each of these elements has its own rules (Thus, you would IRAC the Intent discussion).

    Whenever a larger issue breaks down into subissue elements, use a roadmap sentence. Thus, since the discussion breaks down into two major issues, the first (Roadmap) sentence of your answer might be: To resolve this question, two issues must be addressed, False imprisonment and the Consent defense. Readers like this type of roadmap because it tells them where you are headed. If you, instead, said that the first issue is FI, the reader will not know how many issues are coming. As another roadmap, the first sentence of your FI discussion can state: To determine whether LL is liable for false imprisonment we must discuss whether she intended to confine BB, whether BB was confined and whether BB was aware that she was confined.

    When time is very short you can skip the roadmaps, but otherwise they are useful for making your discussion look professional and organized to the reader.

    The IRACs that contain the discussions must be written fully from the perspective that the reader knows nothing about the law or facts. So, lay out your discussion in baby steps so the reader can follow every step of your analysis and every factual comparison.

    The I in the IRAC is very simple; for example, it could state: the first issue in FI is whether LL intended to confine BB.

    The R is where you show the reader that you know the rules that govern the discussion. You should state all of them that are relevant to that particular issue or element. Thus you could say: The intent requirement is met when the def intends to confine the plaintiff or when the def should know that his or her acts would be substantially certain to cause confinement. In the confinement issue you would list all of the assorted measuring tests in the R.

    The A should be a full, complete, and express comparison of the facts to the legal standards in the elements and measuring tests.

    I stress the work “express”; your comparisons must state the specific facts that support the analysis in a sentence that is tied to the legal standard or a key word from the legal standard. If you received a comment on any of your last set of tests that your answers were conclusory, this factor (express factual comparisons) is what you did not perform well enough.

    Use as many facts as you can find to support a particular analysis.

    • Do not write any sentences containing just fact, unless they follow naturally from the preceding sentence. The thinking is that the Prof already told you the facts, so do not simply parrot them; use them.
    • Do not skip any of the subissue/measuring tests as being too trivial to mention; the Prof may think you missed the issue. Thus, you would say that no minimum time of confinement exists, so the fact that BB was confined for only three minutes did not bar FI.
    • When alternate measuring tests exist, analyze both briefly. Thus, you could say that LL’s intent to confine BB can be shown from Facts A, B, and C. Then go on to say, even if the facts show that LL did not intend to confine BB (merely intended to clarify whether BB had the book), they permit the inference that LL knew with substantial certainty that by yelling for BB to stop and asking her to wait and permit the search she would be confining BB where she was.

    The C in the IRAC is a very short, one sentence, statement of the conclusion. It does not summarize the reasons you just gave.

    After each IRAC in the issue, just move on to the I in the next IRAC. Your roadmap for the issue told the reader the IRACS you would be doing.

    This four-step form for answering questions can be used as a template for answering essay questions for any subject in law school and the bar exam. Consider using the first one-fourth to one-third of your time to do steps 1-3 for each question.

    If you would like to practice using this format for answering questions, please let me know. I have developed a series of questions in which I give you the facts, law, and question. Feel free to write an answer to any one of the practice question, taking as long as you need to give it a good try. You can see me with your answer or e-mail it to me and I can critique it, send you a suggested answer, and send you the next test in the series, if you would like. Please send your answer attached to email to sliebo@gw.hamline.edu. Call me with any questions you have about this proposed template at 651-523-2298.

    Happy studying, and good luck on your tests.