One of the easiest ways to raise your law school grades is to have a plan of attack for answering final exam questions.
Often, students go into a final exam knowing the law, and even how to apply it, but not knowing how to answer exam questions effectively.
Crafting organized and concise answers to exam questions is almost as important to your grade as your knowledge of the material.
As you begin to study for final exams (or even start to think about studying for finals), there are a couple of techniques that are helpful for framing answers to exam questions.
1. Checklist Technique
The checklist technique helps you organize the law so you can think through which issues need to be raised in an answer.
Once you’ve identified the issues, you make a checklist of the issues to discuss. As you craft your answer, you don’t need to talk about everything, just the issues that you check off. Then you can set up your answer to dive into each issue.
- Example: In Criminal Law, say you get a question that deals with murder. Your checklist would include different types of murder. Under or next to each item, make a short, one to two-word note about the facts that fit the checklist item. From here, you have an outline for how to answer your question - you can move through the list and decide which item you need to discuss and how the facts fit, picking and choosing.
2. Attack Outlines
This technique helps you if the question implicates multiple issues that need to be addressed in an exam answer.
If you analyze a question and figure out that it requires you to think through and discuss several issues (categories and subcategories), an attack outline or analysis is the way to go. Your professor will typically give you an outline or analysis for a given issue that explains how to apply the law in any fact pattern. In this situation, follow the attack plan, and you will not need to make many, if any, judgement calls.
- Example: Your Torts professor may have told you that to prove an intentional tort you must think through intent, elements of the tort, causation, damages, AND defenses. That means you must discuss all five of these issues in your answer. You can organize your answer using these headings, and this will allow you to take an analytical approach to figure out what you need to talk about and put it together in an organized way.
Which To Choose
The technique you choose often depends on the question and the law you must discuss.
It may also depend on your law professor and how they view the law should be applied. On this note, it’s incredibly important to ask your professor during office hours what they prefer in an answer -- one that covers as many issues as possible, or one that really dives into one or two issues.
If it’s the former, go with the checklist approach. If it’s the latter, go with the attack outline approach.
Remember, as you hone your outlining skills, you're inching your way towards final exams and ultimately, the bar exam.