Tag Archives: outlines

A Road Map to Success on Law School Exams

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The most common way to study for law school exams is to create an outline for each subject, synthesizing everything from the course (case briefs, class notes, etc.) into a single coherent document. Outlining is an effective way to study, as it forces you to consider how cases, statutes, and hypotheticals fit together. A good outline identifies the key legal issues from the course, pulls the rules, definitions, and explanations from the cases related to those issues, and organizes the material in such a way that the student can predict how to use that material on the exam.

Although outlining is a solid approach to your law school studies, some subjects benefit from an even more focused approach – a technique that I’ll call “road mapping.” A road map takes the material related to a legal issue from your outline and turns it into an action plan for how you will analyze that issue on an exam. If you take this approach, each legal issue should have its own road map. When you identify that legal issue in a fact pattern on the exam, you will know exactly how to tackle that issue.

So how do you create a road map?

  • First, start with identifying the issue. The issue is the starting point on your road map. You may want to think about what types of facts may signal that this issue is “in play” in the question. For example, if you are taking a Torts exam, and the defendant is identified as an employee, you may ask yourself: “Could there be a vicarious liability issue here?” Usually, you’ve identified all possible issues for a subject in that subject’s outline, so this step is usually easy.
  • Second, ask yourself: “What should I do first?” Generally, the first thing that you want to do is identify the appropriate rule for the issue. Does this issue have two or more possible rules? In many subjects, there may both majority rules and minority rules. Some professors may assign jurisdiction-specific reading based on the state your law school is in. And in Contracts, for example, you must determine if you should apply the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) or the common law. As soon as you realize that there is more than one possible rule, you know you must answer a preliminary question. For example: “What jurisdiction are we in?” or “Is this a contract for the sale of goods?” Identify what the steps are for determining the applicable rule. Then based on which rule is chosen, determine what the actual rule statement should be.
  • Third, ask yourself: “What should I do next?” Answering this question requires you to think about how the rule should be explained or defined further. Does the rule include a series of elements that must be met? If so, how would you work through those elements in an essay exam? Keep repeating this process until you reach the end of your rule analysis portion of your road map.
  • Fourth, ask yourself: “Are there exceptions to the rule that I’ve identified and explained?” Those exceptions should be included in the process as well – after determining if the rule would otherwise be met, you will want to work through the possible exceptions.
  • Fifth, ask yourself: “Have courts applied public policy to their analysis of this issue?” If so, you will want to identify and explain what public policies may be applied to the issue, and determine when you would want to go into that policy discussion.
  • Sixth, having gone through this process, identify at which points you would want to include facts from the exam hypothetical in the analysis. Note in your road map the places where you would apply the legal rule to the hypothetical facts.
  • Finally, note how you would approach the conclusion to any analysis of this issue.

As you can see from the steps above, the key to a good road map is being intentional. Don’t just memorize rules – think about how you would apply those rules to a new set of facts. Your road map should be an action plan for how you would tackle each issue on the exam.

The last month before finals is the perfect time to create road maps. Much of your outlining should be completed by this stage, and you should be focused on reviewing material and taking practice exams as finals approach. An additional benefit to road mapping: you will identify aspects of  legal issues that you don’t yet understand, and you have the time at this point to work through those legal issues and go to your professors’ office hours to refine your understanding of the material.

(Want more information about how to effectively outline for law school exams? I’ve previously explored this topic here, here, here, and here.)

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5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) during Law School Final Exams

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

As law students head into final exams, here are 5 tips for surviving (and thriving) during the final exam period:

(1) Take care of yourself. Law school exams are not a sprint but a marathon. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep each night – if you stay up late (or all night) trying to get ahead on your studies, your brain will not function as well afterwards. The next day, it will take you longer to accomplish tasks that would normally be easy, and lack of sleep also has a negative effect on memory. A tired brain does not contribute to academic success in law school. It’s also important to not skip meals – brains need food too! And make sure that you take regular breaks from your studies. Take a walk, or do something else that gets you up out of your chair. After each break, you will go back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your outlines!

(2) Create a study plan. Students commonly spend most of their study time on the first exam or two, and then they run out of steam before the end of the exam period. Print out a blank calendar, and divide up your days so that each class gets a reasonable portion of the remaining study time. You will realize that you need to rotate your schedule to give each class its due. For some students, maybe assigning one subject per day makes most sense; for other students, studying two subjects a day may work better. The important thing is to be intentional – if you have a study plan, you know exactly what you should be doing each day to stay on track and maximize your studying.

(3) Identify your priorities. Students often study for exams by going through their outlines over and over again, from cover to cover. Although that approach may work for reviewing course material throughout the semester, it is usually not the most efficient way to study in the days leading up to your final exams. Instead, create a checklist of issues for each subject (instructions for creating a checklist can be found here). Once you’ve created your checklists, start each day by printing out the checklist(s) for that day’s study subject(s). Go through the checklist, evaluating if you can comfortably discuss the law for each issue.

(4) Develop road maps. After you’ve created your outline, think about how you would actually use the information on an exam. If you identify a particular legal issue in an essay exam question, what would you do first? What would you do next? Some students create a flow chart that shows the analytical process they would use in their essays, while other students list a series of steps (kind of like following a recipe). The form is up to you, but try to do much of the thinking about how you would organize your analysis for each legal issue before you get into the exam. If you do, you will spend more time writing during the exam, and less time thinking. And your essays are likely to be more focused and better organized. The process of developing a road map also helps you to identify topics that may need more review.

(5) Take practice exams. Sometimes your professors have released old exams or practice questions. If they have, there’s an opportunity to better understand what your professors are looking for in the exam answers. One way to use a practice exam is to simulate the actual exam experience. Find a quiet, distraction-free place to take the practice exam. Time yourself, so that you write for the amount of time that the professor would allow for that question during an actual exam. If the exam is closed book, don’t look at your notes. Taking an exam, even if you only do one essay, can be a great way of assessing how prepared you are for the exam. You can then spend more time reviewing the areas of the law that seemed too vague or fuzzy. If you feel that you don’t have enough time to write out complete essays, you can still use a professor’s old exams to test your ability to spot legal issues and make sure that you know the law for those issues.

Following these tips can help you make the best use of limited time in the days leading up to final exams. Good luck on your exams!

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Last Minute Bar Prep: Using Checklists

Image courtesy of lordjiew at freedigitalphotos.net.

Image courtesy of lordjiew at freedigitalphotos.net.

In a previous post I talked about how to create checklists to study for final exams in law school. Many of the techniques that work in law school are also helpful on the bar exam. In the final days before the bar exam, you are most likely reviewing your commercial outlines and taking practice exams. Maybe you have created some flow charts or flashcards to help you learn the material better. A checklist is a simple, quick way to focus your studies even more.

So how should you create bar prep checklists? You will create one checklist for each subject. Go through the outline, creating a quick list of all topics and subtopics—if the outline has a table of contents, this process can be even quicker. Don’t include any details–your checklist should be made up of key words and phrases, not tests, definitions, or other detailed information. Try to fit your outline on one or two pages. (You can create columns if necessary.) It shouldn’t take very long to create the checklist for each subject.

Now, what can you do with this checklist? Here are three good ideas for how to use checklists as you study and take the bar exam:

(1) Use your checklists to evaluate what issues you need to focus on during your final days of bar prep. For each item on the list, ask yourself: Do I know the law related to this issue? If I see this issue on the exam, am I prepared to analyze it? If yes, cross it off the list. Bar studiers often study by reading through the entire outline over and over again, but this is an inefficient way to study. You want to focus your attention on the issues that you aren’t as comfortable with, and the checklist helps you to do that. The next day, print out a new copy of the checklist and go through this process again. You should be able to focus your attention on fewer issues each day.

(2) Use your checklist to think about the relationship between legal issues. Sometimes when you are studying from an outline, it is difficult to see how issues relate to each other. But one of the keys to spotting issues in an essay question is understanding those relationships. Because a checklist strips everything away except for the key issues and sub-issues, it is easier to identify those relationships.

(3) If you commit the checklist to memory, you can use it on the exam to spot issues. It may not be possible to memorize every checklist, but usually bar studiers have trouble identifying issues for some subjects more than others. For those more difficult subjects, a memorized checklist can help you stay focused if you get an essay question on that subject during the bar exam.

Checklists are a quick and easy tool for focusing your studies in the final days before the bar exam. I wish you the best as you study for the bar!

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The Value of Practice Exams in Law School

The fall semester is flying by at a rapid pace, and final exams are quickly approaching. Whether this is your first set of exams or you are an upper-level student with experience taking law school exams, practice exams can be a valuable study tool. Here are some ways that you can use practice exams to improve your preparation for exams:

(1) Practice exams can provide insight into your professor’s expectations. Many professors release at least some of their past exams. Those past exams may be handed out in class, posted to the course website, or put on reserve at the law school library. You miss an important opportunity to understand your professor’s approach to exams if you do not review available past exams. As you look at the exams, ask yourself: Are the essay questions constructed in a way that gives you plenty of time to analyze all legal issues, or are there more legal issues than it is possible to cover in the allotted time? Do multiple choice questions resemble the types of questions that are on the bar exam, and you have to apply the law to hypothetical fact patterns? Or do the multiple choice questions just test your basic understanding of the black letter law? Do they ask for the best answer, or just the correct answer?

(2) Practice exams can help you gauge the effectiveness of your outlining and study strategies. Taking practice exams can help you determine whether your outline includes the information that you need for ultimate success in your final exams. After you take a practice exam, you should note the areas in the practice essays where you either missed legal issues or didn’t fully develop them, and you should also make note of legal issues that were tested in the multiple choice questions you missed. Go back and reevaluate your outline at that point, making sure that you have included everything you needed to answer those types of questions. You may need to add additional detail to your outline, or maybe you discover that reorganizing it will be more helpful. Use the practice exam as a ruler to measure your pre-exam preparations.

When you evaluate your outlines, you may discover that everything that you needed is actually in your outline, but you just don’t know that information well enough to use it on an exam. If that’s the case, set aside more time to review your outlines on a regular basis, and consider whether it would be helpful to create flashcards to help you memorize important legal tests and definitions.

(3) Practice exams can reduce anxiety about testing. Another way practice exams can be helpful is by making you feel more comfortable with the testing process. Many students struggle with anxiety on exam days, and that anxiety can interfere with their ability to be successful in their exams. The more practice exams you take, the more prepared you will feel for that experience. Your brain will be used to thinking about the material in the way that it will be tested, and it should help to reduce your stress. You can come up with strategies for how you will approach different types of questions in advance—there should be no real surprises on exam day.

(4) Practice exams can provide focus for study group meetings. Members of your study group can take practice exams prior to meeting, and then use the meeting to go over those exams. Or your group may take either essay questions or multiple choice questions and answer them together during your meeting. Sometimes talking through practice exams with someone else, who may have a different perspective and identify different legal issues than you have, can be helpful.

Everyone’s heard that slogan, “Practice makes perfect.” Although practice does not guarantee perfect scores on your law school exams, it can help you hone your study strategies, focus your attention on what your professor expects you to know, and reduce test-taking anxiety. Practice exams can help put you on the path to academic success in law school.

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Playing Catch-Up When You’ve Fallen Behind

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By this point in the semester, most law students are in the final stretch of what seems like a very long race. Final exams loom ever closer on the horizon, and you’ve probably realized that you have a lot to get done in the next several weeks. Law school can feel stressful enough under normal circumstances, as writing assignments are coming due and professors are trying to cover the course materials prior to finals. But if you’ve fallen behind in your studies, you most likely are feeling even more pressure.

Law students fall behind for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve been sick and missed several classes, and, because you were feeling so poorly, you didn’t keep up with the reading. Maybe you’ve participated in the on-campus interviewing process and have spent more time working on job applications than you’ve spent studying lately. Maybe you’ve been overcommitted to extracurricular activities or focused on other priorities and haven’t had enough time for your studies. Or maybe you just weren’t taking law school as seriously as you needed to, and you now realize that you’ve got a lot to do to earn the grades that will let you achieve your long-term goals. Whatever the cause, you’re realizing that you have to do something now to catch up.

If you’re one of the students that have fallen behind, don’t just give up. If you get started now, you can get your studies back on track before final exams begin. Here are four tips to get you caught up when you’ve fallen behind:

Don’t delay: The longer you wait to attempt to catch up, the harder it will be. Make a commitment to a plan now so that you have the time to do what you need to get done to be successful in your classes.

Don’t give up: Students who fall behind often decide that it is easier to quit trying to catch up than do the hard work necessary to get back on track. They may decide to rely on commercial outlines rather than creating their own outlines or utilize commercially prepared case briefs rather than reading the cases themselves. While this strategy may seem like it gets you caught up much quicker, you will not know the material as well. When you go to apply the law to new hypothetical examples in the final exam, you may not understand the law well enough to be successful in your efforts. It is also important to remember that many of these courses are going to be on the bar exam. You need to study effectively now, so that you have better long-term recall of legal concepts.

Don’t neglect new assignments: Don’t allow current assignments to suffer because you are trying to complete past reading. Sometimes students think they must go back to the place where they got off track in order to get caught up, and they neglect current assignments in the process. Make sure that you first schedule current assignments before adding in the time you need to get caught up. You will get more out of each class if you have done the reading for that class in advance.

Make a plan: Most importantly, you need to make a plan. Getting caught up will take deliberate effort; it will not happen on its own. You need to make a schedule and stick to it. Revisit the study schedule strategies that you had at the beginning of the semester. Map out the remaining reading and writing assignments for the semester, making sure that you’ve scheduled enough time to complete each of those assignments. This schedule should cover the remainder of the semester.

Once you’ve scheduled all forthcoming assignments into your study schedule, you should then create a list of your backlogged tasks. On that list, estimate how long you think it will take you to complete each task. Go through the list and decide which tasks are the highest priority, then the second highest, third highest, etc. You will realize that some tasks are more immediate in terms of importance because you cannot complete your outline until those tasks are done, or because a current topic in a class builds upon the law covered in the backlogged reading. Once you have prioritized your list of backlogged tasks, begin inserting them into the remaining time in your study schedule. Don’t forget to allow time for outlining these assignments as well.

You won’t necessarily be caught back up by the end of the week (unless you were only behind a class or two), but, if you stick to your new study schedule, you will be in a much better position by the time you enter the final exam period. A good study plan can not only keep you on track on a daily basis but also help you to catch back up if you’ve fallen behind.

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Study Tips

What is a Law School Outline?

One of the most important tools for studying for exams in law school is the outline. Because of the importance of outlining, this week my blog posts will focus specifically on that topic.

What is an outline? An outline is an attempt to reduce all the materials from a course (syllabus, class notes, case briefs, notes from outside reading, statutes, hypotheticals, and other problems) into an organized study aid. In other words, it is a synthesis of your law school course materials. Outlining is the bridge between your daily preparation for class and your exams. If you do it properly, your outline will be your primary—possibly even your only—study aid for exams.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about outlining:

Why should I outline?

The answer to this question is really important. Outlining is synthesis—this is the point in the course when you start putting together the pieces of the puzzle. As you create the outline, you learn the material in the process. There is no shortcut for this learning process. If you rely on a commercial outline or one created by another student, you will lack the level of understanding required for success on your law school exams. By synthesizing various course materials, you gain a deeper understanding of legal issues and discover important connections between legal concepts. You will also identify legal issues that you don’t entirely understand—topics that you need to spend more time on, go back and read about again, or set up an appointment to meet with your professor to go over.

When should I outline?

Students also ask when they should start outlining. The answer: it depends on the class. You really can’t start outlining material until you have completed a topic. Look for those times when you have completed one entire topic in class and the professor has moved on to a new topic. Your syllabus or the casebook table of contents can help you to identify when one topic is ending and another beginning, so you can know when to start outlining.

Although you generally don’t want to start outlining a topic until you have finished learning about it in class, it is important not to wait too long to start outlining. Sometimes students will wait to begin their outlines until just a few weeks until the end of the semester. Waiting to outline until the end of the semester not only makes your studies more stressful, but you won’t be able to maximize the value of an outline. There is just not enough time at that point to develop the kind of outlines that allow you to fully understand the material.

How much time should I spend outlining?

If you outline topics as you finish them in class, you should be able to set aside an hour or two each week for each of your classes for outlining. At first, it may seem difficult to add additional time into your schedule, as you already are spending a lot of time reading and case briefing each week. However, as you establish a study routine that includes outlining, you will notice that outlining helps you to review course material and may actually help make the rest of your study time more efficient.

How long should my outline be?

The first draft of each outline is usually the longest, as it incorporates all of the course materials. However, outlines are a work in progress—you will continue to add to it and edit it over the course of the semester, and in the process you will condense it as well.

Although your early drafts may be fairly lengthy, an outline that is too long may signal that you are focusing too much on the details of the cases that you have read, rather than on the legal issues raised in those cases. As you review your draft outlines, you should continue to edit and reduce each outline to its essential components.

What should I do with this outline?

The outline is not an end product—it is about the journey, not the destination. Make your outline a living document. Revisit it regularly and fine-tune it to reflect your growing understanding of the legal issues you are studying and their relationship to each other. As you go through this process, you will gain even more understanding of the law, and you will increase your ability to recall information on the exam.

Check back tomorrow as I explain the steps for creating a strong law school outline.

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Taking Charge of Your Own Learning in Law School

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most empowering aspects of law school—as well as one of the scariest—is that you are in control of your own learning. So what does that mean? What can you do to take charge of your own learning in law school?

Law school puts you in the driver’s seat.

For example, you will have reading assignments for each class meeting—often those assignments take several hours to complete. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. You make the choice—you stay on top of your assignments each and every day, or you don’t do the reading and do something else instead, such as go to the movies or watch that TV show that you love. Doing the reading is the first step on the path to understanding the law. In contrast, skipping even one day’s reading makes it even harder to understand what is going on in class, and getting multiple days behind decreases your ability to be successful on later assignments and exams. You often won’t feel the consequences of your decisions immediately, but your choices will affect your long-term chances of academic success.

As the semester goes on, you will have additional choices to make about your studies. Will you devote the time to synthesizing course materials to further develop your understanding of the law and its applications, creating outlines, mind maps, flow charts, and flashcards? Or will you attempt to take a shortcut through that process, relying on a past student’s outline or a commercial outlines instead of creating your own study aids? Once again, your choices will have long-term consequences for your understanding of the law you are studying, your grades, and your ability to recall what you have learned after the course has ended (an important consideration, since many of the subjects you will study will reappear on the bar exam in a few years!).

Successful students make conscious, positive choices about their own learning.

Understanding that their choices affect their academic success and long-term goals of being an attorney, successive students are not passive in their approach to legal education. Instead, successful students take positive actions to improve their educational opportunities—establishing regular study schedules, avoiding procrastination, taking advantage of opportunities to improve their academic and legal skills, and keeping their academic, professional, and personal priorities in focus. They avoid taking shortcuts that make things easy in the short term but don’t improve their understanding of the law. They develop their own methods of holding themselves accountable for what they learn. Successful students aren’t perfect, but they learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them. In short, successful students don’t just focus on learning the law—through their efforts they learn to be better learners as well. These traits help them to become better students . . . and also better future attorneys.

Stay tuned for related posts about how successful law students approach these topics—I will be blogging more about things that you can do to take control over your learning in law school over the next few months.

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Using Bar Exam Subject Outlines to Evaluate Study Priorities

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the date for the July bar exam approaches, prioritization becomes more and more important. It can be hard to decide what subject areas to focus on when there are so many to study and so little time. Most bar prep programs have completed their presentations of bar topics at this point, and the main focus is on reviewing your bar prep materials and taking practice exams. For many bar takers, it may be time to evaluate your study priorities. Here is one way that you can evaluate your current study status and prioritize your studies over the coming days:

Each year, the National Conference of Bar Examiners publishes an MBE (Multistate Bar Examination) Information Booklet, which can be accessed here. What many bar takers do not realize is that this booklet contains a subject matter outline for each MBE subject. These subject matter outlines make great evaluation tools. For example, one way to use the outlines is to go through each outline, assigning a rating between 1 and 5 based on your level of confidence in your knowledge of each subtopic (with 1 being the least confident and 5 being the most confident). Based upon that rating, you can then spend more time reviewing topics that you rated lower, rather than expending the same amount of time on all topics.

Another way to use one of these subject matter outlines to evaluate your study priorities starts with completing a series of practice MBE questions on a subject. For example, let’s say you take a 50-question set of practice MBE questions on Torts. You can then pull out the Torts subject matter outline from the MBE Information Booklet, and mark next to each topic every time you miss a question on that topic. Based on which topics end up with the most marks, you will then know how to prioritize your Tort studies.

There is also another way that the MBE Information Booklet can help you prioritize your studies. The Booklet provides additional insight into the emphasis that certain topics receive in the MBE. For example, at the beginning of the Constitutional Law outline, the Booklet states that approximately half of the Constitutional Law MBE questions will come from section IV of the outline, while the remaining half of the questions will come from the other three sections. This information may also be helpful as you decide to prioritize your study time during the last days leading up to the bar exam.

You can take a similar approach to prioritizing your studies by utilizing the basic subject matter outlines provided with most commercial bar prep programs. By taking an active approach to prioritizing your bar exam studies, you can make conscious choices about how to best utilize your remaining time before the bar.

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Getting Past Panic in Law School Exams

We’ve all had that feeling—that moment when you are sitting in the classroom, your professor hands out the exam, and every rational thought flees your brain. You are paralyzed. Sweat begins to bead your forehead. And then the voice in your head screams out: “I can’t remember anything I studied! I’m about to fail my exam!” The challenge is how to move past that feeling of panic and successfully complete the exam.

While you can’t vanquish those feelings of panic with a magic wand, there are things that you can do to conquer panic during exams. As with so much else in law school, one of the most important keys is what you’ve done prior to the exam—your preparation. We’ve talked before about how taking the right approach to outlining can help you to predict what may be tested on the exam. One of the reasons why law students panic at the beginning of an exam is because they are afraid of the unknown. Law students view exam creation as a mysterious and unpredictable process. In reality, as I’ve explained before, professors tend to test the nuances in the law—areas where there are competing approaches, shifting outcomes based upon facts or policy approaches, and fact patterns that require students to recognize how a series of legal issues relate to each other. Identifying those nuances in advance through outlining will make the exam more predictable and reduce your feelings of anxiety.

I have also explained previously about how to create a one-page checklist of legal issues that may be tested on an exam. This checklist is a very specific way of connecting your preparation prior to the exam to what is going on during the exam. If you create a checklist of potential legal issues, you have a mental prompt you can rely upon when that feeling of panic rears its head at the beginning of the exam. How can you do this? If you immediately panic when you look at the exam questions, try this technique: Put your exam aside for a minute and take out your scrap paper. Quickly replicate a shorthand version of your checklist on the scrap paper. Once you have put that checklist on paper, you have a tool that you can use to answer the exam questions. You can literally take each issue on the checklist and evaluate whether that issue is raised by the fact pattern in the essay question. If it is, you can jot down quick notes about what facts you wish to talk about with respect to that issue. By the time that you get through the checklist, you have created a quick outline, chart, or list about how you will tackle the essay question, and the writing should go smoothly and quickly. The feeling of panic will go away as your preparation kicks in!

 

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Essay Exams Are About the Journey, Not Just the Destination (Part 2): Don’t Forget Counterarguments!

In my last post, I introduced the idea that essay exams are about the journey, not just the destination. In doing so, I explained that most of the points in an essay exam are earned by explaining how you got to the answer, not by giving the answer itself—in other words, by “showing your work.” Today, I want to continue that theme by talking about counterarguments.

One of the key ways to maximize the number of points you earn for discussion of a complex legal issue is by exploring counterarguments. A counterargument is simply an alternative argument that you have chosen not to make because you have concluded that your path to your answer is the correct one. In practice, a lawyer deals with counterarguments on a regular basis. He or she must anticipate the opposing party’s possible arguments and address in his or her own pleadings and briefs why those arguments are invalid. By exploring counterarguments in your essay, you demonstrate to your professor that you understand the complexity of the legal issues and are thinking like a lawyer.

Not every issue requires a counterargument. Sometimes the analysis is pretty cut-and-dried, the answer predictable. But more often than not, your professor has chosen to set up legal issues with enough complexity that a counterargument is warranted. Look for legal issues in which multiple public policies are at work—those public policies may create different paths for your analysis. Sometimes there may be competing approaches to a legal issue, such as majority vs. minority approaches, or common law vs. statutory approaches. Or maybe courts apply a balancing test to resolve this legal issue, and you need to compare the essay fact pattern to the facts in a range of cases you read for the course. If you’ve done a good job of outlining course materials, as I talked about here and here, you can predict exactly when a counterargument may be warranted.

Finally, once you’ve analyzed the counterargument, make sure you don’t forget to explain to the reader why your approach is superior to the counterargument—this is the final step to setting up your conclusion of that issue.

Counterarguments are a great way to maximize your success in an essay exam—take time to explore them and don’t just rush to your destination!

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