Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #101111 - Refer to Facts; Don't Repeat Them

It is important to avoid repeating and summarizing the facts presented in the question. Some students begin their answers with a summary of the facts.  Others quote, paraphrase, or summarize a segment of the facts as they begin their treatment of an issue.

In every law exam question, the professor wrote the facts and does not relish the idea of reading them again. What he or she wants to read is the student’s analysis of how those facts interplay with the legal requirements to achieve a resolution of the problem.

Another reason to avoid repeating the facts is more utilitarian: the fewer key strokes you use to write facts, the more time you will have to analyze. That’s where the points are: analysis!

That’s the exam tip set out as a “don’t” (that is, what not to do). Now let’s look at the other side of the coin—what frame of mind to adopt (a “do” instead of a “don’t) to help you avoid this exam-answering pitfall. When answering these essay questions, think of your audience (reader) as, let’s say, an informed attorney or a colleague (law student) who is quite familiar with the nature and purpose of law in general; who has read the fact pattern; and who has a passing familiarity with the area of law you’re addressing, but needs to be reminded of the precise rules of law. Then proceed as if you are explaining the situation to that person.

This will help you “refer” to the facts. If you were explaining a situation to a colleague who is already familiar with the facts, and you were addressing the issue of apprehension of imminent harm (an assault issue), you could start by writing:

“A week after Dina, age 16, stopped taking her medication, she approached a neighbor, Paul, as he walked along the sidewalk fronting Mary's home. When she has a face to face with Paul, Dina, without provocation, gestured threateningly and screamed, ‘I  know you're out to get me and I'm going to get you first,’ and then strode away.” – and then continue with your analysis.  (58 words)

Or, you could simply refer to Dina’s statement, because your colleague who already knows the facts.  That might read like this:

“Dina's statement should not have led to a reasonable apprehension of imminent harm. Although her approach, threats, and screams could have created apprehension in Paul, nevertheless her threatening statement was in the future tense, ‘I'm going to ….' Therefore, there is no reasonable apprehension of imminent harm.”  (47 words)

The second example is much more concise, and takes care of the entire issue. This is a good example of referring to facts rather than repeating them.

So, in short order, here’s the rule to follow when answering essay exams: refer to facts as they come up during your analysis and discussion; don’t repeat or summarize them.

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

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