Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #82011 – What an “issue” is.

Let’s take a look at what an “issue” is, within the context of answering law school essay exams. An issue is usually a question the court will be called upon to answer. Sometimes “major” issues, like whether a defendant is liable for negligence, are referred to as “ultimate questions” in the case – whereas the elemental questions are the determinative issues … the questions which, when answered, will determine the answer to the ultimate question.

For example, a major issue, or ultimate question in a Torts exam may be whether the defendant’s actions or omissions constitute the tort of negligence. The elemental issues which the trier of fact will be called upon to determine include whether the plaintiff can prove each of the elements of negligence: duty owed to the plaintiff, breach of that duty, causation, and damage. 

Many issues include sub-issues.  For example, when one finds a negligence issue, often it will require a thorough analysis of breach of duty, including a discussion based on the balancing of the gravity of harm against the burden on the defendant to have acted differently, and also including attention to the utility of the defendant’s allegedly negligent conduct.

To help identify issues and sub-issues, carefully read the facts to determine which elements of each rule ought to be discussed. As to issues, remember that it’s important to not only name them, but to explain how they arise in the circumstances set forth in the essay question.

After each issue is named, state the applicable rule that will be used to resolve the issue; then engage in discussion and analysis to reach a conclusion before moving to the next issue or sub-issue.

{Where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

August 20, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting Ideas on Class Attendance Policies at Freakanomics

There is a very interesting discussion at the Freakonomics blog (same authors as the book) about how to incentivize class attendance. I think this dovetails nicely with a question posted yesterday on the ASP listserv about laptops in class. Both attendance policies and laptops bans get at the same fundamental issue: how do professors keep students in class and engaged? I don't think there is one answer to this question, but a theme seems to run through both issues. The theme is lecture-only or lecture-from-the-book courses bore students, encourage students to miss class, and increase the use of distractions in class. I have heard over and over from doctrinal professors that the Socratic Method is not lecture-only, but as the Socratic Method is employed in many classes, students can't see the difference. This is especially true when the Socratic Method is used to question only a tiny number of students in a large class; I have heard students complain they would rather lecture-only, because questioning only a few students, who may or may not have done the reading, just increases confusion.

The comments below the post in Freaknomics make sense and pose the same questions law schools are struggling to answer.


August 20, 2011 in Current Affairs, Miscellany, News, Reading, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Giving 3L's a time line

On the heels of my last post, I realized that a time line is appropriate for 3L's planning on taking the bar exam next July. This is especially important if your school does not offer bar prep; every year I hear about students who miss the deadlines for bar exam paperwork because they didn't know when they were due. The best resource when creating a 3L time line is Denise Riebe and Michael Hunter Schwartz's Pass the Bar!; I would strongly recommend it to all 3L's.

A few pointers for 3L's and the ASPer's who work with them:

1) Know the state where you plan to sit for the bar and and the paperwork deadlines.

2) Know what paperwork is required for character and fitness and how long it will take to get the required documents. If students need to request their driving records from a state DMV or work summary from Social Security, they need to know how long this will take.

3) If a student is moving before the bar exam, they need to know when graduation is scheduled and when the commercial bar prep course starts. If graduation is on a Sunday and bar prep starts on Monday, it is good to be packed and ready to go before Sunday night.

4) Know the deadlines for signing up for commercial bar prep courses, and decide if they will need additional loans in order to pay for a course.

5) Ask recommenders how much time they will need to submit a reference.

There are many other pointers for 3L's that are state-specific. These are just a sampling of the things that trip up students and add stress to the 3L year.


August 18, 2011 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Giving 1L's a time line

As many ASPer's start orientation this week, I wanted to remind everyone that 1L's want (and need) a time line. I won't suggest a time line, because I think they are different depending on your school. Without a solid plan for their first semester, 1L's are left to rely on advice from the web and word-of-mouth regarding the proper time to start outlines, studying for exams, and working on practice essays. Here is a short list of things you might want on a time line for your incoming students:

1) Legal Writing Assignments: 1L's are always shocked at the amount of time they must devote to their first legal writing assignment. It's a good idea to give 1L's a rough idea of how many hours go into their first memo or brief. Encourage students to calendar the due dates and plan ahead. Students should understand that most professors do not want to see a "draft" 24-48 hours before the completed assignment is due, especially if they have been given weeks to complete the memo or brief. A time line should result in better assignments, and doctrinal teachers will thank you when they see fewer sleepy students the day after the assignment is due.

2) Outlining: I used to believe that there was a set time all students should start outlining. As I have gained experience, I realize this is something that is best decided school-by-school. Some professors finish a definable, set amount of material that allows ASPer's to tell students to start as soon as that topic is finished. Other professors start with an overview of the entire class, and then delve into topics in depth. When to start outlining depends on how your faculty teaches their courses and whether your school gives midterms. The only absolute advice applicable to all students is the need to start outlining before reading week.

3) Practice exams: Again, this is something that is best decided school-by-school. Some schools have midterms in each course, some have midterms in only one course, some schools still don't offer midterms.  Students should take a practice essay or exam before a midterm, especially if it is a graded midterm. Another variable is the amount and availability of prior exams students can use as practice. If your school offers only a few exams to students to use as practice, students should start later in the semester. Practice exams are crucial to success.

4) Take-home assignments (if applicable): If professors offer take-home assignments, students should have a rough sense of what it takes to complete the assignment. Like legal writing assignments, without a time line, students will either over-or-under prepare the assignment. This is not a result of student laziness (most of the time) but 1L's misunderstanding about the difference between undergrad and law school assignments.

I am sure there are many other things that can go on a timeline to distribute to 1L's; this is just a short list of things that baffle 1L's.


August 16, 2011 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Director of Bar Passage and Academic Support Opening at OSU

           The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law invites applications for its Director of Bar Passage and Academic Support program.  The position includes appointment as a clinical faculty member and would also include teaching in the Legal Writing and Analysis curriculum. 

           We will consider all applicants; however, we prefer candidates with experience in providing academic support services and/or in teaching legal writing and analysis.  Candidates should have a strong academic record that demonstrates potential for leading such a program and for such clinical instruction.   The starting salary range will be in the $78,000 - $83,000 range for a 12-month appointment with a renewable contract; full University fringe benefits are provided as well. The ideal starting date will be early November 2011 or as soon thereafter as possible. 

            A resume, references, and cover letter should be submitted to Associate Dean Kathy Northern, Chair,  Director of Bar Passage and Academic Support Program Search Committee, The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, 55 West 12th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210.   Send e-mail applications to .  Applications will be reviewed immediately and will be accepted until the position is filled.

             The Ohio State University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.  To build a diverse workforce, Ohio State encourages applications from individuals with disabilities, minorities, veterans, and women.


August 16, 2011 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #81411 - What professors look for when they grade essay exam answers.

In order to hit the target, you must have a clear view of the bulls-eye.  When you’re writing a law school essay-exam answer, you need to know exactly what your professor is hoping to find when he or she reads that answer.  It's true that some professors are looking for items, information, or methods of analysis that other professors don’t give a hoot about – there are differences in grading.  You ought to be able to pick up on these differences during class, during conferences with your professors, and by reviewing prior exam questions and (perhaps) prior graded answers.

Writing law school exam answers is different than almost any other writing you’ve done.  One of the most important differences is that – due in part to time constraints – you ought to focus on limiting each essay to point-scoring text. While wit, historical perspective, moral theorizing, and other aspects of what we consider to be “good writing” are definitely important to include in many genres – often even in legal writing – these generally lie somewhere between unimportant and deleterious when considering how to score the most points in essay exam answers.

Even though professors have their own preferences, when grading exams nearly all law professors award points for these characteristics:

  • Lawyerly skill in extricating the salient facts from inert, non-determinative facts presented in the narrative.
  • Capability to identify and specify the legal issues these key facts raise.
  • Ability to recall and accurately set out the applicable law or principle which leads to the resolution of the conflict.
  • Logical, organized interweaving of the facts with the elements of the law in a compelling analytical presentation.
  • Recognition of the driving policies and purposes of the law in question, and the ability to express how these policies and purposes support the resolution proposed by the answer. (Often you will find that there’s not much need for policy discussion.)
  • Proficiency in clear, concise, organized legal writing.

These criteria coincide with the several points stressed by Professor John Delaney, in his classic How to do Your Best on Law School Exams, and they continue to be the most important targets for high-scoring exam answers. 

{Where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

August 14, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Essay Exam-Answering Tips

Amy Jarmon recently asked me if I would consider adding some posts on a continuing (irregular) basis pointing out “…not only on patterns of error that students have in exam writing, but also on tips how to correct those errors.  A lot of students read the blog,” Amy continued, “and could benefit from postings that focused each time on one type of error and practical tips for correcting that specific error.  It would also help those of us who look at practice questions or review exams with students as a good refresher.  It is easy for us to ‘get stale’ in our discussions.” 

Amy is right about getting stale.  When we use our same notes semester after semester for our “How to Write a High-Scoring Essay Exam Answer” presentations, then answer the same student questions week after week in the office about “What’s the professor looking for in my answer?” or “Should I use IRAC?” … we get stale. 

Because my work these days is principally devoted to commenting on essay exam answers, I tend to avoid that problem (that’s right – I don’t avoid it – I only “tend” to).  Almost every day, I grade and comment on several essay exam answers online for Concord Law School.  Although the same problems pop up very often, each exam answer is different.  So I wind up writing quite a bit of fresh commentary. 

Exam tips must be in context to have meaning.  So here’s how I’ll approach this task.  I’ve just added a “context schemata” to a page on my blog … and each time I add a tip to the Law School Academic Support Blog I will assign it a number (based on the date) which will make it easy to locate in the schemata.  As Amy Jarmon put it, “It would be helpful to our student readers (as well as to our ASP readers) to have tip entries that address specific problems and the ability to see them within the greater context.  Those who become readers part way through the series would be better served by the continuity provided.  In addition, students with differing learning styles would benefit from the two-layer approach.”  Right!

Soon I will add the first “tip” to this blog, and we’ll see how it goes.  If/when you have suggestions for exam-answering problem areas you think ought to be addressed, send them along to me and I’ll do my best to respond!  (djt)

August 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)