Friday, March 29, 2013
This time of year--post spring break, pre-reading week--students start asking for help. Specifically, they start asking for help regarding issues that came up on fall exams. One of the more common issues I encounter with students is misuse of IRAC. For students who like formulas, templates, and structure, IRAC seems ideal. They can plug in a formula--Issue, Rule, Application/Analysis, and Conclusion--and a good answer should pop right out of their computer. Inevitably, these students are disappointed with their grades, and angry that the formula doesn't work the way they expect it to work. These students are conceptualizing IRAC the wrong way--IRAC is a flexible tool, not a mechanical formula. Like a tool, you can use it to help your construction of a strong answer. The effort must come from the writer (the student) because the tool cannot produce anything on its own, even if the tool is given all the right materials.
For law students who like structure, this advice can feel like another kick in the teeth. Do not expect a student to respond with admiration and gratitude after you tell them IRAC cannot be used mechanically. Students who received mediocre grades in the fall already feel like they have been fooled; no one gives them "the answer" and now you are telling them there is no formula to get to "the answer." It is the opposite of everything they have learned up to this point in their life. To the frustrated student, you are another person playing games, hiding the ball, and failing to tell them what they need to know to succeed.
After moving past the frustration and anxiety, let the student know it is your job to show they how to use the tool. IRAC represents the essential pieces of a strong exam answer. But the essential pieces do not necessarily get used in that order; sometimes the pieces are repeated, as in IRAraraAC, or RIAraC. Use the tool in the manner recommended by your instructor; if they want you to start with the rule, and then explain how it's applicable, you need to do that. Professors who say they "hate" IRAC or "don't care" about IRAC really want IRAC; they don't want it used mechanically. Professors want students to be responsive to the question that is asked; it's difficult and sometimes impossible to be responsive when using a formula. (RCF)