Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Some Thoughts for Students Who Are Conclusory on Exams

Students who are conclusory and do not give the complete analysis for their answers (do not "show their work") may do so for several reasons:

1)      They tend to write to the professor and tell themselves that they do not have to mention something “because the professor knows that.”  Changing their audience to a non-law person (grandmother, little sister, uncle) may help them give the analysis step by step because the new audience would not understand the conclusion without extra connecting of the dots.

2)      They tend to have the entire explanation in their heads but never get it onto paper.  They can ask themselves “why?” after every sentence.  If the sentence does not already state the “because” explanation, they need to continue writing to explain fully what they are thinking.

3)      They tend to dismiss arguments in their heads rather than discussing the arguments on paper.  For example: The plaintiff may be able to argue that the defendant should have posted a warning or put up a fence to keep children out of the railroad yard and prevent injuries.  The student rebuts the arguments in her head by saying “the children are too young to pay attention to warnings or will climb the fence” and leaves the arguments out.  The student instead needs to put that analysis on paper even if it then gets rebutted by the other party. 

4)      Conclusory writers are often global-intuitive processers.  They focus on the big picture and inter-relationships of concepts rather than organized analysis and detail. 

a.       They need to study for depth of understanding and not just breadth or general understanding.  (They sometimes think they know a subject until they get into the exam.)

b.      They need to learn rules precisely so they do not miss the full analysis needed for each element/factor.  (Paraphrasing the rules can lead them to inadequate analysis.)

c.       They need to spend 1/3 of their time on an exam question in reading, analyzing, and organizing an answer and 2/3 of the time writing the answer.  (They tend to write almost immediately and have less organized answers.)

d.      They need to chart or outline an answer with facts, cases, and policies to discuss rather than hold everything in their heads.  (They often find in exam review that they mixed up facts or forgot to mention an element or case.)

e.      They need to use all of the time allowed for the exam.  (They often rush through or leave early.)

f.    They need to write out answers to practice questions to make sure that they are including full analysis.  (They tend to answer practice questions in their heads but never perfect the writing process.)

Students who are conclusory in their writing of exam answers will often show the same tendencies in their legal writing classes.  The techniques mentioned can be modified for those assignments.  (Amy Jarmon) 

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