ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Thoughts Fit for the Exam Season

Kochan_DChapman University Law Prof Donald Kochan (pictured) noted our link to Professor Whaley's exam advice and offers some of his own.  He has recently published Thinking” in a Deweyan Perspective: The Law School Exam as a Case Study for Thinking in Lawyering.  Here is the abstract:

As creatures of thought, we are thinking all the time, but that does not necessarily mean that we are thinking well.  Answering the law school exam, like solving any problem, requires that the student exercise thinking in an effective and productive manner.  This Article provides some guidance in that pursuit.  Using John Dewey’s suspended conclusion concept for effective thinking as an organizing theme, this Article presents one basic set of lessons for thinking through issues that arise regarding the approach to a law school exam. This means that the lessons contained here help exercise thought while taking the exam—to think through the exam approach. The second, more subtle, purpose is to demonstrate that the law school exam can serve as a case study in the effectiveness of certain thinking tools that have much broader application. For that reason, this Article is not your typical “how-to” guide, but instead provides guidance critically and generally applicable to the thinking enterprise itself.

In addition, Professor Kochan offers the following excerpt on "outline dumping":

Learning, information, and memory will never be enough to accomplish good judgment. Instead, judgment is only evident when those things are applied to the perplexity to be solved. Outline dumping skips this crucial step.
To borrow and extend Dewey’s metaphor: the refrigerator (one’s outline or memory) may be filled with all of the stock necessary (knowledge, rules, and experience) to make a good meal (write a good exam), but the meal cannot be the stock alone simply removed and placed on the table—instead the meal must be prepared, the right ingredients mixed in the right combinations, and the fresh new material (the facts and other data from the exam question) must be added in order to create the meal; and it still must be presented and served with the care and skill of the great chef (the essay form and analysis), and finally the product must be sold to a patron-consumer of discriminating taste (the professor-evaluator). This method is far more likely to garner a good review than would taking out the ingredients, plopping them on a table, and calling it dinner.
Instead of outline dumping or simply restating facts or giving sterile statements of legal rules unconnected to the case at hand, the effective exam taker must master the skill of assessment of the relevant law and facts and application of law to facts. Dewey prescribes that “[a]pplication is as much an intrinsic part of genuine reflective inquiry as is alert observation or reasoning itself.”


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