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What You Need to Know About Law School Exams

July 31, 2017

If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.   

Where to begin about law school exams?

 

The first thing you should know is that almost all law school exams consist of issue spotting essays- sometimes called hypotheticals or hypos for short.

Sometimes you'll see multiple choice or term papers in classes, but in your first year of law school they are almost always issue spotters. The first thing you'll notice about an issue spotting exam is that it starts with a big story. A big story where bad things happen. If it were a criminal law exam, your average issue spotting exam would consist of people running around murdering, conspiring, assaulting, and worse. If it was a property exam, you'd probably have some sort of land dispute between different parties or restrictions on land.

 

If it was a contract exam, you'd have a contract where some people would claim it was a contract and some people would claim it was an invalid contract. There will be lots of people doing lots of things to each other. That came out wrong. At any rate, at the end of the story there will be a prompt. The prompt usually consists of something very vague like explain the rights of the various parties or what claims does Ms. Smith have against Mr. Jones?

The reason it's called an issue spotting exam is that you're going to have to cull through those facts to come up with the issues that need to be discussed. Here is the main thing that you need to understand. An issue spotter is not about regurgitating the law or just regurgitating the facts.

 

In a college essay exam, you get points simply for writing down things that you memorized. So if you were taking a class on American history and the essay asked about the American Revolution, you'd probably get lots of points for talking about when the important battles were fought, the causes of the revolution, the name of the British taxes, the names of the founding fathers, etc, etc.

Facts and figures don't get you any points in law school. Generally, you're analyzing the facts as a litigator would and it's all about application. You're looking for claims and counter claims and defenses and counter defenses that one party can bring against the other or that they can use to protect against the claims of another party. An issue spotting exam is all about the application. You have to learn the law and then apply the facts that are given to you in the issue spotter to the law that you know. In this way it's kind of like a mechanical engineering exam.

 

You can imagine that if an engineering professor spent a semester explaining how a car works, it would be fair game at the end to ask the students to design a car for the final exam. It applies what they have learned.

Law school exams are sort of the same way. You are applying the law to a given set of facts. Memorizing the law is of course necessary, but those are the table stakes in law school. Knowing the law will get you through the door, but knowing the law alone won't even get you a C, let alone a B or an A on the test.

 

Learning how to apply the law is a skill. It takes practice, but it's a skill that can be learned. What I hate is that so many professors claim that essay writing is an art that is incapable of being learned. In fact, although they would not admit it to you, the professor has an interest in making you think that it is some dark art that can't be learned. Your professor wants you to believe that some people have it and some people don't. But this is just nonsense.

No one is born with the skills of being able to write a law school exam, that's crazy. It's just a skill and just like learning to ride a bike or making a free throw or learning guitar, you can learn the skills that are important for a law school essay exam. Believe me, if you can learn to pass the LSATs, then you can learn to answer an issue spotting exam. During your first year, they almost all tend to be issue spotting exams. But the good news is that you can learn how to beat those tests. It's a skill, it just takes practice. Over time you'll get better at them. Don't worry if you don't start out writing A worthy issue spotting exam essays. No one starts out that way. It just takes practice. With practice you'll get better. If you take practice exams you can get an edge on everyone else in your class.  

If you're getting ready for law school check this out: we put together a free e-book called the “Ultimate Pre-Law Checklist.” Just click the link below to download it. It's some of our best tips and strategies for getting ahead before you start law school, and it will put you miles ahead of your classmates, just click here.   

 

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