ESSAY STRATEGY TIPS
PAY VERY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO THE CALL OF THE QUESTION
(1) Read the call of the question first, so you can read the facts with a focused eye;
(2) Make sure you read the call of the question very carefully; highlight it; and do exactly what it asks you to do – no more, no less.
(3) Make sure you understand whether you are dealing with an open-ended call or a closed-ended call, and adjust your approach accordingly.
(4) Make sure you understand whether you are dealing with a pure or nearly pure “law” question, or a “law and facts” question.
(5) Start your answer by restating the call, to remind yourself what the question is asking and to focus your analysis.
(6) If the call asks you to discuss two or more different parties, ask yourself what the legal difference is between the two. There almost always is some difference that the professor is looking for you to discuss.
(1) Don’t skim; read the facts carefully with a focused eye.
(2) Highlight all the relevant facts that you would want the judge or the jury to know about if you were involved in the litigation.
(3) Understand the difference between relevant, irrelevant, and dead-end facts.
(1) Make a short, focused checklist of the two or three major issues you believe need to be discussed.
(2) Be on the lookout for issues relating to sub-rules and exceptions, and include them in your checklist.
(3) For the typical fact-based essay question, let the facts be your guide as to which issues you spend the most time discussing. Generally speaking, the issues that have the most facts related to them are where most of the points will be. Spend most of your time discussing those issues.
(4) Concentrate your time on the issues that would generate the most disputes between the parties (not the ones that are the easiest to resolve). Generally speaking, that’s where most of the points will be.
(5) Avoid outline dumping/regurgitation unrelated to the facts and the disputes.
(1) Break your answer up into separate paragraphs corresponding to the major issues. Don’t mix everything up together in a jumbled, stream-or-consciousness mess. A good rule of thumb is not more than one issue per paragraph.
(2) If the resolution of one issue affects the resolution of another, make sure to discuss the connection between the two.
(1) If the rules appear to resolve an issue, use “I.R.A.C.” (Issue-Rule-Application-Conclusion) to organize your discussion:
a) Issue—start by stating the issue (“The issue here is…”);
b) Rules—then fully define the relevant legal rules as specifically as you can, including any sub-rules or exceptions;
i. Also, be sure to fully define any legal terms that are not self-defining;
c) Application—then connect the dots. I.E. connect the relevant facts up to the rule, sub-rule, or exception they relate to and explain their legal significance;
i. Don’t skip factual analysis (that’s where most of the points are likely to be);
ii. Don’t just engage in a free-floating regurgitation of the facts without connecting them to the rules (that’s worth zero points);
iii. Don’t change the facts or invent new ones (but by all means feel free to draw reasonable inferences from the facts);
iv. Don’t just mention one or two of the relevant facts (the more relevant facts you connect to the rules, the more points you will score);
v. Don’t generalize the facts (i.e. compress individual facts together into a general characterization)—use each relevant fact separately in your analysis (but feel free to string related facts together in a series);
vi. Weave all of the relevant facts into your answer and connect them up to the rules (“here…because…” trick);
vii. And, unless there is a clear answer one way or the other, or the call limits the side you are to discuss, argue both sides of the issue, including the relevant facts that support each side;
d) Conclusion—wrap things up with a conclusion, but worry more about your application (if your application is good, you are probably going to do ok regardless of your conclusion)
****Rules + Facts + Connectors = Success****
IF THE RULES DON’T SEEM TO PROVIDE YOU WITH A CLEAR ANSWER, REASON BY ANALOGY OR DISTINCTION
(1) Compare the fact pattern in the question to known benchmarks—i.e. cases or examples you have studied during the term (“this is like…” or “this is different from…”);
(2) Explain why they are analogous or distinguishable;
IF REASONING BY ANALOGY OR DISTINCTION DOES NOT WORK, SWITCH TO “P.R.D.A.” (POLICY/RATIONALE-DRIVEN-ANALYSIS):
(1) State the social policy considerations and the underlying rationales behind the rules;
(2) Discuss whether the policy considerations and the rationales argue for or against extending the rules to cover the fact pattern in the question.
(3) Make sure to completely finish your analysis of one issue before moving on to the next.
(1) After you have analyzed all the issues, finish your answer by reading the call one last time to make sure you have done everything it asks. If you have not, do it. Then move on to the next question.
(1) Think before you write—before you commit yourself in writing to an argument or a line of thought, quickly think it through to its logical conclusion to see where it leads you. You will save time in the long run.
(2) Do not waste time beating a dead horse—i.e. do not repeat any arguments you have already made. There are no bonus points for saying the same thing twice.
(3) Do not become emotionally involved in the question—answer with your head, not your heart;
(4) Keep track of your time and keep moving at a steady pace.
1. Focus on the call of the question.
2. Read carefully and discipline yourself to maintain your concentration.
3. Pay special attention to statutes and anything in “quotes.”
4. Analyze the picks by a process of elimination.
5. Beware of the terms of art.
6. Beware of picks phrased in absolutes.
7. Don’t look for the perfect answer. Instead, look for the best of the four available picks (i.e. “the best of the bunch”)
8. Don’t waste your time on the fifth pick that isn’t there.
9. If you see the word “if” or the words “if the jury believes,” believe it no matter how ludicrous it sounds.
10. If you have to guess, choose the more specific answer over one that is more general.
11. In multiple call questions, when you move from one call to the next, be on the lookout for changes in the parties, changes in the facts, changes in the law, and changes in the issue.
12. Don’t skip any questions. Answer each question as you go along.
13. Don’t get emotionally involved in the questions.
14. Keep track of your time and keep moving at a steady pace.