What Separates an "A" Exam from a "B" Exam from a "C" Exam?

Posted over 1 year ago

It's that time of year: law students, particularly 1Ls, are starting to freak out over their exams.  Totally understandable - they matter for a lot of reasons - though a clear understanding of how to succeed can help alleviate some of the anxiety. 

One of the most common questions I get at this point in the semster from my students is "how do I write an A exam?" I've been a full time law professor for nearly a decade, and have taught various types of courses (skills, writing and doctrinal), so I've got what I'd like to think is a sound perspective.  Here's my take:

An A/A- exam identifies (1) all the key facts; (2) all the key issues; (3) analyzes those issues; (4) makes viable counterarguments...and it does so concisely (IRAC is almost always the way in an issue spotting exam).  The B+/A- memo does 1-3; a B/B-/C+ memo does 1-2; a C or below does a little bit of 1 and/or 2, but does so imperfectly.

How to best prepare?  Well...prepare!  Hammer the black letter law, over and over. Know it inside and out.  From there, practice, practice, practice in condition as close to how the exam will be as possible.  Two hour exam with two essays?  Try doing two essays in two hours.  Do as many issue-spotting exams as you can, getting feedback from pros along the way (your prof herself, or if you're lucky enough to attend a school with a strong academic support program, get support there too).

Good luck, though if you prepare the right way, you won't need luck at all.

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