Sunday, December 17, 2006

Gordon on Exams, Part 4 of 4

The exam questions are usually absolutely hilarious fact situations that just slay students and send them into paroxysms of helpless laughter. Law professors learn how to write these witty exams at a seminar for new professors, "How to Make Up for Your Humorless Teaching Style on the Final Exam." Try not to let the laughing get out of hand.

If your professor has stressed theory all semester and has insisted that there are no legal rules and that only an idiot would believe that there are rules, her exam will test you on the rules and the rules alone. These rules are printed in heavy black typeface in the commercial outlines, and are therefore called "black letter law." Do not confuse them with black letter theory, which will do you no good whatsoever on the exam.

You should use the "IRAC" method on the exam. "IRAC" stands for Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. Be sure to discuss each part of the formula, except that you can skip the Conclusion, because it doesn't matter which way you come out. Also, there is no time to do the Application, because the exam is so chockful of issues that you barely have time to list them and try to state some semblance of a rule using only key words. It shouldn't really be called the "IRAC" method, but "IR" looks kind of stupid and makes it sound like law school exams test only memorization skills. Which, of course, is what they do.

Be sure to confront any ambiguities in the exam. They probably wound up in there accidentally, but the professor will never admit this and will insist that they were deliberately placed there for pedagogical purposes (a phrase you will hear a lot). For example, suppose Don throws acid at Pat. (Notice that "Don" begins with a "D," as does the word "Defendant," and that "Pat" begins with "P," as does the word "Plaintiff." These professors are geniuses.) The exam doesn't tell you whether the acid made contact--i.e., a harmful or offensive "touching" (what a moronic word)--with Pat. You should confront this ambiguity and write the following:
The facts don't say whether the acid touched Pat. If it did not, it was an assault. If it did, it was a battery. Of course, it was clearly a battery if it was--battery acid!!!
Professors just love humorous asides like this, and will probably give you several points of extra credit.

After the exam, do not review--or "post-mortem"--the exam with other students. This is very depressing--especially if you can't even agree whether it was a torts exam or a contracts exam. On the other hand, if some persistent bozo absolutely insists on reviewing the exam with you, be sure to point out several issues that were not on the exam. This will cost him several days' sleep and, probably, thirty pounds.

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