SECTION 1 - COLQUITT
These comments are not entirely my own. Some points originate with me, but I also have collected thoughts from a number of different sources, including professors of law - and students - here and elsewhere. It virtually goes without saying that two students with equal knowledge of a particular subject may receive quite different grades in a course covering that subject. Why? One possible reason is that they may approach the course and the examination differently. Taking an examination is not easy. Consider these pointers about taking an examination:
1. You Must Monitor Your Time.
Merely listing a number of additional issues because the time for taking the exam is expiring does not entitle one to credit for those issues. Because the listed issues are not discussed, the instructor cannot assume that the student could discuss the the issues adequately for credit. Even if credit could be awarded, only little credit could be given because of the absence of analysis and discussion.
2. You Must Read The Instructions And The Facts.
Every sentence, every word on an examination may have (and probably does have) significance. Be sure to read everything. After taking a criminal law exam several years ago, two students requested special consideration in grading because they had not read certain instructions and materials. They received no such consideration. Professor Langbein of the University of Chicago School of Law once stated that he was "staggered by the amount of abject carelessness that is exhibited by examinees." He is not the only one. That is virtually a universal observation. Not reading the facts fully also can lead to problems. A student may spend considerable time discussing an issue which simply is not raised by the fact situation of that question, only to find that the next question focuses solely on that issue.
3. You Must Organize Your Answer.
The failure to organize an answer is perhaps the most costly mistake an examinee can make. One student may study the examination and its instructions, then outline his or her answer before commencing to answer a question. Another may start writing almost immediately. The answer written without a plan will invariably will fail to address issues and connections between issues. Moreover, the student will be inconsistent in his or her treatment of the issues. The student who organized before answering is more likely to address the issues.
Answers may be organized by legal issues, parties, or dates. Exceptions to rules or counter-arguments should closely follow the rule or the argument. Answers that are organized will neither ramble nor repeat relevant points. Such answers are less likely to omit essential matters. Yet they will be brief. Unless the examination is structured to require extensive essay answers, few answers need go over several written or typed pages and some may be answerable in even less space. Even long answers to long questions are better if they are organized and written tightly.
4. You Must Answer The Question.
Not only should you read the question, you also should answer the question. That may sound simple, but you probably would be amazed at how many people fail to answer the question. Rather, they write a mini-treatise on the law, jurisprudence and legal history, commencing with the Norman Conquest (or the murder of Abel) without ever addressing the specific question.
Correct statements or conclusions are not correct answers unless you show why they are correct. You may state your conclusions, but justify your statements. Do not state legal conclusions without giving your reasoning. Even when the answer is right and explained, is there another answer also correct which you should mention and distinguish? An excellent answer not only suggests the preferred result and explains why, but also addresses both (or all) sides of the problem. And please do not say that the question is a good question - or a difficult question - or that you have enjoyed the course. Simply answer the question.
Pay attention to the assigned role. Write what is requested. Do not pad your answer by restating the facts, stating the approach you will take in answering the question, inventing facts, or citing case names which you never explain. Senseless references to authorities gain you nothing. Simply memorizing case names does not demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the law. One must identify issues, analyze facts, and apply the law to those facts. If the question bona fide leaves open an issue about which law applies, discuss that point. Analyze the issue and any conflicts in the law on that issue.
Don't answer questions that are not asked. If there is no question on mens rea or rape or white collar crime, then the world's best essay on that (or those) topic(s) will gain you nothing. On the other hand, negative issue spotting can be appropriate. If you note that a criminal rule of law is not breached because an element of the crime is missing, state that fact and briefly demonstrate why you reach that conclusion. But do not go on to explain why some crime not even on the exam also was not broken because none of its elements are present.
5. You Must Write Clearly.
Not only should your answers be articulate and succinct, but you should write legibly. If an answer cannot be read by the instructor, the answer simply is not there for the grading.
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