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Thursday, May 15, 2008

My memo on exam-writing

I have given my students the attached memo for the last three years. Download Exam_memo.pdf Feel free to use it yourself, if you like: I hereby waive any copyright.

The memo offers precisely the same advice as Eric Johnson's recent post. The essential point is that facts + law = analysis, while Law alone = vomit. Students hate this advice, because applying the law to facts requires them to think rather than regurgitate or opine. Few people like to think for more than a few minutes at a time, and with good reason: Thinking is a painful and annoying activity, albeit with long-term payoff, like running long distances regularly or raising toddlers.

Posted by Rick Hills on May 15, 2008 at 09:35 AM in Teaching Law | Permalink


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Who creates and grades law school exams? People that did well on law school exams.

Posted by: 2L | May 16, 2008 3:48:58 PM

In response to Marty --

I have found that the extra coaching for exams actually spreads the class out a bit more. Here's a hypothesis explaining the curious result. There are conscientious, hard-working students who dutifully repeat everything they know without regard to its relevance because that's all that they can do. There are other students how do the same because that's all that they ever thought was expected of them. Breaking these groups apart separates my A/A-s and B+s.

In response to Joseph --

Ted's one smart guy. (Is he also the source of your pro-labor politics?)

Posted by: Rick Hills | May 15, 2008 12:52:11 PM

Incredibly helpful, thanks, Rick. One question, however: Have your students' exams measurably improved since you started handing out the memo? And -- self-interested follow-up question here -- if so, has it become much more difficult to curve the exams?

Posted by: Marty Lederman | May 15, 2008 12:25:25 PM

The best single piece of exam-writing advice I ever got came from Ted St. Antoine, who told my class that a good essay answer should never have more than two or three consecutive sentences that are just law or just facts. I pass that on to my students, some of whom absorb it better than others.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | May 15, 2008 10:07:04 AM

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