Study Skills

Study Skills

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The Mechanics of Taking an Essay Exam

What to Do in the First Few Minutes of the Exam

Write Down a Short Issue Outline in the front cover of the exam book (no more than 2-3 minutes) Make sure you have all the pages of the exam.

Check each question and calculate how long you have for each question. Commit yourself to spending no more than the allotted time on each question until you have answered all questions. After you have answered all the questions, you can then return to the question or questions which you didn't finish.

Read the instructions carefully and be sure to follow them.

Write on only one side of the paper so you have room to write additional points. Write one question per book for the same reason. Be sure to number your books. For instance, 1 of 4.  


General Approach

Use 10% of the question time for reading, issue-spotting, and question outlining. For instance, if it is: a 30 minute question you should spend 3 minutes; 60 minute question = 6 minutes, 90 minute question = 9 minutes, etc.; Subtract this time from the total amount of time available so on a 30 minute question you will have 27 minutes to write and answer; on 60 minute question you will have 54 minutes; and on a 90 minute question you will have 81 minutes.

Read the stem of the question first. Example: What rights, if any, does Abel have against Diane? Sam?

Read the body of the question keeping in mind the stem of the question.

Mark "key or essential" facts.

Write legal theories and issues in the margin, preferably next to the key fact that raises the theory or issue.

---Theory = Battery

---Issue = Intent

---Fact = Aimed at one person but hit another

Re-read the question, marking additional facts and identifying additional theories or issues. On this reading, do explicit issue categorizing.

Write a short scratch Theory/Issue outline for the question; Keep it very short.


Organize issues;

---first prima facie case and second defenses; or

---Most important issues; or,

---As identified in the margins; or

---You should be spending no more than a minute or two on this.

Count the issues and divide the time available among the issues. For instance, on a 60 minute question if you have 6 issues you will have 9 minutes per issue; if you have 12 issues you will have 4.5 minutes per issue, etc.

Commit yourself to spending no more than the allotted time on each issue. Leave a few lines between issues, so you can come back later if you have time and/or additional thoughts.


Do not restate the facts. Instead, use key facts in analysis.

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