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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Nancy Rapoport, Rapoport’s tried-and-true method for learning how to take law school essay exams

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Nancy Rapoport has drawn on her experience as a law professor to give students an idea of some of the mistakes they might be making in law school exams and how to correct them – Rapoport’s tried-and-true method for learning how to take law school essay exams (with a shout-out to Mary Beth Beazley). This hits close to home. I’m still kicking myself for inexplicably forgetting to address self-defense in my torts exam last semester. It hit me as soon as I turned it in that I had meant to come back to it but had forgotten. I survived, but these things are hard enough without leaving points on the table.

The Rapoport Method

  1. The best way to prepare for an exam is to take practice exams and diagnose the answers to those exams. (Analogy: the best way to play a sport is to play it, not read about it.)
  2. You get points on exams for what you put in your answer, not what you have in your head.
  3. There are two types of errors that I see on most exams. The first type of error is serious: not understanding the law. (Let’s call that error the input error.) My method doesn’t deal with that error. It deals with the second type of error: not understanding the components of a good answer. Let’s call that error the applicaton error.
  4. Often, students with the second type of error systematically skip one or more of the components of a good answer, thereby cheating themselves out of points that they could have gotten.
  5. So, to the diagnosis part. Get four colors of highlighters. You’ll use one for highlighting your statement of the rules, one for highlighting your use of the facts from the hypothetical, one for your application of those facts from the hypothetical to the rule (including any exceptions to the rule), and one for any conclusions that you draw after you apply the facts to the law.
  6. Students who systematically forget to put the rule(s) down on paper will see that mistake. So will students who jump to conclusions without demonstrating each step of their analysis, or those who write general statements about the hypothetical without looking for those particular facts on which a given hypo will turn.
  7. After the student has had a chance to look for systematic errors, then it’s time to start with step 1 again: more practice exams, more diagnosis, then still more practice, and still more diagnosis.
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