Lawstudentcoach.com works one-on-one with students to produce an individualized game plan for exam taking — individualized to the student and to the professor. This article will discuss some of the things that a student entering the exam with a game plan will do.

Your exam prep has been completed. The day of the exam has arrived. Here’s how using a game plan will ensure success.

First, the game plan should be based on use of this professor’s prior exams and by examination of what skills this professor models in class. Based on that, the student should enter the exam with a list of issues and concepts that are most likely to be on the exam. Write that list before reading the exam, and keep it in mind as you read. This will help with issue spotting in two ways: (1) it will be easier to spot the key issues if you have them in mind as you read; and (2) if your first read of the exam question does not appear to raise some key issue or group of issues, you want to review the question. Remember, the exam is not just about answering the question. It is about answering the question in a manner that earns the most points.

Second, read and identify key issues. Issue spotting is a skill that needs to be worked on advance. You should assume that the fact pattern was developed in order to raise key course concepts. Thus, as you read, you should be thinking, what issue is this fact intended to raise? Not every fact is there to raise an issue, but you should examine each fact as if it were. That way you can avoid missing key issues. Err on the side of caution, so if you are not sure if an issue is being raised, flag it and then see how it fits into your outline. When you identify what you view as a core issue, underline the specific facts. Chances are the facts are not there merely to give you an opportunity to talk about the issue, but also to give both sides a solid argument. Your analysis will be more precise if you use the specific facts to construct arguments for both parties.

Third, use issue spotting techniques. One such technique is what we call “issue clusters.” By understanding issue clusters, you will more quickly identify key issues and better identify key facts as you are reading the question. For example, negligence is a fold out type of issue cluster. When you sense that an issue of negligence is being raised, you know that negligence folds out into a list of issues such as duty, breach of duty and causation and you should be reading with an eye toward which of these is being raised. A second type of issue cluster is what we refer to as a transition cluster. For example, when you have a contract creation issue and you find that no contract was formed, there are a group of alternatives such as promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment that may provide recovery. Having thought about how the issues relate to each other will help you in your issue spotting. Transition clusters are very important because many law professors ask questions that make you examine where the edge of one issue bumps up against the edge of another.

The next step should be outlining. Your professor will know whether you are simply firing off pieces of discussion in the order you see them in the exam, or whether you have taken the time to outline. And, as someone who used to grade exams, I can tell you how much being clear and organized adds. As hard as it is when feeling pressed for time (and I understand this because I was once a “write-frantically-for –three-hours-without-coming-up-for-air” test taker), if you have prepared appropriately, you should have time to outline your work and have an organized manner of presenting your answer.

Finally, you can start writing your answer. Writing style is important. Short simple sentences are easiest to understand and you want to make sure the professor does not have to work too hard to figure out what you are saying. I know what you are thinking – it’s an exam and I don’t have time to think about writing style. That is why the person who enters the exam with a game plan will drill and drill in advance – so there is no need to spend too much time thinking about style – you just need to execute your plan.


Lawstudentcoach.com works-on-one with students to produce an individualized game plan for exam taking — individualized to the student and to the professor. Founded by a former law professor and practicing lawyer, the program helps people get better grades in law school so they can get better jobs after law school. To contact Lawstudentcoach.com, email CoachA@lawstudentcoach.com or call 631-355-9959.