Succeed on Your Finals with our Essay Tips: IRAC Your Way to an “A”

December 2, 2011
Kaplan Test Prep

Finals are looming, and it’s time to start preparing for success now. The best way to reduce anxiety and get the best possible grades is to know how best to approach the first round of exams before you set foot in the testing room.

Think carefully about each exam question before you commit anything to paper. Craft an outline before you plunge into writing your actual answer. Writing without outlining does not allow for clear thinking and analysis, and is time consuming. First, look at the call of the question. This is the question telling you what the task is for that particular essay. For example, “What causes of actions are available between party A and party B?” Always read the call of the question before diving into the fact pattern as this will help guide you in identifying relevant facts for your argument.

Time management is crucial during finals, as you will likely have three hours or less to complete your exam. Devote between one quarter to one third of your available time to carefully reading the question, organizing your thoughts, and outlining your answers so you can focus your remaining time on writing a clear, well-organized, and thoughtful analysis.

The IRAC Method
Most law students are familiar with IRAC, as it is typically taught in legal writing classes, and is the same method used to create case briefs for class lectures. The IRAC method is just as useful when applied to writing great final exam answers. Most final exams are crafted in the “issue spotting” format, where the professor provides a detailed fact pattern containing a multitude of facts from which various causes of action arise. Let’s take a closer look at how to apply the IRAC model to ensure final exam success.

I is for Issue
What are the issues arising in the essay? Some issues will be easy to spot, while others might be more difficult to ascertain. Above all, don’t panic! A great way to determine what the issue is if you have no idea is to simply rephrase the call of the question. For example, if the call asks, “What, if any crimes has A committed?” then your issue statement would read: “The issue here is whether or not A has committed _______.”

R is for Rule
Immediately after articulating your issue statement (“The issue here is whether A was negligent by doing X.”) you will lay out the applicable rule. By now, you are very familiar with rules of law, but just to clarify, a rule is the black letter law that you will be applying to the facts of the case. Rules are derived either from case law or from a statute. Some professors will try to be sneaky and create fictitious rules to see if you can apply them correctly to the facts at hand. In this case, do not be tempted to apply what you know to be the actual law of the land, but stick to the rule as laid out by your professor and analyze the facts accordingly.

Once you have identified the applicable rule, you must articulate it as precisely as possible. Precision is important because this is what you will be using to frame your analysis. If your rule is not clearly articulated, your analysis will be unclear as well.

Let’s return to the previous example of a criminal law question. Let’s assume that the facts suggest that the crime here is a robbery. Here is an example of a well-articulated rule statement: “A robbery is the taking and carrying away of tangible personal property of another, from the person or presence of the victim, either with force or intimidation.”

A is for Application of the Law to the Facts (AKA, Analysis)
Analysis for the purpose of a law school essay exam is simply the application of the relevant rule to the facts presented in the question. Returning to the robbery example, your analysis section should include specific examples to either support a case for robbery or to determine that no robbery was, in fact, committed. You will need to carefully read the fact pattern for facts that demonstrate that all the elements of the crime of robbery either are, or are not, satisfied.

So, you can phrase your answer thus: “In this case, there was a robbery because A took B’s casebook from him while B was studying in the law library by threatening to hit B with a baseball bat if he did not give up the book.”

This type of analysis is critical, but it is not enough to garner the maximum number of possible points. To really impress your professor and get a high mark, you need to present a counterpoint to the position you have just taken. The secret to law school exams is that most professors craft questions to include relevant facts to support both sides of an argument. After all, when you are a full-fledged attorney, you will have to be able to argue both sides of a case, and this is exactly what your professor is testing you on in your final exam.

In presenting your counterpoint, your task is to lay out the facts that go against your position—in this example, that there was indeed a robbery—and to not only acknowledge them, but to explain why your argument can withstand these “negative” facts. For example, say there is a question as to whether or not the casebook actually belonged to A in the first place. Your task is then to either show that the book definitely belonged to A, or that for the purpose of a robbery analysis, the true ownership of the book is not important and does not change the outcome.

The key point to take away from this is that when it comes to law school exams, every fact is relevant and must be taken into account when crafting your analysis section.

C is for Conclusion
The conclusion is, by far, the simplest part of your exam answer. All you have to do in this section is to resolve the issue previously laid out in the question. So, returning to our robbery example, the issue was whether there was a robbery, so your conclusion would simply state that, based upon the facts of the case, a robbery did or did not occur.

Here, your conclusion might state: “Based upon the facts of the case, B committed a robbery.”

Using these tips, you will be able to tackle any exam with confidence!

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