Essay Structures

Law school examination questions can come in different forms. Some questions will ask you to be objective in your analysis and to weigh both sides of an argument, while others force you to take a side and to write persuasively to support your position. Some questions will be filled with dozens of issues you will want to touch upon briefly, while others will require you to delve more deeply into a fewer number of issues. In each case, you will want to prepare a response that is organized, clear, concise, well supported, and a fair demonstration of your depth of understanding. To accomplish this, you need to do the following:

  1. Answer the question – entirely. Law school exams often ask you complex questions, consisting of multiple parts. In your pre-writing phase, make sure that your outline responds to each part of the question. If you are asked to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of a case and come to an ultimate conclusion, or to address the potential liabilities of numerous parties, you need to address each issue thoroughly. If you fail to read the question entirely, to incorporate each area in your pre-writing outline, and to provide an analysis and response to each component of the question, you will lose valuable points no matter how strong the sections you have addressed may be.

  2. Be clear and consistent. Use a consistent structure throughout your response to make sure you provide a clear conclusion responding to the question(s) posed, identify the issues, state the relevant rules for each element, thoroughly analyze the facts at hand by applying the rule, and used cases to further support your position. One structure that works for many law students is “IRAC”, which stands for “Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion” (see below). You may also want to use headers to organize your response, especially when you are asked to respond to several questions, your analysis necessitates a discussion of several elements, or there are circumstances or parties you believe would be more effective to deal with under separate analyses.

  3. Consider following IRAC. Under the IRAC structure (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion), you begin your response with a clear statement of the issue and immediately follow with the relevant rule. Following the rule statement, you may want to provide a brief explanation of the rule in your own words or further elaborate on the rule, especially if there are exceptions to the rule that you want to use for the analysis piece. You then move on to the analysis, which will be the bulk of your response. In the analysis section, you will want to explain how the relevant rule should be applied to the facts at hand. You may draw comparisons (both analogizing and distinguishing) to cases you explored in this area to support your assertions by showing how the rule was applied in those cases and how it should be applied to facts at hand. This is followed by the conclusion. You will want to apply this structure for each issue you spot through the examination. This structure will ensure that you address and respond to each issue, clearly include the rule, apply case law in your analysis, and close before you transition to the next issue.

  4. Write the kind of essay your professor is seeking. Once you have prepared a detailed outline in the pre-writing phase, you will want to prepare an essay, with complete sentences, full paragraphs, topic sentences, and transitions to help guide your professor from one concept to the next. Avoid preparing responses in outline format, providing only clauses containing rules and bullet points listing factual details and cases. Such sketchy responses give you no opportunity to provide a proper analysis of each issue. Some professors prefer detailed analysis, while others ask their students only to concisely identify and resolve as many issues as possible. Well before your exam, ask your professors what they prefer, and then write to suit them.

For more detailed guidance, please watch our presentation, “Exam Preparation,” on TWEN. We also encourage you to make an appointment with the Academic Support Program to gain additional guidance and support on structuring your essay responses.

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