Tips on using IRAC, successful essay writing and law school finals

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Mike Sims, BARBRI President

As you likely already know, the grades you receive on your law school finals are critical. Here are some essential tips and strategies for refining your essay writing, effectively using IRAC, and ultimately, succeeding on your law school finals.

Law school finals are different

When I first went to law school, I thought I’d do well on my law school finals using the same strategy that I’d used in undergrad. I created huge outlines, flashcards, learned the rules and showed up at finals ready to regurgitate everything about any given subject. Rote memorization and recall. I quickly discovered that law school finals are very different.

So, if your law school finals are not testing your ability to learn and recite the rules, what are they testing?

Four things law school finals are really testing

IRAC. It stands for issue, rule, application, and conclusion and will be your key to truly understanding and navigating your final exams. IRAC gives you the structure of what law school finals are testing.

  1. Your ability to figure out a client’s problem (Issue)
  2. Your knowledge of rules that might be relevant to and help solve the problem presented by your client. (Rule)
  3. Your ability to determine which of the facts presented are actually relevant to solving that problem. (Application) P.S. Learn why the word “application” is used vs. “analysis” in the video below.
  4. What you believe, based on your reasoning, will be the result when a court tackles the problem. (Conclusion)

Knowing to use IRAC is just the first step towards successful law school finals. It’s effectively using IRAC that really matters.

The most important skills to ace law school finals

The skills that are most important, the difference between an “A” answer” and anything else, is the ability to figure out the client’s problem (the issue) and the ability to determine which facts are actually applicable or relevant to that issue (the application).

Some might ask “What about the rules?” You definitely need to know a lot of rules, or you can’t get started. Knowing the rules is table stakes. In fact, BARBRI has phenomenal tools to help you learn the rules of law from top U.S. professors with BARBRI 1L Mastery and BARBRI 2L/3L Mastery.

However, you won’t do well on finals for simply knowing the rules. The majority of points on law school finals come from spotting the issues and your ability to determine which facts are relevant to solving the problem, or question, you are presented. You need to hone your issue spotting skills and learn to separate legally significant facts from those that are not relevant.

If you learn to do this well, and follow my advice below, you’ll be well on your way toward an “A” on your law school final exams.

Read, think and write like a lawyer

Each of these steps has a particular purpose and methodology I encourage you to follow, whether you’re writing online exams, using a computer or paper and writing materials.

Read. The way lawyers read is very different than the average person. They don’t start reading top down, they start at the bottom with the call of the question. Lawyers seek to first understand the problem they are trying to solve or the question they are being asked. Reading the call of the question first will keep you focused and help you immediately begin separating relevant from irrelevant facts.

Think. As you read, knowing what you already know about the question you are being asked, is there anything that gives rise to a rule? Highlight or underline the facts that are significant to the problem that you are solving. Ask yourself why the professor is including certain details (and watch out for adjectives, adverbs and modifying clauses that aren’t pertinent to the main facts that raise issues and decide cases). Read with intention and jot down any rules that come to mind based on the associated facts. You’ll be creating short outlines during this time. This will allow you to actually write out your answer more quickly and in a more organized fashion. You’ll be a lot faster and better organized than your peers who type a little, think a little, type a little, think a little.

Write. How much time should you spend actually writing? Plan on allocating a third of your time to the reading and thinking part of the process. You’ll have plenty of time to write because you’ll know exactly where you are going with your answer (thanks to your outlines). Your professor will typically tell you how much time you have for each question or how many points are allocated to each question. If your professor doesn’t share this information, simply take the number of questions and divide that by the total time allotted for the exam.

How does this law school finals system really work?

This is a lot of information and you may be struggling to see how this law school finals system really works in practice.

Watch this video to learn more about these tips and to see an actual practice question worked using this law school finals system.

Remember that, whether taking online exams or in class on paper, this system is all about good legal writing – the same type of writing you’ll do in your career as an attorney. This approach and structure keep you focused on the actual problem or question you are trying to solve.

Ultimately, your professors aren’t worried about who gets the question “right” or “wrong.” They are interested in your ability to identify the problem you are solving, the rules that are being used, separate relevant from irrelevant facts, and discuss your conclusion based on your legal reasoning in a logical and organized fashion.

Check out more law school finals tips here.

You can, and will, ace your law school finals, however you are taking them!

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