Seven C's of Exam Success

Are you finding yourself confused about the professor's expectations regarding exams? Tired of IRAC, or IREAC, or CREAC - or any other set of similar type initials? Perhaps the seven C's can give you a better sense of how you should approach exams.

1. Call of the question. The call is really two things - knowing who you are supposed to represent (Court? Lawyer? Policymaker?); and having a sense of what the professor wants (A ruling? A remedy? An argument?) Knowing these points really helps you.

2. Cast of characters. Is more than simply dividing up your issues. You also need to think about the purpose of their presence. So you need a plan of action as to how to view your people in the exam question. Ask yourself:

  • Are they players?
  • Are they background (in the sense that their presence is in support of someone else)?
  • Are there a number of pairs arguing against each other?

Knowing the answers to these questions can help you group the issues better and see where the professor finds issues. In a complex, multi-issue problem with a large cast of characters, it is important to know each player's function - and how they line up against each other.

3. Context. Here is the stuff everyone forgets. Before you get to the specifics, it's a good idea to give the reader a sense of where you are going. So, if talking about applying an exception - tell the reader the general rule of law. If applying a rule, explain it so that the reader knows the "rules of the game." Moreover, you ultimately need to get started and giving context to your answer helps organize your answer. Remember, the professor is not going to assume you understand the purpose of summary judgment or the definition of murder in the first degree unless you tell her. If the type of contract it is will color what you do - explain that it is/is not covered by the UCC. If you are deciding to take away the rights of the jury by a directed verdict - or move one case to another place because of a change of venue - give the rationale of what each is supposed to accomplish. The bottom line is that you should not assume anything with respect to what the reader (aka the professor) knows - you must be specific and tell him or her.

4. Conflict. Once you give the context information that you need, you will then need to focus on what the specific problem is. Now your goal is to examine and explain the sides of the conflict. In doing so, it is important to always keep in mind what the diverging parties would argue, even if the call of the question will result in a court decision. Unless you know what each side wants or could want, how can you figure out which position is better? "Bottom line" analysis is not sufficient! Remember the professor is going to grade the process, so show the problems, the conflicts and the maybes! Generally, these conflicts involve four general types of problems:

  • The pick one (or more) from a series of similar type rules (Could the defendant be charged with murder one? Two? Manslaughter? All? Some?)
  • Decide whether rule applies (Can the court use parole evidence in this contract situation?)
  • Assess if what was done was right with respect to the rule, or, the converse of the above. (Was summary judgment properly granted?)
  • Argue your best position (If you are the defendant's attorney, how can you get in parole evidence?)

But, no matter what type of question, you will always need to know how to present a thorough discussion of the conflicts that are involved in the question. One way of checking yourself is to use phrases such as:

  • So, this is the first possible rule because...
  • It is important to consider this rule because...
  • It is important to remember that this rule is different from this (other) rule because...

5. Consequences. So if you have applied this rule - so what? What do we get for our troubles? Need to explain the effect of applying the selected rule under these examination facts. So beyond just telling the professor the rules and what they mean, you also need to tell her what happens because of the set of facts in the specific problem. The goal in good exam writing is not to make the professor guess what would happen in the facts that she crafted. So use phrases like, "Here, under these facts of ..., the court would determine that this rule would apply because..." to get you started in applying rules to facts (and yes, this is the A in IREAC!)

6. Charms of the professors. Professors are not cookie cutters, which is why study aids are not perfect. So, if available, you should always look at past exams of that professor. And that's why you need to spend time actually practicing those problems or hypotheticals. You want to do this because you want to be very familiar with anticipating what a professor wants in his answer. So, if they like references to cases, do it. If they like references to the Restatement or the UCC or other code, give it to them. If they like policy, theories, philosophy, alternative dispute resolutions, why not give them what they want? To quote Nike - just do it!

7. Conclusions. Finally, as with all things, you must come to the end of the answer. So, tell the professor your version of "happily ever after," even if the result is not actually happy. So, what will happen? Who should win? What were the concerns that you took care of? By actually reviewing the question asked, you can guarantee that you gave that professor her answer. So don't assume the professor can figure out what will happen because of your analysis - tell him!