Exam Essays – Common Mistakes Among At-Risk Students Robin Boyle, St. John’s Law School Assistant Dean for Academic Success & Professor of Legal Writing October 22, 2011 LSAC Academic Assistance Topical Workshop “Finding a Way Through: Working With Students Who Have Learning Disabilities” My experience: Teaching LRW for 18 years Directing ASP for 6 years Contracts I (Conditional Admissions Program) for 4 years Legal Analysis Practicum (At-Risk 1L) 1 year Agency Practicum (At-Risk 2L) in progress Why Focus on At-Risk Populations? Prevalence of learning disabled students (although not all LD students are on the lower end of GPA range).* Not all at- risk students have diagnoses. Not all students with diagnoses inform me. Even if I’m informed, not all LD present the same way on exams. * See Leah Christensen, Legal Reading and Success in Law School: The Reading Strategies of Law Students with ADD, 12 The Scholar: St. Mary’s L. Rev. on Minority Issues 173 (2010). About the LAP (1L course) 36 students enrolled in total: 17 students below 2.1 (Academic Probation) – mandatory enrollment 10 students b/w 2.1 & 2.2 (Required to receive AS services) – mandatory enrollment Offered to @ 30 students whose GPA were b/w 2.2 and 2.49 – of those students, 9 opted in In 1st year/2nd semester LAP course Predominant problems Strategies to Remedy Not providing enough text Provided weekly writing Going off on tangents – assignments Focused on IRAC Explained different purposes (not just exams – “If a memo, then . . . If a brief, then . . . ”) stream of consciousness Haven’t mastered IRAC (“I didn’t get it 1st semester”) Need more careful case reading & statutory reading Course topics Close Case & Statutory Reading Outlining Rule Synthesis Application of Law to Fact – Analogy/Distinction Essay Exam Writing Learning Styles* See Robin A. Boyle, Law Students With ADD: How to Reach Them, How to Teach Them, 39 John Marshall L. Rev. 349 (2006) Emphasis Organization of Legal Analysis: Intro (thesis paras) Divide by sub-issues Rules – with and without statutes, synthesis of case holdings Application to facts with detail (not skipping steps) Stating counterarguments Stating conclusions without ambiguity Writing Assignment Topics Assignment #1 Common law: Contracts case: Sidway v. Hamer – (uncle who promised nephew not to drink/gamble until age 21 - $) produce case brief, summarize for a course outline, write essay on hypothetical fact pattern. Statutory Analysis Assignment #2 New York Vehicle & Traffic Law – Definition of Motor Vehicle in Sec. 125 (vehicle propelled by any power other than muscular power, then exceptions . . .) Two fact questions – how would the court decide (actual cases)? In each question – was there a “motor vehicle”? Practice Separating by Issue Assignment #3 - Restatement 2d Sec. 90 (Promise Reasonably Inducing Action or Forbearance) 1) A promise which the promisor should reasonably expect to induce action . . . 2) on part of the promisee . . . 3) does induce such action . . . 4) is binding if injustice can be avoided Two hypo fact patterns given – essay answers required Rule Synthesis Assignment #4 Covenant not to Compete – two fictitious cases and a fact pattern Goal was to divide by sub-issues Synthesize rules Apply in detail More Rule Synthesis Assignment #5 Topic: Emotional Distress Restatement 2d of Torts 4 Summaries of cases Hypothetical facts Goal: Write an essay using IRAC Course Materials Distributed Succeeding in Law School, by Herb Ramy Handouts Results of First Year LAP course Students who attended class and turned in assignments showed improvement in their Spring GPAs to a statistical significance level in comparison to those in their GPA cohort who did not participate. Suggestions – try to get buy-in from students (relevant topics, offer course credit, offer course grade) Improvements seen from 1L to 2L More text in their essay answers. Some students are using good organization to essays. Some students are reading cases and Restatement very well. Some 1Ls improved GPAs and are not required in 2L course. Agency Practicum Course text: J. Dennis Hynes & Mark J. Loewenstein, AGENCY, PARTNERSHIP, AND THE LLC (Abridged 7th ed. Lexis Nexis). Two sections – 9 in Day 9 in evening Most of the students are required to take course (GPA’s under 2.2). Agency Practicum (2L’s) Common Problems with essays and exam answers Issue statements lack legal terms Rushes past the rule (reduced to bullet outline, parenthetical) Doesn’t delve into the next level of rule (repeats the general rule) Lacks meaningful application of law to fact Brushes past counterargts Mentions cases that were not covered in class HW for Agency 2Ls Writing short essays to hypothetical problems Submitting course outline of first two chapters (I spotted over-inclusive and under-inclusive outlining) Drafting contract provisions from the point of view of 3 different parties Self-Assessment survey (what percentage of time last semester did you spend on briefing cases? What did you learn from meeting with your professors about exam-taking skills?) In-class work Provided an open-book mid-term Reviewed in class the exam & assigned re-write as HW Because it was doctrinal course, spent more class time discussing cases than in LAP course (1st year). Small class size allowed for students to spend time on their questions about assigned readings and other topics Integrating ASP skills Learning styles assessments (online Building Excellence) Time Management Test Anxiety discussed Individualized feedback – electronic commenting One-on-one conferences Any Questions Contact – [email protected] (718) 990-6609 Thank you!!