Thursday, March 31, 2011

Exam writing advice

This post is for all my students, present, past, and future. I am writing to offer advice today on how to write essay or short-answer or identification exams.

First, read the question carefully. Then read it again--carefully. Then read it a third time, underlining any important words such as "most" or "major." Then don't start writing.

But, I'm pressed for time, I hear you say. And, yes, of course, there are time constraints on exams. Some of us can work quickly, and some of us need more time to compose our thoughts. Knowing the clock is ticking can make many quite nervous. But, still I say don't start writing--unless it is to make a list. 

If you take the time to think about exactly what the question is asking and then start to formulate an answer by pulling an idea from here and a component from there, you will wind up with a much better answer. So, don't start writing right away.

Essay and short answer questions are designed to make you think. They are not intended to be the kind of answer that you can memorize and then just write down. So, taking time to think about the answer--wracking your brain, if you will, is crucial.

There are two most important components to an essay or short answer. The first is that your answer pertains to what the question is asking and ONLY what the question is asking. The second is that your answer is complete. If you leave something critical out, you will not get full credit.

Once you've determined that your list is complete and pertains to only that subject the question is asking about, then you can start writing. And then the writing should go pretty smoothly and quickly.

This method sounds as if it will take too much time, but for most people it will probably take less time or the same amount of time. And it will result in a significantly better score.

So, be sure to take the time to think about all the possible components that would need to go into a complete answer, make lists of those things, then look at the list and cross out any that don't specifically pertain to that individual question.

Then you can start writing. If there is interest, I will write more about answering essay-type answers for history exams in the future. If you want more tips, just let me know by leaving a comment or mentioning this blogpost to me after class.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

For my pre-law students

This post is directed toward my pre-law students but it's an interesting read for anyone thinking about pursuing any type of career in law or social justice. The link below goes to an interview from the New York Times . The subject is a recent law school graduate who has wholeheartedly taken on an area of legal services need.

Law and Lawyers students: remember my insistence that there is no glut of lawyers today--there's actually a need for lawyers in public service law? This interview is an example of what I mean: