Difference Between A- and an A

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goosey
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Difference Between A- and an A

Postby goosey » Wed May 23, 2012 4:31 am

I've come to the conclusion that there is something I am fundamentally missing in regards to how to take a law school exam. At the risk of sounding completely obnoxious [and I assure you this is a genuine inquiry], I cannot seem to get over the A- hump. I never get A's...not even one. There are classes where I literally know the law inside out, and then there are classes where I know it pretty well but not as thoroughly as others, yet at the end of the day, my best exams will always come back as an A- regardless of how well I knew the law. This leads me to the belief that I am doing something wrong.

B+ is median and I have a 4 credit B- and a 3 credit B....I also have about 5 B+'s
Seeing as I am starting my third year and will be applying to another program come next february, I have one semester of grades to jump as many percentage points in ranking as possible, and the 8 credits below median are seriously killing me. I want to try and get A's next semester to boost my gpa, but am not quite sure where to start. I know the law, I do practice tests.....2L I did hardly any work and that should certainly change, but my grades didnt drop as a result, they actually went up---so what is it that A exams do that A-'s dont???

CanadianWolf
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby CanadianWolf » Wed May 23, 2012 8:04 am

Might be that the content of your writing is good, but your writing style needs improvement.

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Paichka
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Paichka » Wed May 23, 2012 8:49 am

Have you talked to your professors? Most of them would probably be willing to go over your exam with you and tell you where you can improve.

And as CanadianWolf said, knowing the law is only half the battle -- I swear half of my points on test day came from the fact that I was hyper-organized on the final. Double spaces between paragraphs, headers for every change in subject...I essentially organized my exam answers like a brief, following a strict TREAT format. Feedback from my professors ALWAYS emphasized how easy my answers were to read and grade.

Good luck as you go into your 3L year!

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diegoforlan10
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby diegoforlan10 » Wed May 23, 2012 9:24 am

Paichka wrote:Have you talked to your professors? Most of them would probably be willing to go over your exam with you and tell you where you can improve.

And as CanadianWolf said, knowing the law is only half the battle -- I swear half of my points on test day came from the fact that I was hyper-organized on the final. Double spaces between paragraphs, headers for every change in subject...I essentially organized my exam answers like a brief, following a strict TREAT format. Feedback from my professors ALWAYS emphasized how easy my answers were to read and grade.

Good luck as you go into your 3L year!


I have never heard of TREAT before and my google skills are failing me, where can I find more info on this format?

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Paichka
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Paichka » Wed May 23, 2012 9:38 am

It's basically a modified IRAC -- they teach it at GW, but other formats would work just as well. The point is to be organized.

TREAT looks like this:

THESIS
RULE
EXPLANATION
APPLICATION
THESIS (Restated)

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Renne Walker
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Renne Walker » Wed May 23, 2012 10:06 am

goosey wrote:I've come to the conclusion that there is something I am fundamentally missing in regards to how to take a law school exam.

The “curve” is likely the culprit. Initially I was skeptical about the scenario that if everyone agreed that 1+1=2, some would receive an A, others a B (or worse). While I do not wholeheartedly accept the concept, I cannot dispute it. It is like an exam that seems too easy, if it is easy for me then it is simple for everyone else too, thus, IMHO, your grade is solidly in the hands of the curve.

As far as an earlier post about talking with the professor. . . good luck with that.

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kalvano
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby kalvano » Wed May 23, 2012 10:21 am

The difference for me has been really small. Like missing one case that was important on the essay but nailing the other case that was important. Little things like that.

If you really want to know, you need to go talk to your professors. They can tell you exactly.

lawyerwannabe
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby lawyerwannabe » Wed May 23, 2012 11:45 am

If the teacher is more of a holistic grader (e.g. 8 hour take home with a word limit tests often lend themselves to this type of grading), the difference between an A- and an A seems like writing style and analytically creativity. Most people will have enough time to spot and address most of the obvious issues.

If the teacher is a point-counter (e.g. 4 hour in-class typing competition issue spotting), then the difference between an A- and an A- seems to be, of course, the number of issues you spot. The people who spot the most issues are the people who spot a lot of issues, systematically break all of them down to find more issues, and then repeat for the next one.

HTH (and hope my own views aren't completely off).

shock259
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby shock259 » Wed May 23, 2012 11:59 am

I couldn't tell you what I did differently in my A- classes vs. my A classes. I prepared the same, analyzed the same, and felt the same coming out of the exam. I haven't talked to my profs about them, either. Who knows...?

LSATNightmares
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby LSATNightmares » Wed May 23, 2012 12:37 pm

Some suggestions:

-Maybe you don't know the law quite as well as you thought. There may be some small things you miss here and there.
-Professors may not be giving out as many A's or A+'s as you think. For example, I had a professor last semester who, in a class of 90, gave out 1 A+, 4 A's, and 14 A-'s.
-Are you arguing both sides of the issue? You may have missed some points by not giving counterarguments.
-The difference between an A and A- could be that someone thought of something that the professor didn't, and that person got creative bonus points.
-Again, as others mention, spelling and grammar count. Writing style can give a subliminal or even explicit boost to your grade.
-Also, luck. I wouldn't discount that. One of your classmates might have done a tricky E&E problem that gave him a boost because it was very similar to that on the exam. You never know.

lawyerwannabe
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby lawyerwannabe » Wed May 23, 2012 12:55 pm

LSATNightmares wrote:-Also, luck. I wouldn't discount that. One of your classmates might have done a tricky E&E problem that gave him a boost because it was very similar to that on the exam. You never know.


LOL. This happened on my torts exam for me (at least for part of the question)!

NotMyRealName09
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby NotMyRealName09 » Wed May 23, 2012 1:15 pm

I would guess it's writing style. And I'm not talking spelling or elegance - I mean getting to the point as quickly as possible. Maybe you don't quite write like a lawyer. Do you have an English degree or some sort of liberal arts background, that gave you artistic habits that have no place in legal writing? Maybe you don't cut to the chase quick enough.

I know when I wrote exams, it was mechanical - the first issue is X. The first subissue under X issue is Y. Y is defined as if X then Z. Because D did X to P, applying Y results in Z.

Then next sub issue under X is Y1, etc etc.

I would also make bold headings to break up the text and provide a roadmap for my reasoning. I'm not the best writer in the world, but I quickly learned there is no place for flowery language in the law - get to the point, as the Judge or Clerk, if they read the brief at all, will be happy you moved along quickly. Professors like that too. And the quicker you get to the point, the more points you can accumulate in your exam.

It could also be just pure luck. Grading is subjective in law school no matter what anyone says - could be you simply had an unlucky streak of professors who all happened to think you deserved an A- rather than an A. Other professors grading the same exams might have given you an A. Who knows?

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Scaliable
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Scaliable » Wed May 23, 2012 1:19 pm

Out of curiosity OP, when you say that you "know the law," what exactly do you mean? You've memorized the Black Letter? I mean this to be constructive: when my friends in & around the median say they "know the law," oftentimes there are holes (even big holes) in their knowledge.

Notwithstanding this skepticism on my part, if you're topping out at an A-, doubtless you can improve at massaging the law. To do this, you need to understand that almost every law you apply in an exam will have multiple interpretive paths to follow, and it's imperative that you touch on all of them.

For example, imagine a Prox Cause problem in torts: Defendant is speeding through a 'men working' area on a highway, narrowly misses running over a worker on the shoulder, but trips a cord laying across the roadway that in turn pulls down a telephone pole atop which Plaintiff was working, causing P to fall to the ground. If you (the exam-taker) "know the law," you'll probably know to apply the Restatement "Risk within Array" test and/or the "Refocused Breach" test. This case won't meet the Refocused Breach test because the main risk that makes speeding through a 'men working' area negligent is the risk of running over a worker. Plaintiff would be better served to use the Risk within Array test, which would find prox cause for other foreseeable but less probable injuries to P (such as D's car kicking up a loose rock that struck one of the workers). But let's assume you think this test would fail too. At this point, you will have (a) stated the law, and (b) applied the law to the facts.

But you're not done. Those who score higher on exams recognize a simple fact pattern like this as an opportunity to (i) really massage the law, and (ii) discuss policy. As to what I call massaging the law, you should include interpretations of law in your exam even if they seem strained to you. For instance, in the above problem, there's an argument to be made that P's injury does indeed fall within the "Risk within Array" test, because although the manner in which P was injured was somewhat bizarre, D's negligent driving produced the same result as if D had in fact run over a worker--there's a badly injured road worker. Supposing this seems wrong to you, you should say so.

This leads into the second opportunity, to discuss policy, because it's a natural time to discuss the fact that Prox Cause is meant to be a Liability Limiting doctrine. A fact pattern like this is the perfect chance to discuss (1) fairness/morality concerns, (2) optimal deterrence & economic concerns, (3) administrative feasibility concerns, (4) adequate compensation concerns, or any other policies your torts professor may have covered. Furthermore, its a chance to remind your reader that Prox Cause is an issue for the fact-finder, and to note that tort law is therefore not perverted just because reasonable jurors could come to different conclusions as to whether D should be held liable.

All of this is to say that, while neither I nor anyone else responding can be sure where you're missing points, you're definitely missing points & easy ones for that matter. To a certain extent, I've only parroted Getting to Maybe in this post, so I would suggest that you re-read that book. However, I also think that common knowledge on law school test-taking undersells this point: Even A+ exams suck. You need to take to heart that the person writing your exam is leaps and bounds smarter than you, and has in each question intentionally disguised a monster of a problem as a nice, workable fact pattern. Thus, I think the best thing you can do for yourself is change your working presumption from "I know the law inside and out" to "I'm missing something and need to uncover wrinkles in the law."

Good Luck.

NotMyRealName09
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby NotMyRealName09 » Wed May 23, 2012 1:19 pm

Paichka wrote:It's basically a modified IRAC -- they teach it at GW, but other formats would work just as well. The point is to be organized.

TREAT looks like this:

THESIS
RULE
EXPLANATION
APPLICATION
THESIS (Restated)


So its CIRAC with the CI being Thesis, the R being split into Rule and Explanation, and the C being CI again. I'm sure there is more to it, but doesn't seem that different.

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R86
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby R86 » Wed May 23, 2012 1:27 pm

Tag

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Paichka
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Paichka » Wed May 23, 2012 1:51 pm

NotMyRealName09 wrote:
Paichka wrote:It's basically a modified IRAC -- they teach it at GW, but other formats would work just as well. The point is to be organized.

TREAT looks like this:

THESIS
RULE
EXPLANATION
APPLICATION
THESIS (Restated)


So its CIRAC with the CI being Thesis, the R being split into Rule and Explanation, and the C being CI again. I'm sure there is more to it, but doesn't seem that different.


Sure. My point wasn't that TREAT is the way to go, but rather than you should have a very mechanical way of working through each question -- be it IRAC, TREAT, or something else. I used TREAT because that's what I was taught, but IRAC or CIRAC or whatever would be equally effective. The point is to be organized.

I think your post earlier up about using bold headings and a mechanical approach to the problem is spot on.

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goosey
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby goosey » Wed May 23, 2012 2:16 pm

thanks for the feedback.

in terms of knowing the law, I am condifent thats not the problem. I actually spoke to professor's afterwards and asked what could make me an A verses and A- and they said that the law is not the problem and that however I am studying the BLL, just keep doing it.

The problem with post-exam meetings is that the professor probably doesnt even remember what the exam was---my professors usually use the rubric to review with me. So like the precise "well I think you are missing xyz" doesnt happen. And I have gotten general feedback like that what makes exams stand out to them is when the person gets the big picture. Like one professor told me he doesnt know if i did this specifically or not, but that the A answers have teh ability to spot issues and then also take a step back and see how all the issues relate to one another, and then discuss that as well.

I always pre-write my answers to make sure I dont think I am speaking coherently on the exam and then in the end not really make any sense because I'm typing up the rule under pressure. One thing I thought of is that the pre-writes may hinder me from delving as deep into discussion as I could have. Like that I have this paragraph written [which includes connections between topics, policy, etc] and so I write it all out, but then due to pressure, I am being mechanical and as a result my discussion winds up being less in depth than it should be.

So this semester, for the exam I did have pre-written answers for, I made a conscious effort to not use teh pre-writes as such a crutch, and to force myself to type more discussion after the pre-written answer and to get more depth. But still A-.

There are also the exams where I can specifically recall one thing that screwed me over...like on my T&E exam I didnt know one part of the elective share statute properly. So there I had a reason to know why I didnt get an A. It seems like my reasons vary so much its hard to find a common thread like I did with lsat studying.

Younger Abstention
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby Younger Abstention » Wed May 23, 2012 5:12 pm

If you haven't gotten As by now in doctrinal law school classes, chances are you will not start 3L year. At this point, the chances you will improve your GPA a meaningful amount are slight. If you want to improve your GPA, then take seminar classes. The amount of effort it will take to start getting doctrinal As at this point in your law school career is not worth when compared to the negligible advantage you might gain. If you do not have a job yet, spend the time instead networking and learning practical legal skills.

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MrPapagiorgio
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby MrPapagiorgio » Wed May 23, 2012 6:15 pm

Echoing the organization element. Even on 3 hour in-class clusterfucks, the best grades will have spotted the most issues, but the highest grade will spot the most issues and be presented in a framework that is structurally and analytically superior.

Also, your median is a B+? That may play a part in it. In my (albeit limited) experience, that is an unusually high median and may have an influence on your predicament. The average grade is 2 letters below the highest? Wow.

lawyerwannabe
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby lawyerwannabe » Wed May 23, 2012 6:33 pm

MrPapagiorgio wrote:Echoing the organization element. Even on 3 hour in-class clusterfucks, the best grades will have spotted the most issues, but the highest grade will spot the most issues and be presented in a framework that is structurally and analytically superior.

Also, your median is a B+? That may play a part in it. In my (albeit limited) experience, that is an unusually high median and may have an influence on your predicament. The average grade is 2 letters below the highest? Wow.


Aren't a lot of T14s at a B+ median? The school I am at has a 3.3 median (~B+), dispensing grades to the tenth placement (e.g. 3.4, 3.5, etc.)

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istara
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby istara » Wed May 23, 2012 9:33 pm

goosey wrote:I always pre-write my answers to make sure I dont think I am speaking coherently on the exam and then in the end not really make any sense because I'm typing up the rule under pressure.


I don't even know what pre-writing an answer would mean. How do you predict what the facts are? I had a professor who let us use open exam soft first semester (access to our desktops and the internet), and he specifically warned us that although we'd be able to directly cut-paste from our outlines, people who do that always get lower grades because you can tell when someone cuts and pastes something out of context without adapting it to the actual facts. I pre-write, so to speak, my thoughts by doing lots of practice tests, but I don't take my answers in with me, I think they would only distract from the analysis that counts. (I know people who did this in ConLaw this semester. I don't know what grades they got by doing it, but I got an A when I didn't do it, so... YMMV).

As far as formats, you just have to have some kind of format that works for you. Professors hate long, rambling paragraphs. They like structure. Easier to grade = more likely to get a better grade. The format, ideally, should match the professors rubric. Since you can never know the rubric (unless they tell you) you have to make some assumptions based on how the professor teaches, what they emphasize (policy? BLL? pet peeves?), and any hints they give you about how they grade.

Generally, however, they want to see (1) that you answer the question (some kind of conclusion, but not a "conclusory" conclusion, i.e. say "So even though the court could hold A, it will likely hold B" rather than "the correct answer is B"); (2) that you know the rules (lay out the elements, I always number them just for clarity); and (3) that you can use the rules to analyze the facts (apply the elements, one by one).

And of course, always argue both sides, decide which arguments you think are most likely to win, and explain why.

Just MHO. It's gotten me an A on quite a few so far (fingers crossed waiting for the last 3 grades of the year to come in).

shock259
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby shock259 » Wed May 23, 2012 9:42 pm

I often pre-write answers for BLL heavy courses. It's basically just a pre-written statement of the BLL. At least that is how I use the term "pre-write."

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queenlizzie13
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby queenlizzie13 » Thu May 24, 2012 12:42 am

Sometimes its also just knowing exactly what a professor wants. I knew one specifically said to write a certain number of words so I made sure not to go over it by much and spent left over time (because I genally type fast and hit a lot of words on most exams) making the answer more concise and it paid off.

Also the times I have just gotten an A- I actually came out of the exam knowing what I did wrong. Part of having a kind of memory where I remember everything I wrote. It sucks because I wish I could forget an exam completely afterwards.

Or it had multiple choice part of the exam on it and I am not as good on those. Luckily have not had complete multiple choice tests yet.

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JoeFish
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby JoeFish » Thu May 24, 2012 3:23 am

A few little pointers that I think are relatively under-stressed in the whole exam process, and which I feel could be the little difference (in ADDITION to knowing every tiny little bit of law inside and out):
-Use direct quotes from the professor, and then elaborate on them. If your professor says something every other class about how this is a "broad rule with a narrow exception carved out", write those 8 words in all caps in your notes, star them, and be sure to find a way to work them (meaningfully) into your exam answer. Then, of course, elaborate so the professor knows you're not simply regurgitating his/her terminology but understanding it. Hell, if nothing else, it can be a little ego boost to the grader to know that you knew what they meant when they used their buzzwords. This fits into a broader category of "Remember Your Audience."
-Know each case inside and out. I use cases more than just about anyone on TLS. I read every case multiple times, and my finals studying consists almost entirely of reading cases. I don't necessarily recommend this as a primary study method, even though it works for me. Most of the time, you're not going to need to know that the house in X v. Y was 2-story rather than 1. But, seriously: if you know how to write an exam, you cannot get a worse score by knowing more facts. It will not hurt to use 2 seconds to type (like in X v. Y). I think a lot of plus points can be gained by analogizing little facts in the pattern to cases with similar facts, even if the "main point" of that case isn't really what is being asked for. Just make sure you do the real work first.
-Type fast. Type a lot. Quantity works wonders, especially on the issue spotters with a check mark for everything correct that you include. My personal crusade this summer is to get my younger brothers to learn how to type fast. It's enormously helpful.

Of course, when 2nd semester grades come out in a few days, I'll let you know whether to take this advice as gospel or with a grain of salt.

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goosey
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Re: Difference Between A- and an A

Postby goosey » Thu May 24, 2012 2:24 pm

shock259 wrote:I often pre-write answers for BLL heavy courses. It's basically just a pre-written statement of the BLL. At least that is how I use the term "pre-write."



yup thats what I mean also.

I also do this at the bottom:

"**if you see this issue, also look if you can discuss xyz or the implications of abc"


it helps you firstly learn the law and also see the big picture bc you are connecting different parts of the course that bounce off eachother and its just easier spacially seeing a blank page with only 4 lines of rule. additionally if i was just using my outline, the fact that all the info is spread out makes it so that i might forget an important nuance under the pressure of exam taking. Then, if I am typing it out on the exam, if some specific thing I have written doesnt actually apply, I skip that sentence.

Also, the cases is good. I dont ever worry about cases or analogizing cases and maybe thats something to look into.




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