How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

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ToTransferOrNot
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Tue Nov 10, 2009 11:10 pm

edcrane wrote:
As to "inherent lack of quality," I think you'll be hard pressed to find many professors who prefer 20,000 word answers with objectively deeper analysis to 5,000 word answers that hit all the same issues but offer more "pruned" analysis (e.g., dismissing claims that have no real chance of succeeding in one sentence instead of five). Call me cynical, but I think most of them prefer answers that are easier and quicker to grade.


This post is going to come off as bragging. I don't mean it to--I really don't--I just see this as a common misperception, and I want to offer a specific rebuttal.

In my experience, this isn't true. Professors specifically told me that my depth of analysis is what put me in the A+ level of things. That happened on every exam without a word limit in 1L (I did speak with the profs about the exams, since they were writing letters for me.) One professor in particular said "This is the highest grade I have ever given on any exam. You scored this high because the analysis makes the exam read like a brief." All of my exams had extra points allocated for depth of analysis and for spotting fringe issues (within my in-depth analysis of main issues) that weren't on the checklist.

If that had just happened in one class, I would be more willing to write it off, but three different professors (in four different classes--I had the same prof for Civ Pro I and II) thought the same way. One professor--who gave me my lowest 1L grade because I went 2,000 words over the word limit, and spent well over an hour trying to cut things--admitted to me that he didn't see what I would have been able to cut without losing substance.

On exams without word limits, I was adding things until the buzzer that netted points. On exams with word limits, I had at least an hour, if not more, to go back and make edits/pare things down (worked out well, except for the class I mentioned above.) The sad truth of it is that typing speed does matter--and it matters a *lot*, though certainly less in word-limited exams. Ironically, torts was one of my word-limited exams (and one of my courses with the narrowest scope,) which just goes to show that this isn't a subject-matter thing, it's an exam format thing.

I would say that the only exam format where speed doesn't matter a lot is a word-limited take-home.

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edcrane
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby edcrane » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:17 am

ToTransferOrNot wrote:
edcrane wrote:
As to "inherent lack of quality," I think you'll be hard pressed to find many professors who prefer 20,000 word answers with objectively deeper analysis to 5,000 word answers that hit all the same issues but offer more "pruned" analysis (e.g., dismissing claims that have no real chance of succeeding in one sentence instead of five). Call me cynical, but I think most of them prefer answers that are easier and quicker to grade.


This post is going to come off as bragging. I don't mean it to--I really don't--I just see this as a common misperception, and I want to offer a specific rebuttal.

In my experience, this isn't true. Professors specifically told me that my depth of analysis is what put me in the A+ level of things. That happened on every exam without a word limit in 1L (I did speak with the profs about the exams, since they were writing letters for me.) One professor in particular said "This is the highest grade I have ever given on any exam. You scored this high because the analysis makes the exam read like a brief." All of my exams had extra points allocated for depth of analysis and for spotting fringe issues (within my in-depth analysis of main issues) that weren't on the checklist.

If that had just happened in one class, I would be more willing to write it off, but three different professors (in four different classes--I had the same prof for Civ Pro I and II) thought the same way. One professor--who gave me my lowest 1L grade because I went 2,000 words over the word limit, and spent well over an hour trying to cut things--admitted to me that he didn't see what I would have been able to cut without losing substance.

On exams without word limits, I was adding things until the buzzer that netted points. On exams with word limits, I had at least an hour, if not more, to go back and make edits/pare things down (worked out well, except for the class I mentioned above.) The sad truth of it is that typing speed does matter--and it matters a *lot*, though certainly less in word-limited exams. Ironically, torts was one of my word-limited exams (and one of my courses with the narrowest scope,) which just goes to show that this isn't a subject-matter thing, it's an exam format thing.

I would say that the only exam format where speed doesn't matter a lot is a word-limited take-home.


Nah, it doesn't come off as bragging--it's great that you did well. But I think you're mistaken to assume this "sad truth" necessarily generalizes to all schools/professors. It certainly doesn't describe my experience. I'm a slow typer (50 WPM) and a concise writer. My longest exam answer last semester was in the neighborhood of 4000 words. My shortest was about 1800. I got an A+ on an answer of intermediate length (the exam itself had no word limit) and A's on the others.

I'm willing to concede that I might not have done as well at your school. But I think you have to recognize that not all exams are typing contests. Lucky for me, almost none of mine were.

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:29 am

It may very well be a school thing (and that goes both ways.) It is also quite possible that I just got extremely lucky in the professors that I ended up with (more proof that a lot of law school is completely luck.) Edit: I absolutely concede that not all exams are typing races, but I honestly thought that all exams that didn't have word limits were. You've given me reason to think otherwise.

In general, the folks that I knew who did well combined a moderate level of depth with a massive amount of volume. All of the model exam answers that I've seen have been the same deal, at both schools. However, the proof is in the pudding--obviously, in the end, you have to work with what you bring to the table.

Out of curiosity, did you spend less time outlining the answer before you started to write to make up for some of the time you lost in the typing race?

I just took one of those silly online typing exam things, and ended up with ~80 WPM, which is a lot faster than I would have expected, considering that I only use two fingers on my left hand, and three on my right. I never learned how to type properly, and I still have to look down at the keyboard every few words--really annoying.

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edcrane
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby edcrane » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:57 am

ToTransferOrNot wrote:It may very well be a school thing (and that goes both ways.) It is also quite possible that I just got extremely lucky in the professors that I ended up with (more proof that a lot of law school is completely luck.) Edit: I absolutely concede that not all exams are typing races, but I honestly thought that all exams that didn't have word limits were. You've given me reason to think otherwise.

In general, the folks that I knew who did well combined a moderate level of depth with a massive amount of volume. All of the model exam answers that I've seen have been the same deal, at both schools. However, the proof is in the pudding--obviously, in the end, you have to work with what you bring to the table.

Out of curiosity, did you spend less time outlining the answer before you started to write to make up for some of the time you lost in the typing race?

I just took one of those silly online typing exam things, and ended up with ~80 WPM, which is a lot faster than I would have expected, considering that I only use two fingers on my left hand, and three on my right. I never learned how to type properly, and I still have to look down at the keyboard every few words--really annoying.


lol. Well I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't type properly. I really should put in some time with typing tutor, but you know what they say about things that ain't broke.

I think I actually spent more time than most of my colleagues on outlining and thinking about my answers. I never won the typing race--I estimate that I was in the bottom quartile, in terms of word count, almost all the time. On the other hand, I did a lot of citing, which can function as shorthand insofar as it lets you state very specific propositions without elaborating much on context. Of course my experience might be unusual. Maybe I was fortunate to draw a bunch of lazy professors with preferences for economical answers. Thankfully, all of the classes I'm taking now lend themselves to this sort of treatment, so I don't have to worry too much about maniacal 150 WPM typists.

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:20 am

No doubt. 2L=lots of statutory classes=not so much volume. There's only so much you can write in response to a tax hypo, and when your professor makes fun of the comments in the UCC, well, there you have it.

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kurla88
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby kurla88 » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:23 am

I was looking at all the sample answers for my profs online and they tend to only be 2-3 pages per question. (Single spaced.) Not sure how many words that is, but not THAT many.

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Cavalier
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby Cavalier » Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:49 pm

After taking a practice, issue-spotter exam, I think the key is not really typing speed, but being able to type without stopping to check the outline and the like. For instance, I saw what I thought was a res ipsa loquitur issue, but I didn't remember exactly what res ipsa loquitur involved, so I had to scan my outline to see that the plaintiff should show (1) the event ordinarily doesn't occur without negligence, and (2) it's in the exclusive control of the defendant. Ideally, if I have that information in my head (or on a one-page checklist, perhaps) I'll be able to spend more time typing and less time reading my outline.

If I can get the point where I can type without stopping (much) from the moment I read the question and write a basic outline, I think I'll do fine even if I'm only doing 20-30 WPM.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby Matthies » Wed Nov 11, 2009 1:08 pm

Cavalier wrote:If I can get the point where I can type without stopping (much) from the moment I read the question and write a basic outline, I think I'll do fine even if I'm only doing 20-30 WPM.


This is what I did. I'm a really slow typer, I don't even know 10 words a min maybe? Plus I make lots of mistakes becuase I am dylexic. So I just treated any in class exam, open book or not, as closed book and "overlearned" or memrized what i needed to know. That way as soon as I spoted an issue I knew the rule in my hea dand could write it out right then. I never really looked at outlines during exams (if we could have them) as I just did not have time. I also never outlined my asnwer before I started typing like some folks do, I just shot from the hip. I did pretty good in LS. But as soon as I had the option I avioded any classes with in-class exams and took take homes or paper classes, I know my streanghts and my weaknesses, I do better when I have time to write/edit w/o too much time pressure. This meant I had to skip some bar courses, but so be it, it kept my GPA high becuase I knew what types of exams I could do best on and in class where not them.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby m311 » Sat Nov 14, 2009 3:20 pm

Just took my first mini practice test (35 minutes). 600 words. =[ I definitely need to finish reading GTM. I was just jumping around from issue to issue.

Was thrown a little bit because there were issues on it we haven't covered yet though.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Thu Nov 19, 2009 8:27 pm

20,000 words per hour

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extragnarls
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby extragnarls » Thu Nov 19, 2009 8:45 pm

edcrane wrote:Maybe I was fortunate to draw a bunch of lazy professors with preferences for economical answers. Thankfully, all of the classes I'm taking now lend themselves to this sort of treatment, so I don't have to worry too much about maniacal 150 WPM typists.


I'd mostly be scared if it were also the case that they could generate coherent thoughts at 150wpm. I can think my youthful internet addiction for the fact that I can type 120wpm, but for purposes of law school exams I see diminishing returns after 100wpm, if not before that.

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basetommyball
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby basetommyball » Sun Nov 22, 2009 11:34 pm

I only had one exam, con law, where I wrote more than 7,000, and it got me a B+.

Otherwise, I've been averaging 2500-5000 per exam, and thats gotten me median<me<top-third.

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vanwinkle
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Dec 03, 2009 10:59 pm

I just did my first full 3-hour practice exam. 5,045 words, which doesn't seem that high, except for the fact that I finished 30 minutes early and had run out of things to say. I spent the remaining time cleaning up the formatting and grammar.

I'll go back over it tomorrow to see if I missed anything important, but I really don't feel like I did.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby 270910 » Thu Dec 03, 2009 11:11 pm

vanwinkle wrote:I just did my first full 3-hour practice exam. 5,045 words, which doesn't seem that high, except for the fact that I finished 30 minutes early and had run out of things to say. I spent the remaining time cleaning up the formatting and grammar.

I'll go back over it tomorrow to see if I missed anything important, but I really don't feel like I did.


You did.

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dood
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby dood » Thu Dec 03, 2009 11:25 pm

...
Last edited by dood on Tue Jun 29, 2010 8:56 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby 1474292940502124 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:07 am

disco_barred wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:I just did my first full 3-hour practice exam. 5,045 words, which doesn't seem that high, except for the fact that I finished 30 minutes early and had run out of things to say. I spent the remaining time cleaning up the formatting and grammar.

I'll go back over it tomorrow to see if I missed anything important, but I really don't feel like I did.


You did.

+1

ToTransferOrNot
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby ToTransferOrNot » Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:17 am

betasteve wrote:
disco_barred wrote:
vanwinkle wrote:I just did my first full 3-hour practice exam. 5,045 words, which doesn't seem that high, except for the fact that I finished 30 minutes early and had run out of things to say. I spent the remaining time cleaning up the formatting and grammar.

I'll go back over it tomorrow to see if I missed anything important, but I really don't feel like I did.


You did.

+1


+1. Unless the exam had very narrow, statute-based questions... and even then, you probably missed something.

My tax practice exams are involving a whole lot of failure at the moment, and it is concerning me:/

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby legends159 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 4:21 am

1 professor put word limit in order to prevent the unfair awarding for typing speed. Other two professors explicitly stated that they want short answers and the model answers they post are about 12 double space pages total. My torts professor doesn't want any nonsense about listing out the elements of a doctrine, only analysis of law to facts.

so for a battery case, instead of listing out the elements, he instead wants us to just state the facts that show intent, harm, contact. And if it's pretty obvious he doesn't want us to discuss how it might not be that obvious. I think that's pretty fair way of grading (not giving points for stating what the elements of a doctrine are) because otherwise you're awarding people to type out their outlines.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby 270910 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 9:33 am

legends159 wrote:so for a battery case, instead of listing out the elements, he instead wants us to just state the facts that show intent, harm, contact. And if it's pretty obvious he doesn't want us to discuss how it might not be that obvious. I think that's pretty fair way of grading (not giving points for stating what the elements of a doctrine are) because otherwise you're awarding people to type out their outlines.


I think the practice of not awarding points for just stating legal rules is actually somewhere between common and universal. My intuition is that for issue spotter questions, every professor will grade differently, but in general you won't ever get points for stating just the law or just the facts.

I'd also so say that profs who make a fuss about valuing concision short of imposing word limits are kind of laying a trap. It's in their interest to have less to read to grade, and they want people think carefully instead of just panicking and vomiting outlines or irrelevant/incorrect information onto the exam. On the other hand, it's unimaginable that a professor would ever fail to grant a point for correct and non-redundant analysis, and if you happen to be prepared enough to be in a position to put a lot of that on paper... my guess is that for every long answer which is dense and correct there are 4 long answers that are rambling and error-prone. But for that one student, I just can't see a professor flipping through the response and thinking 'Damn this long and insightful answer which spots more issues than any other exam in the class by a wide margin! Damn it straight to hell! This person will amount to nothing!'. (Obvious exception: if that exam flouted an explicit word limit). I'll note in passing that I've seen stories on TLS of students who DID flout the word limit, didn't get credit for it, but had professors express that the extra info they wrote was on point and would have generated points, which kind of proves the whole 'length by itself isn't the enemy' points.

Put another way, professors grade exams based on how lawerly they are. That's going to be a different set of criteria for each professor, but length is never a lawyerly or unlawyerly trait on its own. Many profs, however, seem to notice long exams tend to be the result of a process that exhibits other unlawyerly traits along the way (redundancy, incoherency, extraneous words, facts, or law, analytical errors, etc.).

A general law school tip: When a professor speaks in platitudes ('avoid long answers', 'avoid hornbooks', 'IRAC is good', 'IRAC is bad') it's important to realize why they're saying what they're saying and to whom they're actually giving the advice. The answer to the first question is rarely 'because it's always true', and the answer to the second question is almost never 'everyone in the class'. Notable exceptions would be things like 'put page numbers on your exam' :P

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apper123
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby apper123 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 11:12 am

On typeracer.com, I usually average around 120-125 WPM. I can push it to 150+ at the cost of accuracy. When the words are coming out of my head rather than something I'm reading? 135+ average easy. Too bad my first exam has a word limit :-(.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby legends159 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 12:32 pm

disco_barred wrote:On the other hand, it's unimaginable that a professor would ever fail to grant a point for correct and non-redundant analysis, and if you happen to be prepared enough to be in a position to put a lot of that on paper...


I'm sure you're right except that it's hard to be sure you're making non-redundant relevant analysis when you're focused on word count and how much you're saying. There are only so many conceivable issues in each fact pattern and sure you can, for a negligence issue mention one alternative safer method or you could mention 5. If your professor gives you points for all 5 then great. I'm pretty sure my torts professor will not. Especially since he says he will take off points for irrelevant analysis.

Each professor is different. Looking at past model answers and knowing the kind of personality he has by reading into what he says is relevant. IMO, if you feel like your professor doesn't really want to sit there and grade long essays that ramble it would probably behoove you to be more concise and organized even if you sacrifice word count.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby edcrane » Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:39 pm

disco_barred wrote: On the other hand, it's unimaginable that a professor would ever fail to grant a point for correct and non-redundant analysis, and if you happen to be prepared enough to be in a position to put a lot of that on paper... my guess is that for every long answer which is dense and correct there are 4 long answers that are rambling and error-prone. But for that one student, I just can't see a professor flipping through the response and thinking 'Damn this long and insightful answer which spots more issues than any other exam in the class by a wide margin! Damn it straight to hell! This person will amount to nothing!'.


It's unimaginable? Really? Most exams are graded with checklists that allocate a fixed number of points to analysis of any given issue. Once you get those points, any additional effort will be wasted. I've had numerous professors explicitly make this point. In fact, just yesterday one of my professors hammered this home...
My CCN professor wrote:Even if you write the most comprehensive, perfect response imaginable, you will not get more than 20 points for any given question. Period.


So yeah, it might not hurt to produce volumes of analysis after you've produced an answer that spots the obvious ambiguity in the facts and makes the clearest two arguments for/against application of rule x, but I wouldn't expect to get a lot of extra points this way.

disco_barred wrote:A general law school tip: When a professor speaks in platitudes ('avoid long answers', 'avoid hornbooks', 'IRAC is good', 'IRAC is bad') it's important to realize why they're saying what they're saying and to whom they're actually giving the advice. The answer to the first question is rarely 'because it's always true', and the answer to the second question is almost never 'everyone in the class'. Notable exceptions would be things like 'put page numbers on your exam' :P


Maybe. In my experience, though, it pays to listen to your professors, especially when they tell you about the sort of answers they like to see. If your prof says IRAC, it usually means she wants IRAC. If she says "focused analysis--this isn't an issue spotting test," she probably doesn't want you to treat it like a standard issue spotter.

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby 270910 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:58 pm

edcrane wrote:
My CCN professor wrote:Even if you write the most comprehensive, perfect response imaginable, you will not get more than 20 points for any given question. Period.


In my experience, though, it pays to listen to your professors, especially when they tell you about the sort of answers they like to see. If your prof says IRAC, it usually means she wants IRAC. If she says "focused analysis--this isn't an issue spotting test," she probably doesn't want you to treat it like a standard issue spotter.


I don't really think we're actually saying two different things. I agree 100% that you should follow to the T the format guidelines your professor gives you. I'm just trying to suggest that a professor saying "I want IRAC" at least isn't implying you'll get equal points for I/R/A/C, and probably means "I want irAAAc". As in, professors are unlikely to mislead or say things that are false, but you often have to read between the lines.

And in the case of the CCN prof, my guess is that most test takers don't come close to getting 20 points on every question. When I said 'correct, non-redundant analysis' I was assuming a pretty high bar for both (and probably should have added the word 'relevant'). I think that my statement is thus actually more or less analogous to yours prof's - unless for whatever reason the professor wrote a question 30 correct, relevant, non-redundant issues and will only give you points for the first 20. Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but if it happens on an exam and you have that instruction, by all means move on to the next question you can get points on instead of grinding away on the first. Maybe after you feel like you've said 22 relevant, non-redundant things to be safe ;) (Obviously I'm not actually selecting that it's either possible or pragmatic to try to count your 'points' as you write an exam)

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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby 270910 » Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:08 pm

Thought about it some more:

Disco_barred wishes he wrote:Absent explicit instruction to the contrary, any statement on an exam which:

1) Is correct, (Not based on faulty assumptions, doesn't misread facts, use incorrect law)
2) Relevant, (applies appropriate law to appropriate facts or bears on the policy discussion, bears on the question asked)
3) Potentially material, (isn't irrelevant to the outcome of the legal or policy question)
4) and non-redundant (isn't merely a slight modification of previous analysis for the application of law or policy discussion)

Will be worth points on an exam



And thus to the extent you have things to say which satisfy elements 1-4, you should say them until you reach a fixed word limit without worrying too much about being 'wordy'.It's most important to just focus on doing the above as well and as quickly as possible, and it should implicitly filter what you write.

If you (or anyone else) disagrees with any of that still (and I doubt you would), that would be an interesting discussion. But hopefully now at least what I'm saying is perfectly clear.

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edcrane
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Re: How many words (on average) do you write for exam answer?

Postby edcrane » Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:41 pm

disco_barred wrote:Thought about it some more:

Disco_barred wishes he wrote:Absent explicit instruction to the contrary, any statement on an exam which:

1) Is correct, (Not based on faulty assumptions, doesn't misread facts, use incorrect law)
2) Relevant, (applies appropriate law to appropriate facts or bears on the policy discussion, bears on the question asked)
3) Potentially material, (isn't irrelevant to the outcome of the legal or policy question)
4) and non-redundant (isn't merely a slight modification of previous analysis for the application of law or policy discussion)

Will be worth points on an exam



And thus to the extent you have things to say which satisfy elements 1-4, you should say them until you reach a fixed word limit without worrying too much about being 'wordy'.It's most important to just focus on doing the above as well and as quickly as possible, and it should implicitly filter what you write.

If you (or anyone else) disagrees with any of that still (and I doubt you would), that would be an interesting discussion. But hopefully now at least what I'm saying is perfectly clear.


I think this is a reasonable heuristic for 1st semester 1Ls. But you may find that you need to change your approach after you get your grades back. I did.

During the first semester of 1L, I focused on spotting as many issues and doing as much analysis as possible. I didn't want anything to slip past me. This turned out to be a pretty weak strategy for me. During the second semester, I stopped worrying about missing extremely subtle (but relevant) arguments and instead tried to produce extremely clean, concise answers, pursuant to my torts professor's advice to "write like a lawyer." This definitely cost me words on the exams--my exams were probably 10-20% shorter during the second semester, mostly as a result of limiting my analysis and not discussing weak arguments at any significant length. But my grades went up a lot.

This is not to say your strategy won't work for you. You might end up with a 4.3 this semester. But I would be cautious about trying to generalize your intuitions into formulas for exam success.




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