Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

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jtabustos
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Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby jtabustos » Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:42 pm

For those who are experienced in this area and did well on their law school exams, I'm curious about a particular aspect of it that's not content-related, nor on format either.

Basically, I'm wondering if the exam and the skills needed to do very well on it is learnable and master-able (not sure if that's a word)? I know people have debated whether law school success is more about IQ, hard work, strategy and the like, but given that a person may know what to expect on a law school exam, how it's structured, how it's graded, etc. etc., is there just some element of it that ultimately is still a natural talent/knack that may account significantly for how you perform?

I know people have said it's about learning to issue spot and do analysis, type fast, know what your professor wants/likes, etc., but when it comes down to doing it, how much do you guys think natural talent or knack for it (which I'm scared I wouldn't know if I had until that time came) is what separates many of the "winners" from the "losers" in the end?

Related to that, can a person who may not have a natural knack for those skills develop them and successfully compete against those that do have it within the time-frame given to learn the material and how to apply it?

I really think this ranks as one of my top 10 concerns when evaluating law school. So I wanted to thank everyone in advance for your thoughts and perspective. Appreciate everyone's time and help!

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stillwater
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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby stillwater » Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:54 pm

like much in life its both talent and strategy. some people have te requisite skills: typing speed, quick spot analysis, legal recall. but thats all pretty meaningless if you dont learn and get the game. planning and skill carry the day. neither alone is enough

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Nammertat » Thu Jun 20, 2013 7:59 pm

I echo the above poster in that typing speed does matter, and would add that LRW skills can turn an average exam into an A-range exam. A lot of people will know the material extremely well, so it comes down to who can 1) spot the issues, 2) plan an attack, 3) execute. Personally I think that focusing on LRW early in the semester can pay huge dividends down the road. I place a large amount of my success in exam taking on my LRW prep early on.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby cinephile » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:00 pm

Knowing the material is a given, as is being able to spot the issues.

I've actually found that typing speed is irrelevant. What matters is simply knowing how the professor wants you to write. Think about that professor's specific phrasing, and if you know from model answers, how they want the exam answer structured. Not everyone wants IRAC, which is all you get out of LRW. So basically, just know your professor intimately and write the answer he or she would write. All the answers will pretty much have the same substance, it's just the way it's presented that matters.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Samara » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:16 pm

cinephile wrote:Knowing the material is a given, as is being able to spot the issues.

I've actually found that typing speed is irrelevant. What matters is simply knowing how the professor wants you to write. Think about that professor's specific phrasing, and if you know from model answers, how they want the exam answer structured. Not everyone wants IRAC, which is all you get out of LRW. So basically, just know your professor intimately and write the answer he or she would write. All the answers will pretty much have the same substance, it's just the way it's presented that matters.

+1

Though, I think typing speed matters to the degree that if you type faster you don't have to be as good at hitting the points in precisely the way the professor wants it. There's a little more of a "see what sticks" factor.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby stillwater » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:21 pm

Samara wrote:
cinephile wrote:Knowing the material is a given, as is being able to spot the issues.

I've actually found that typing speed is irrelevant. What matters is simply knowing how the professor wants you to write. Think about that professor's specific phrasing, and if you know from model answers, how they want the exam answer structured. Not everyone wants IRAC, which is all you get out of LRW. So basically, just know your professor intimately and write the answer he or she would write. All the answers will pretty much have the same substance, it's just the way it's presented that matters.

+1

Though, I think typing speed matters to the degree that if you type faster you don't have to be as good at hitting the points in precisely the way the professor wants it. There's a little more of a "see what sticks" factor.


i find people knowing the material is not a given. nor is their ability to spot issues

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby envisciguy » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:29 pm

cinephile wrote:Knowing the material is a given, as is being able to spot the issues.

I've actually found that typing speed is irrelevant. What matters is simply knowing how the professor wants you to write. Think about that professor's specific phrasing, and if you know from model answers, how they want the exam answer structured. Not everyone wants IRAC, which is all you get out of LRW. So basically, just know your professor intimately and write the answer he or she would write. All the answers will pretty much have the same substance, it's just the way it's presented that matters.


This is spot on. My best grades have come in classes where the professors gave their own answers/outlines to exam questions. Knowing the professor's style/how much detail they want is the key. If you know what the professor is looking for, you can tailor your exam and even your outline to their style. In Civ Pro, I made a separate outline based solely on the professor's answer to a past exam question and it was extremely helpful.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby smaug_ » Thu Jun 20, 2013 9:58 pm

I guess my experiences are a little different (though I agree with almost everything cinephile said). I would agree that you need to know what your professor wants, but I don't think innate skill, knowledge of the material or LRW SKILLZ really matter that much.

When I first started 1L, I thought the exams were something you could learn just by doing lots and lots of them to get a feel for the professor/exam taking experience. I was wrong. More important than doing a large number of exams is just treating the questions as difficult (even when they're not) and going through the process that the professor expects. That's it. If you're not sure what your professor is expecting, go talk to 2Ls/3Ls and they'll give you a better idea.

So, I wouldn't look at it as "learnability" as much as "what's the process that this professor wants, and how can I make the professor feel smart for asking me this question?" I had a good improvement between semesters once I realized that professors just want you to think their questions are hard and expect you should show that you wrestled with them.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby cinephile » Thu Jun 20, 2013 10:03 pm

Maybe I overstated it, but if you talk to people after the exam (a terrible practice, I know) almost everyone seems to have seen the same issues and written the same thing. But most of these people are going to get a B+ because they didn't convey it in the way the prof wanted.

As far as typing speed goes, I always just assumed everyone from our generation knew how to type at least 70 words per minute so being just a little bit faster isn't a huge help. It's not like we're Boomers who have to point and peck and look at the keyboard. If that's where you're starting from, then yes, invest some time in increasing your speed. Otherwise, you're probably fine.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Scotusnerd » Thu Jun 20, 2013 10:06 pm

You absolutely can learn these skills without "natural talent." There's four basic skill areas:
1. Knowing the material;
2. Knowing what law school exams require;
3. Knowing how to effectively communicate the material; and
4. Knowing what the professor wants you to communicate.

But there's another one too: adaptability. Let's be honest here. Nobody really has a clue how to take their first law school exam. Sure, some students have heard more about it and might have taken more mock exams, but no one has really DONE it. How can you separate yourself from the pack? You likely can't your first time through, because you don't know the target. But once you've done it once, you then know what it's about. You can change your strategies to what works for you. Don't be afraid to adjust your tactics. But what should you adjust your tactics to, exactly?

Well, to get a consistent A, you have to solicit and use feedback. Talk to your professors and figure out what you did right and wrong. Try to learn something from each one. And talk to them ALL, not just the one you did the worst in. Learning how you got an A is just as valuable as how you got a C. Use the information gleaned from professors to adjust your tactics.

Hopefully this helps a bit.

P.S. Typing skills don't matter that much. Be able to type relatively coherently without staring at your keyboard.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby jtabustos » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:54 am

This is interesting, because from past threads I've seen there did seem to me a suggestion that some students do better because they are simply better at spotting issues and analyzing them (sometimes taking up both sides) in a way that is rigorous and also in accord with what the prof. of that class wants. So, in other words, skill/talent was still a big factor it seemed.

From my general sense of people's responses here so far, you guys seem to place a greater emphasis on writing in a way that fits what a professor would want, which seems more stylistic. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Sometimes I feel the more I try to research and read about law school exams, the more I feel scared of them. :shock: They really don't seem like anything I've done and have been graded on before in undergrad. Written lots and lots of papers. Have taken math and science tests involving calculations and problem-solving. Have done short-answer and multiple choice as well. I know my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to past exams and assignments, but am worried about the novelty factor of law school exams.

I guess maybe one consolation is that no one else will have taken these types of exams before either. I just wish the grades in law school were based on more than these one-time exams that you'll have not taken before.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby jtabustos » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:56 am

Scotusnerd wrote:
P.S. Typing skills don't matter that much. Be able to type relatively coherently without staring at your keyboard.


I type about 60 wpm. I can see people's point, however, that after a certain point faster typing skills won't matter. You still need substance that is written in a way that is palatable to your instructor.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby stillwater » Fri Jun 21, 2013 12:58 am

jtabustos wrote:
Scotusnerd wrote:
P.S. Typing skills don't matter that much. Be able to type relatively coherently without staring at your keyboard.


I type about 60 wpm. I can see people's point, however, that after a certain point faster typing skills won't matter. You still need substance that is written in a way that is palatable to your instructor.


i just spam the professor with words.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby jtabustos » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:01 am

Scotusnerd wrote:
Well, to get a consistent A, you have to solicit and use feedback. Talk to your professors and figure out what you did right and wrong. Try to learn something from each one. And talk to them ALL, not just the one you did the worst in. Learning how you got an A is just as valuable as how you got a C. Use the information gleaned from professors to adjust your tactics.


I just wish that feedback could come earlier than after your first semester is over. By then, half of your 1L grades are decided.

Do you all happen to know if professors might be willing to take a look at a practice exam you've done during the semester to give feedback on prior to your actual final exams? I'm guessing not, but still curious about it.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby jtabustos » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:07 am

cinephile wrote: All the answers will pretty much have the same substance, it's just the way it's presented that matters.



If this is true, it feels a bit arbitrary and depressing in some ways.

I guess I have that "why can't everyone get an A" syndrome, where I feel that if everyone did a great job, then why not give them all A's?

Maybe a follow-up to all of this would be to ask what never to do on a law school exam? Is there a format that you should never use to write your exams? I obviously wouldn't know what to expect as an 0L in terms of specifics about what a prof. might like/dislike and expect, but what of things that may be common mistakes?

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby smaug_ » Fri Jun 21, 2013 1:12 am

jtabustos wrote:Maybe a follow-up to all of this would be to ask what never to do on a law school exam?


One lesson I learned is to never be like "this is easy: A should argue (x) and B should argue (y) but A should prevail for reasons 1,2,3" even if you're hitting all of the issues/relevant law. It's far more compelling to be like "A can argue (x) but B will have a strong counterpoint in (Y). Reasons 1,2,3 seem to tilt this in A's favor, but B can argue (make up something). [random choice for conclusion]. Professors think they wrote hard/interesting questions and they like it if you humor them.

This sounds really cynical, but it's the only real change I made between semesters and it seemed to have an effect on my grades.


ETA:

As to much of the above, where people go to school might also have an impact. I'm not a PREFTIGIOUS SCHOOL ELITIST but I wouldn't be surprised if things were tighter at the margins at a better school. Different people will also have different ideas of "good grades" so it's hard to tell exactly which advice would work best where (and for what reasons).

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby A. Nony Mouse » Fri Jun 21, 2013 8:55 am

jtabustos wrote:
Scotusnerd wrote:
Well, to get a consistent A, you have to solicit and use feedback. Talk to your professors and figure out what you did right and wrong. Try to learn something from each one. And talk to them ALL, not just the one you did the worst in. Learning how you got an A is just as valuable as how you got a C. Use the information gleaned from professors to adjust your tactics.


I just wish that feedback could come earlier than after your first semester is over. By then, half of your 1L grades are decided.

Do you all happen to know if professors might be willing to take a look at a practice exam you've done during the semester to give feedback on prior to your actual final exams? I'm guessing not, but still curious about it.

I've had professors do this.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Bronte » Fri Jun 21, 2013 9:23 am

jtabustos wrote:This is interesting, because from past threads I've seen there did seem to me a suggestion that some students do better because they are simply better at spotting issues and analyzing them (sometimes taking up both sides) in a way that is rigorous and also in accord with what the prof. of that class wants. So, in other words, skill/talent was still a big factor it seemed.


Innate intelligence of a particular type is a huge factor in success on law school exams. Another huge factor is luck, both in terms of whether you happen to perform well on that particular test day and in terms of the inherent variability of the grading process. Hard work and proper strategy is a factor, but it is by no means the only one or even the predominant one.

All this talk about typing speed, the easiness of the blackletter law, smart strategies, etc. is democratizing but ultimately untrue. A lot of people who have been successful in highly learnable endeavors like their undergrad studies and to a lesser extent the LSAT end up hitting a wall in law school. For the first time in their life, being the hardest working, most organized person isn't enough.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Nammertat » Fri Jun 21, 2013 5:26 pm

Bronte wrote:
jtabustos wrote:This is interesting, because from past threads I've seen there did seem to me a suggestion that some students do better because they are simply better at spotting issues and analyzing them (sometimes taking up both sides) in a way that is rigorous and also in accord with what the prof. of that class wants. So, in other words, skill/talent was still a big factor it seemed.


Innate intelligence of a particular type is a huge factor in success on law school exams. Another huge factor is luck, both in terms of whether you happen to perform well on that particular test day and in terms of the inherent variability of the grading process. Hard work and proper strategy is a factor, but it is by no means the only one or even the predominant one.

All this talk about typing speed, the easiness of the blackletter law, smart strategies, etc. is democratizing but ultimately untrue. A lot of people who have been successful in highly learnable endeavors like their undergrad studies and to a lesser extent the LSAT end up hitting a wall in law school. For the first time in their life, being the hardest working, most organized person isn't enough.


That's definitely true, but I have also seen incredibly brilliant people piss it away with a lack of drive. The way I look at it, there is no point in worrying about things out of your hands (i.e. innate ability, luck). Focus on things you CAN help like organization, working smarter not harder, figuring out what each professor actually wants, and honing your writing ability so you can give it to them.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby Bronte » Fri Jun 21, 2013 5:38 pm

Nammertat wrote:
Bronte wrote:Innate intelligence of a particular type is a huge factor in success on law school exams. Another huge factor is luck, both in terms of whether you happen to perform well on that particular test day and in terms of the inherent variability of the grading process. Hard work and proper strategy is a factor, but it is by no means the only one or even the predominant one.

All this talk about typing speed, the easiness of the blackletter law, smart strategies, etc. is democratizing but ultimately untrue. A lot of people who have been successful in highly learnable endeavors like their undergrad studies and to a lesser extent the LSAT end up hitting a wall in law school. For the first time in their life, being the hardest working, most organized person isn't enough.


That's definitely true, but I have also seen incredibly brilliant people piss it away with a lack of drive. The way I look at it, there is no point in worrying about things out of your hands (i.e. innate ability, luck). Focus on things you CAN help like organization, working smarter not harder, figuring out what each professor actually wants, and honing your writing ability so you can give it to them.


True enough, but a couple of points. First, I've seen brilliant people completely slack through law school and end up above median, while other diligent and organized people slave away and end up below median. There's not anything one can do about it; it's just reality.

Second, the ability to work hard is to some extent an innate trait. Mental stamina is not entirely learnable, and some people just are not able to grind the way others do. This again reduces the extent to which one can control his success on law school exams.

Some posters will strongly disagree with the latter because it's a firmly-held belief in some TLS circles that law school doesn't require that much work. I would counter that, for some people, law school doesn't require that much work, but those people are probably smarter than they think they are. For others, it requires a lot of work, and they just can't manage to put it in.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby ksllaw » Thu Jun 27, 2013 3:45 pm

Disclaimer: 0L

I would speculate (based on what I've read on the general topic of IQ, nature vs. nurture, expert performance, etc.) that IQ would have a significant impact on performance in solving more generalized and superficially complex problems.

But, the more specialized a problem is and the more genuinely/deeply complex it is, then IQ seems not to matter as much (if at all) - assuming a baseline level IQ needed to engage with the problem. At that point, factors like experience, patience and persistence, creativity, hard work, etc. become more important. Having a higher IQ doesn't seem to return anything more at that stage.

A question worth asking may be whether law school work and law school exams fit that category of specialized and genuine complexity?

I think for certain, Ph.D. programs and doctoral work do fit into that category. I'm not sure about law school exams.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby ksllaw » Thu Jun 27, 2013 3:58 pm

http://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-ad ... -do-maths/

Here is one example, described by Terry Tao (UCLA Professor of Mathematics and Fields Medal winner - often considered the greatest living mathematician today), of how IQ would fail to give one an advantage in professional mathematics:

"It is strange that IQ has such a hold over the popular imagination, because as far as I can tell it plays no role in academia whatsoever. In professional mathematics, at least, we don’t brag about our IQs, put them in our cv’s, or try to find out other mathematician’s IQ when trying to evaluate them; it has about as much relevance in our profession as the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator.

More generally, the skills and traits that are popularly associated with “intelligence” or “genius” become largely decoupled, after a certain point, to those that are needed to do good mathematics. For instance, a very creative person may have a hundred innovative ways to attack a mathematical problem, but what one really needs is the rigorous thinking, comparison with existing literature, intuition and experience, and knowledge of heuristics in order to winnow these hundred ways down to the two that actually have a non-zero chance of working. Indeed, being overly creative at the expense of true mathematical skill may in fact impede one’s progress on a mathematical research problem, due to all the time wasted on the ninety-eight hopeless avenues.

Similarly, a very intelligent person may be very comfortable with abstract concepts and abstruse reasoning, and a certain amount of this can indeed be an asset when learning some of the more theory-intensive portions of mathematics, but at some point one has to be able to digest this theory and connect it with more mundane, “common sense” concepts (e.g. geometry, motion, symmetry, information, etc.); there is a risk of an excessively intelligent student getting overly enchanted with the formalism and esotericism of a subject, and neglecting to keep his or her knowledge grounded in reality (and to communicate it effectively with others).

In a third direction, a very quick thinker may be able to pick up new ideas rapidly, to find snappy rejoinders to any question, and to complete tests and examinations in a remarkably short amount of time, but these attributes may in fact lead to excessive frustration when such a student encounters a genuine research problem for the first time – one that requires months of patient and systematic effort, starting with existing literature and model problems, identifying and then investigating promising avenues of attack, and so forth. In athletics, the best sprinters can often be lousy marathon runners, and the same is largely true in mathematics.

To summarise: as I said in the main article, a reasonable amount of intelligence is certainly a necessary (though not sufficient) condition to be a reasonable mathematician. But an exceptional amount of intelligence has almost no bearing on whether one is an exceptional mathematician."


(Note: This was quoted from the comments section below the main article)

It's interesting to see, from Tao's comments, how IQ may actually hinder a person's performance at times. But, again, it's important to recognize that Tao is talking about IQ in solving complex problems that require deep and specialized knowledge. Ph.D. programs and the problems that he talks of that take months to tackle are what these comments are about. But, I think one may find argument over whether or not law school work and exams have the same complexity.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby cinephile » Thu Jun 27, 2013 4:02 pm

ksllaw wrote:Disclaimer: 0L

I would speculate (based on what I've read on the general topic of IQ, nature vs. nurture, expert performance, etc.) that IQ would have a significant impact on performance in solving more generalized and superficially complex problems.

But, the more specialized a problem is and the more genuinely/deeply complex it is, then IQ seems not to matter as much (if at all) - assuming a baseline level IQ needed to engage with the problem. At that point, factors like experience, patience and persistence, creativity, hard work, etc. become more important. Having a higher IQ doesn't seem to return anything more at that stage.

A question worth asking may be whether law school work and law school exams fit that category of specialized and genuine complexity?

I think for certain, Ph.D. programs and doctoral work do fit into that category. I'm not sure about law school exams.


I'm not going to agree or disagree with this, but just wanted to make a couple of comments. Your IQ is irrelevant because most of your class will be composed of people similar to you in terms of intelligence. Secondly, I noticed you listed creativity as being a factor that can help. This is not true with law school exams. Do not get creative, it will lead only to failure. Give the answer the professor wants, don't read any creativity into the hypo.

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby ksllaw » Thu Jun 27, 2013 5:04 pm

cinephile wrote:I'm not going to agree or disagree with this, but just wanted to make a couple of comments. Your IQ is irrelevant because most of your class will be composed of people similar to you in terms of intelligence.

Hi cinephile,

I'm not sure how true this highlighted portion above is. It would be interesting to know (from a factual/empirical standpoint), but I don't think we'll ever have data on that. I think I just assumed that law school classes could be comprised of large percentages of students with significantly different IQs. Part of it has to do with what I see as the "learnability" of the LSAT and the "game-ability" (sadly) of GPA, which are the two main determinants of law school admissions.

cinephile wrote: Secondly, I noticed you listed creativity as being a factor that can help. This is not true with law school exams. Do not get creative, it will lead only to failure. Give the answer the professor wants, don't read any creativity into the hypo.

Yes. I'll see if I can elaborate more tonight when I have more time. :)

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Re: Law School Exam Question re: Learnability/Masterability?

Postby potted plant » Thu Jun 27, 2013 5:45 pm

cinephile wrote:
ksllaw wrote:Disclaimer: 0L

I would speculate (based on what I've read on the general topic of IQ, nature vs. nurture, expert performance, etc.) that IQ would have a significant impact on performance in solving more generalized and superficially complex problems.

But, the more specialized a problem is and the more genuinely/deeply complex it is, then IQ seems not to matter as much (if at all) - assuming a baseline level IQ needed to engage with the problem. At that point, factors like experience, patience and persistence, creativity, hard work, etc. become more important. Having a higher IQ doesn't seem to return anything more at that stage.

A question worth asking may be whether law school work and law school exams fit that category of specialized and genuine complexity?

I think for certain, Ph.D. programs and doctoral work do fit into that category. I'm not sure about law school exams.


I'm not going to agree or disagree with this, but just wanted to make a couple of comments. Your IQ is irrelevant because most of your class will be composed of people similar to you in terms of intelligence. Secondly, I noticed you listed creativity as being a factor that can help. This is not true with law school exams. Do not get creative, it will lead only to failure. Give the answer the professor wants, don't read any creativity into the hypo.

I disagree with the assumption here that a creative answer will never be what the professor wants. I mean, of course you want to answer the question, but you might need to be creative in making certain connections between the hypo facts and the law, and sometimes the best way to illustrate a point is with an original hypo of some kind. For example, in a standard con law question, arguably the best way to show that a discriminatory law is not narrowly tailored is to come up with an alternative, non-discriminatory policy that would achieve the same purpose. I would consider this a form of creativity. This isn't going to be what every professor wants, but that just comes back to reading your professor, and figuring out what your professor specifically is looking for. I had at least a couple professors that wanted semi-creative answers, but they made it pretty clear based on what they focused on in class and what they directly told us about the exam.




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