7.4 – Carefully Reading the Prompt


Carefully Reading the Prompt

Always read the prompt carefully multiple times to understand it clearly.

Having talked about how issue-spotter exams are graded and keeping that in mind, we're now going to really approach how to deal with one of these questions that you might encounter in a real law school exam. We're going to do that using a practice exam that I've developed with 7Sage, and I'm going to presume that you've looked at that and you followed the instructions about what you need to listen to before really digging in to the practice exam.

At this point, I'm going to go on and I'm going to assume that you're ready to hear me really take apart this practice exam.

When you're confronted with an issue-spotter exam question, or really with any exam question, step one is always going to be to read the prompt really carefully. I would read it a couple of times, make sure you're very, very clear on the fact pattern that you've been given. Make sure you're very, very clear on the actual question or questions you're being asked to answer because you're about to commit two, three, four hours of your life to writing an essay.

If it turns out that you misunderstood something very early, it could undermine the premise of the entire answer you're writing and could really materially affect your grade. Let's be very, very careful in reading these. Let's take a look. This practice exam has two questions. The first one is an issue spotter and the second one is a policy question. I'm going to talk about the policy question later.

One thing I do think is helpful to do is maybe to read both the prompts up front because then whichever one you work on first, the other one will be churning in the back of your mind, and maybe your unconscious mind will be helping produce some insights there even if you're not actively thinking about it. Let's take a look at this fact pattern. This is a somewhat simplified issue spotter. Real-life law school issue-spotter exams are going to tend to be more complicated.

They're going to often pack in more issues, more complicated facts, but for our purposes and considering that we've really designed this whole course to be accessible to someone who hasn't even taken one day of class in law school, it's going to get the job done for our purposes, but just keep in mind that we're using training wheels a little bit to build up the skills you're going to need to succeed on the real law school issue-spotter exam you might get.

Sample Prompt for Practice

Let's take a look at this prompt.

First of all, it started off by asking the exam taker to assume a role. It's saying that you're going to be an attorney for the Public Defender's Office of the State of Southlandia. A few things there. First of all, we know what your role is going to be. You're being asked to take a certain perspective. We need to keep that in mind. We know the jurisdiction we're in, it's a fictional jurisdiction. That's another thing to keep in mind.

Jurisdiction identification determines which laws will apply.

Pay attention to the jurisdiction you're being asked in which to apply the law because you will have learned in many law school classes different rules that apply to different jurisdictions. This is obviously a fictional jurisdiction because there is no state of Southlandia. You're given a fact pattern, a set of facts about your client, Mr. Gunton. Those facts are described in about a paragraph. We just want to take those facts as given. We don't want to go beyond them, but we want to assume that these are the facts we have.

You shouldn't start making up crazy stories that aren't in here. This is the universe of facts that this question is built on. Now, sometimes the professor will write an exam and they'll forget to include some critical fact and you have to deal with that, but for the most part, we can assume that these facts have been carefully selected. They're here for a reason and the professor wrote them to cue up some issues for us. In this case, as you're going to see, I designed this fact pattern to cue up a couple of different issues of different degrees of difficulty.

Then we see in the next paragraph, after a description of the crime with which our defendant has been accused of committing, the factual events that led to the charges, we see some stuff about the posture. He's been charged with two different crimes, Southlandia Code Section 716, and Southlandia Code Section 731[b]. Two different crimes. They have two different pieces of statutory text and so that's a clue right now.

There's maybe two different potential things we need to look at here. He's not being charged with just one crime, two different crimes. Then we go to the next paragraph. It says, "Based on these facts, analyze whether you think Gunton will be found guilty of either or both charges [and for your purposes, assume that a person can be convicted under both statutes]." Let's talk about that sentence a little bit here. There's that parenthetical. What's the deal with that little parenthetical?

It's designed to bracket an issue that might trip someone up. Maybe someone is confused, they think, "Oh, he must have committed one or the other crime, but not both." The professor, in this case, me, is just saying, "Don't worry about that. That's not an issue." If you see a prompt like that, that says, "Don't worry about this," just take it at its word. It's there for a reason. That's not an issue that you're supposed to spot. Just ignore it. It says, "Analyze whether you think Gunton will be found guilty."

Here, although we've been asked to assume a role, as we know, as we've talked about, you're hired as a public defender, here, the kind of legal writing you're being asked to do is predictive. It's not advocacy. You're not being asked to write a brief defending a certain view. You're actually just being asked to state a bottom line. What do you think is going to happen? Then the next sentence we see more information about the jurisdiction, about Southlandia courts.

They're in a common law jurisdiction. They follow the common law rules of statutory interpretation, which is the approach that the majority in the Jewell case takes. They also look to the Model Penal Code for guidance and this is actually true of a number of jurisdictions. Here, it says you should analyze the issues under both the common law and MPC rules, and so that's another clue. There's two things we're being asked to do. We've read the question carefully. What's next?

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