Article written by Imaan Fatima, University of Strathclyde Scots and English LLB Student.
There are two main types of questions you will come across when studying law: essay questions and problem questions. Both styles of questions can cover any area of law but require very different approaches when being answered. Every university will have a different grade criterion, so it’s important to become familiar with yours. However, there are some general tips which can be used by all law students to help best answer these questions.
I’m sure most of us have encountered these types of questions. We’re usually asked to critically evaluate, compare, or discuss some sort of legal issue.
These questions require a structured answer with an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. But before you even attempt to produce an answer, you need to create a plan. This is crucial because it will help you understand what is being asked, set out the key issues you wish to discuss and the sources you want to use.
Your introduction should be relatively short – roughly 10% of the overall word count. It should clearly outline what the question is asking you to do and how you propose to go about answering this question to arrive at an appropriate conclusion. The main body of your essay will consist of legal arguments. Each paragraph will likely answer a different aspect of the question, but they should be coherently ordered and flow into one another, instead of reading as a sequence of unrelated points. Finally, you’ll have to draw together your arguments, without introducing any new pieces of information, to reach a reasoned conclusion.
When writing an essay, think about what the examiner is looking for and the skills that are being tested: communication skills; analytical skills; research skills; and the ability to construct an argument.
Unlike essay questions, problem questions are presented as lengthy scenarios in which one or more legal disputes arise. As a law student, you will be expected to discuss these disputes and explain how they are likely to be resolved, if possible.
The best approach to answering problem questions is the IRAC method, which stands for issue, rule, application, and conclusion. This is a four-step process that requires you to identify the legal issue; identify the relevant legal rule; apply that rule to the issue at hand; and reach a conclusion to answer the question. It’s important to remember that the IRAC method should never be applied to the question as a whole. Instead, your answer should be divided based on the number of separate legal issues which occur.
Problem questions often have no single correct answer, and the facts will likely contain a number of grey areas, which means you might not always have enough facts to provide a conclusive answer. However, you can also gain marks by stating that some information is missing and hypothesising what the outcome would be if certain facts were included.
Whereas essays are designed to test your ability to discuss and critically evaluate the law, problem questions are more concerned with the application of legal principles. This means simply having knowledge of the law isn’t enough. Neither is writing everything you know about the topic and hoping to receive marks for it. You need to be able to identify relevant information within the question and apply legal reasoning to the facts.