7-Step Guide to the Skills Exam
One of the most common questions we receive from students pertains to the dreaded Skills Exam and how to tackle the task at hand effectively. We recommend this simple 7 step process that, if practiced on sample memos you can find out there for free, should prove very helpful.
- Read the Facts Slowly and Carefully - On the Skills Exam, you will be given two hours to submit your response. This is not a short period of time and you should use as much of it as you possibly can. There are no bonus points for finishing quickly! At this stage, don't even concentrate or worry about what the issues in the question are or what the law provided may or may not mean. Go through the facts several times over in this initial stage of the examination. This way, you will begin to realize which facts are material v. which facts might be considered "distractor" facts that are there to potentially throw you off.
- Outline the Parties Mentioned - After you've read the facts provided several times, outline on paper provided the parties involved in the case so you can clearly see who is who. Just like the facts provided, many times fact patterns for legal essays have many parties included some of which are not even relevant to the ultimate answer, and it becomes easy to get distracted/disorganized. Having them organized early will pay off later.
- Identify the Issue(s) Presented - After you've broken down and organized the parties, try to ascertain what the issue(s) presented is/are. That is, what are you being asked to do? Often times, it's stated in general terms directly to you in the materials provided but it often requires you to break it down in greater detail to get all of the answers the exam provider is looking for. Keep in mind you can be asked to address several issues and, if so, you need to focus on each one in your answer. Identifying and outlining the issues lets you see the keys you should focus on and simultaneously will prevent you from forgetting one in your answer.
- Outline the Law(s) Provided - One of the most comforting thoughts you should have about an essay exam is that the test provider will give you everything that you need, both factually and legally, to address and answer the question perfectly. You don't have to worry about whether you "know" or practice the same area of law because the law will be given to you in the scenario presented. The key task here is properly outline the law provided down and, equally important, taking the time needed to interpret it correctly. Also, do not assume that all the law that is provided is applicable or must be used in your answer. Be aware of the fact that there very well might be law included in the scenario that you might not need to use in your answer.
- Draw your Legal Conclusions - Students will often ask me wait a minute shouldn't we write the memo first and conclusions naturally come to light at the end of my writing? Absolutely not. Remember, effective legal writing is about advocating the reader towards a predetermined outcome, which mean you need to persuasively write them to the conclusion you logically believe they should reach. Writing with a goal of reaching a conclusion rather than writing towards an already determined conclusion increases the risk your response will turn into a disorganized mess.
- Draft your Response - The first key here is what is the appropriate format for the response. The exam might require a memo format. If so, ensure that your response follows the protocol for same such as: Address it properly (To/From/Re/Date); Statement of Material Facts; Issue(s) Presented; Discussion/Analysis; Conclusion(s).
- Carefully Review your Answer - Do not make the mistake of clicking submit when you have finished your response! Take the time you have left to make sure that you used proper grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. For the law that you have cited, make sure that the citations are in the correct format. At this point, many are fighting mental and physical fatigue, but push through to the end and don't cut corners on this key graded area!
Keep in mind the steps highlighted here are not easily implemented in a tough examination environment on a whim so it really is critical that you take time to practice on sample memo assignments that are available. Don't forget that NALA also provides some free sample memos that you can review and practice on. In fact, in the video below, we take one of the free scenario and model answers provided by NALA and utilizing our seven step process. You can review the lesson by clicking the button below.
Check out our Skills Exam Essay Tutorial!