Review: The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam

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By Jeremiah A. Ho, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Jamie R. Abrams, The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam, 68 J. Legal Educ. 194 (2019).

Professor Jamie Abrams from University of Louisville has recently published an article in the Journal of Legal Education with an innovative technique for exam preparation, formative assessment, and lawyering simulation all through what she calls the “deconstructed exam.”  In her piece, The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam, she uses the exam review opportunity in a large case-method class not only for its formative assessment purposes, but also for facilitating more comprehensive curricular reforms that today’s law schools are implementing—particularly in the area of developing lawyering competencies.

Abrams’ approach begins with the use of a traditional issue-spotting cumulative essay.  Once administered and then reviewed with students for legal analysis and issue-spotting skills, Abrams suggests extending the opportunity for further instruction based off the same fact pattern.  Abrams recommends using the exam to further the student’s ability to redo the exam from a client-centered perspective.   This approach is handled particularly by “invit[ing] students to explain why rules are as they are, to provide context for how a rule developed to be what it is, to highlight whether claims are strong or weak, to put issues in procedural context, and to anticipate client reactions.”  Her article details a step-by-step guideline that lays out how her approach is accomplished.

For those of us who teach large Socratic courses, Abrams’ approach may sound ambitious at the start—and it is!  However, her article is precisely written and her approach is very well calculated.  Overall, her approach takes the large fact patterns that we spend days (or weeks) to write for our students and imbues it with more than just its customary finite purpose in the exam room and for grading.  Rather it repurposes the traditional law school exam from its goals for formative assessments to effectuating larger professional competencies within our students.  Abrams gives us a new thoughtful approach to law school testing that imparts more usefulness for both faculty and students.

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