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Dandelions in the Bluebook Garden: Six Classic Exam Writing Mistakes


Dandelions in the Bluebook Garden: Six Classic Exam Writing Mistakes

The last chapter explored the type of analysis most law professors want to see on first-year law essay exams. It is a skill you can learn, once you recognize what we want. Once you grasp the basic approach, you can continue to improve at it through practice.

This chapter comes at the topic from the other direction: the classic mistakes students make, year after year, in answering essay questions. These mistakes reflect basic misconceptions students have about the nature of legal analysis and the exam process. If you learn to recognize these misconceptions before taking your finals, you will be able to avoid these dandelions, and to focus on the type of analysis we do want, as illustrated in the previous chapter.

Here’s a question from one of my old exams, which I will use to illustrate the various dandelions to be rooted out of your exam-taking strategy.

The football season at Grumbling State was the high point of the year. In recent years, Grumbling had become a football power, and games had almost always been sold out. Officials made every effort to cram as many paying spectators as possible into the 50-year-old stadium, to fund those lavish athletic scholarships.

This year, before the season began, Allen, the athletic director, noticed some weakness in section C of the stadium stands. He wondered if the supporting structure was sound, and decided to hire a contractor to look it over. He called in Munoz Construction Company to inspect the section and perform any necessary repairs.

Upon examination, Brian, a Munoz supervisor, determined that several of the vertical wooden beams supporting section C had deteriorated. He ordered Griffin, an employee, to replace them with metal “I” beams. Although “I” beams would have been stronger, Griffin replaced the beams with new wooden beams he had on hand, identical to the ones he removed. Other Munoz employees then bolted the new beams in place to the horizontal girders.

The tenth game of the season, against Texas Agricultural, a traditional rival, was a thriller. The fans were on their feet, doing the “wave” and cheering wildly. All of a sudden section C collapsed completely, sending the fans down into the bowels of the stadium. The entire section was reduced to splinters. Jane Aragna, sister of the Grumbling quarterback, was injured. The Grumbling mascot, Sticky (an absurd-looking porcelain porcupine which had cost the athletic department $25,000) was smashed to smithereens. Hal Aragna, the Grumbling quarterback, heard the noise, froze, and looked for his sister, who had disappeared when the stands collapsed. At that moment, a Texas player tackled him from behind, injuring his throwing hand and ending a promising football career. (Aragna had been seriously scouted by the L.A. Raiders of the National Football League.)

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