The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam

Journal of Legal Education, 2019

13 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2019

See all articles by Jamie R. Abrams

Jamie R. Abrams

American University Washington College of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2019


This article proposes a teaching technique for use in large, Socratic-style law school classes to embed exam preparation, formative assessment, and lawyering simulations in the course without overburdening the professor or students. This technique is sustainable, yet highly efficacious for students.

Law schools nationwide are implementing new reforms pushing law schools toward stronger assessment techniques and client-based simulations better preparing students for the practice of law. Many law schools have implemented these reforms around the margins or outside of the traditional doctrinal course. Law schools have generally added new classes with experiential learning components or with simulations integrated into the course. This approach has moved the needle strengthening assessment practices in the upper-level curriculum, in seminars, and in small elective courses. It has not, however, moved the needle significantly in large, traditional, casebook classes dominating the first-year curriculum and upper-level bar courses.

On the one hand, this “around the margins” approach makes sense because of faculty-student ratios in seminar-style courses. Professors teaching large-casebook, Socratic-style courses have a higher student load such that the mere suggestion of including formative assessment on top of summative assessment and student support responsibilities seems untenable. On the other hand, the full vision of curricular reforms seems to require more synergies and consistencies across the curriculum than existing approaches have achieved.

This article proposes a manageable and replicable technique called the “deconstructed exam” through which law faculty teaching large-casebook, Socratic-style courses can better supplement and support the larger curricular reforms without significant burdens on faculty or students. It strings a client simulation through the curriculum in which students deconstruct a handful of client-centered questions from a preceding exam. Students produce collaborative client advice on each subissue as it arises in the syllabus. The professor either provides solely global feedback to the class as a whole on these short student assignments or small-group responses to teams of three to four students working collaboratively. The professor allocates some percentage of the overall course to the completion of these assignments, but does not individually score responses or weigh them heavily.

Keywords: Legal Education; Pedagogy; Law Teaching

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Jamie R., The Deconstructed Issue-Spotting Exam (November 1, 2019). Journal of Legal Education, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Jamie R. Abrams (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics