Preparation for a law school exam, especially essay questions, continues until the moment you place pen to paper. Even after the timed exam begins, there are many steps (below) which you must take before writing a single word of your answer.
Trust me on this; don't start writing immediately! If you begin writing without thoroughly reading the question, determining what the examiner is asking, and outlining your answer, you will not produce the high quality answer that you are capable of. You will at least lose points, and at most realize that your conclusion is 180 degrees off from the correct answer; forcing you to waste time rewriting the entire analysis.
Read The Question
When faced with an essay on a legal exam, it is wise to study the instructions and fact pattern very carefully, reading them several times. Often, one sentence or even one word in the fact pattern can change the result of a legal question if missed or ignored.
Often times the professor will instruct you to ignore certain issues or rules for one reason or another. Following these instructions will prevent you from wasting time on something that will gain you no points.
On that same note, the instructions might also specify a direction or issue that you are supposed to focus on. Again, following the instructions will prevent you from wasting time focusing on aspects that are not being tested.
If you have studied thoroughly, the relevant laws and case precedent should still be fresh in your mind. As you read and re-read the fact pattern, relevant facts will appear and align with these legal rules. Jot these down, making notes why the facts are relevant. This is the beginning of your essay answer; the outline.
Keep An Open Mind
As you are reading the fact pattern, don't make the mistake of getting tunnel vision and committing to one issue or one party in the case. There will always be at least two parties in each legal question, and if your professor is good, there will be no clear answer as to who "wins".
Each party will likely have a portion of the issues in question point in their favor, and you need to argue why each issue should favor one party or the other, if not both. Remember that when writing an essay answer to a legal question that you are the prosecution, the defense, and the judge; with points are available for each viewpoint.
All you have to do is argue which issues favor which party and why. If there is a conclusive winner, state that and show why. If the case could go either direction, state that conclusion and show why it could go either way. Simple, right?
Outline Your Answer
So you think you have found all the issues in the question? Don't start writing your answer just yet.You really need to stake the time to outline all of the relevant facts, rules, and notes. Staying organized will help you breeze through the easy part, putting your answer in words.
By the time you have read the facts, thought about them, and then outlined the issues, you will have a pretty good idea of how each side will argue their case and what the court's ruling would be. Now, and never prior to this point, it is time to start writing.