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  • Thejana De Silva

A guide to a First-Class answer – Part 2 (Problem Questions)

Before I begin, I would like clarify, that none of these points below are explicitly endorsed by the University of London – apart from the ‘IRAC method’. These viewpoints are entirely of my own. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to answer a problem question. However, the below pointers are those of which that I developed over the three years of my study, and which I found to attract the greatest number of marks from the examiner.

It is recommended that you read Part 1 (Essay Questions) before reading this blog.

As mentioned with essays, technically speaking there is no secret formula, to answer a problem question. Your knowledge on the law and your analysis is what is ultimately required of you.

However, these pointers may be of use to maximize the marks that you would have otherwise received.

The IRAC method

This approach is a common method of legal analysis used in many law schools and legal practices, which has also been explicitly mentioned by the University of London for their modules concerning problem questions (Note – this is not applicable for essays per se)

While you may have heard this “IRAC” term for the first time, it is likely that you would have already followed this approach without your knowledge in your exams.

[I will be centering examples surrounding the IRAC method on Occupier’s Liability – which is an area under the Tort Law module]

Issue (I)

This would involve you to identify the issues raised in the question. However, this is by means the most important and the most difficult things do to in a problem question. This is because, you may fail to identify minor issues in the question, that the examiner’s expect you to address. If you fail to do this, your understanding of the law would not be of any use, because you need an issue to apply the law to.

Eg – A person walks into a property which says “Do not enter” – the issue would be that of Occupier’s Liability.

How to always identify the issue – Practice is key, along with reference to examiner reports, if you wish to improve your issue identification skills. The more you practice, the more experience you will receive, and the easier it will be for you to catch these issues, for which another student may fail to do.

Rule (R)

This would simply mean knowing which case law or statute would be relevant to the said area. If you are able to identify the issue clearly, chances are you will be able to figure out the corresponding rule. Of course, knowledge on the rule is important, and you must understand the relevant area(s).

Eg – Occupier’s Liability Act of 1984 for trespassing.

How to ensure that you are clear with the rule – This is simply a matter of revising your material from the module guide or text book. The rule can be similar to knowing the theory. If you know your theory, you know the rule.

Application (A)

This is what I consider the most important part of a problem question. The ability to apply what you have learnt. Once you have identified the relevant issue and rule, the next step would be to apply the rule to the given facts of the problem. This is where you would need to demonstrate your analytical skills and your ability to connect the law to the specific scenario presented in the problem question. You need to explain how the rule applies to the facts and why it is relevant in the given situation. It is important to be thorough in your analysis and not miss out any key points or arguments that could affect the outcome of the case. Additionally, you should consider any potential counterarguments or limitations to your analysis. Are there any exceptions to the rule that could apply in this scenario? Is there any case law that could contradict your argument? It is important to address these counterarguments and limitations in your analysis to demonstrate a nuanced understanding of the law.

Eg – Analyze whether the property owner had taken reasonable steps to prevent the person from entering and whether the person had a valid reason for entering the property. However, it could be argued that the property owner had displayed a sign indicating that entry was prohibited and had taken reasonable steps to prevent unauthorized access. Other exceptions to the rule that could apply in this scenario, such as if the person entering the property was a child or if they were entering to assist someone in danger. These counterarguments and limitations should be considered and addressed in your analysis.

How to improve your application skills - It is essential to practice applying the law to different scenarios and to review examiner reports to understand what aspects of the law were applied in a particular problem question. Additionally, you should consider seeking feedback from your professor or peers to identify any areas where your analysis could be strengthened, including any counterarguments or limitations that you may have overlooked.

Conclusion (C)

The conclusion is the final step in the IRAC method, where you would provide your overall assessment or opinion based on your analysis of the problem question. This could involve identifying the likely outcome of the case or providing recommendations on how to resolve the legal issues raised in the problem question.

In some cases, the conclusion may be straightforward, and the answer may be a simple "yes" or "no" based on the application of the law to the facts of the problem. However, in other cases, the conclusion may be more complex, and you may need to weigh different arguments or factors before arriving at a final decision.

Regardless of the complexity of the problem question, it is important to provide a clear and concise conclusion that reflects your analysis and understanding of the relevant law. The conclusion should be supported by your analysis and should not introduce any new arguments or issues. A clear and concise conclusion can help to leave a lasting impression on the examiner and can help to ensure that you receive maximum marks for your answer.

Eg – In the case of the person entering the property, the conclusion would be based on whether or not the property owner was liable for any damages caused to the person who entered the property.

How to ensure that your conclusion is clear cut – Practice writing conclusions for different scenarios and get a colleague of yours to read it, to see if it makes sense and is crystal clear. Remember, this is the last component that the examiner reads of your answer, and it shouldn’t complicate things, but rather be clear cut.

Additional pointers

These are some additional tips that will help you maximize your marks in general.

  1. Address the party concerned. If the question involves three people named A, B and C and it mentions you to advice C, do not go to advice A and B (However when you are advising C, you can bring about arguments that A and B might raise, etc. but ensure you always address C)

  2. When quoting directly from a source, make sure to use both italics and inverted commas (“ ”) to set off the quotation. Additionally, if you are citing only part of a sentence or quote, use ellipses ("...") to indicate where the original text has been shortened or omitted [it is not recommended that you quote too much of a sentence, due to plagiarism issues. Paraphrase wherever possible.]

  3. Do the above (point 2.) only when absolutely necessary. Ideally in a problem (or even essay) question you should never quote the law, or write directly from your statute books. It should purely be application of the law and analysis (briefly mentioning the rule/law relevant is fine, but don’t go to explain facts of the case, etc.)

  4. If there are multiple parties in the question to address, use sub-headings as each person’s name (eg – a subheading for A, B and C)

Remember: It is easier to score the first few marks in a question due to the stepped marking approach followed by the examiner, than scoring the last few marks in a question. So, [for example] you are better off spending your final 15 minutes rushing through your 4th answer and obtaining 38 marks, rather than perfecting your

3rd answer and obtaining an extra 10 marks, and neglecting the 4th question entirely.


Good luck with your exam preparations!

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