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Problem questions: a quick guide

Problem questions: a quick guide

Bethany Barrett


Reading time: three minutes

If your law degree is like mine was, you will be examined using a mixture of problem questions and essays. However, while you will likely have written many essay questions during your school days, you are unlikely to have ever seen a legal problem question. With that in mind, here is my advice on how to tackle them.

Read the question

You’ll be surprised how many students go into the exam hall and forget to actually read the question. So, it’s always best to read the question twice, in order to understand what the question is asking you.

Read this LCN Blog to find out how to perform well in SQE exams: ‘How I aced my SQE exams

Problem questions tend to be longer than essay questions – so it’s useful to keep being reminded of all of the facts. Finally, definitely read the question once more before submitting your final answer- several times it is at this point that I have realised that some minor fact is more important than I first thought.

Plan your answer

Again, it goes without saying that you should write down a plan. Writing plans for problem questions is especially easy – and helpful – in that the structure of the plan is often obvious, either using sub-questions or paragraphs demarcating where different issues start and end. I also found it helpful to identify list of parties and issues at the start of my plan. This was especially useful for longer problem questions because the number of parties involved can get confusing. So, it’s useful to have a brief list of who’s at the top of your page.

Use the IRAC technique

You may have heard of this acronym, but if you haven’t, it stands for: Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion. As you get more experienced with problem questions, you may find you think about this less, but when you first start it can be especially useful in giving you a structure. Using the IRAC technique also ensures you include all the relevant pieces of information and analysis to get you those top marks.

Another advanced tip here is to consider the realistic prospect of different conclusions coming true in a courtroom. Think about how strong a case is or how difficult a particular law might be to use. Such considerations are an excellent way to pick up marks for evaluation.

Use the words in the question

I like to quote the exact words of the question to highlight to an examiner that I’m applying the facts of the scenario to the legal test I’m discussing. This can also be a useful trick when discussing the probability of different outcomes happening, as you can cite the niceties of the situation as evidence for your conclusion.

Introductions, conclusions and sub-titles

While both are nice (and I’m a fan of both), an introduction and a conclusion aren’t necessary. Sub-titles, in my opinion, are, for they are a concise way to clearly introduce each new issue.

Consequently, if you do want to write an introduction for your answer as a whole, it can be very short, e.g. ‘the issues here relate to topics X and Y and shall be discussed in turn’. Equally, if using IRAC, you will inherently already be including a micro introduction and conclusion for each issue. As long as you have done this (conclusions to your arguments are important – don’t sit on the fence!), you don’t need an overall introduction or conclusion.

Final thoughts

Finally, remember that practice makes perfect with problem questions, as with anything. They can be daunting at first. This is simply because they appear so different to other styles of questions you may have done previously.

But after a while, they become second nature, and you might even prefer them to essays (I certainly do nowadays). With a lot of law students now in the midst of exam season, I hope this LCN Blog has provided you with a better idea of how to tackle problem questions.

Good luck!