Rule Statements on Exams that Get Top Grades

Hand writing word rules, for rule statements

There are ways to write rule statements on exams that get top grades.  Many students don’t know how to do this, even though it’s not a difficult skill to master. Specifically, students fail to provide thorough rule statements. A thorough rule statement is one that accurately defines the primary issue, each relevant word in the issue, and any related issues.

Desk in rules statement exampleFact Pattern Example

Brad and Bella are in the same high school math class. One day before class, Brad thinks it would be funny to pull the chair from under Bella as she is sitting down.  He quietly goes to Bella’s chair, and just as she is sitting down he pulls the chair out from her. Bella falls on her rump, but is not physically hurt.  Bella is quite embarrassed by Brad’s action. Discuss all causes of action Bella can bring against Brad.

Poor Rule Statements

A poor rule statement for this question might read: “A tort occurs when someone intentionally hits someone else.” The rule discusses parts of a battery, but fails to mention the tort by name.  It also fails to identify, let alone define, all the relevant terms. It is not enough to identify some amorphous intentional torts and fail to specify battery.

Average Rule Statements

An average essay answer might read like this: “a battery is the intentional contact of another in a harmful or offensive manner.” This is a good basic definition for battery. However, it fails to define the three key elements of battery: intent, contact, and harmful or offensive. You may want to watch this video on battery for a deeper understanding of this tort.

Reached top of mountainSuperior Rule Statements

A superior essay will have a rule statement like this:  “a battery is the intentional contact of another in a harmful or offensive manner.  Intent is defined as someone who desires the act, or has knowledge to a substantial certainty that the contact will occur.  Contact is defined as the physical touching of a human being.  And finally, harmful or offensive is measured by what society deems as harmful or offensive.” As you can see, in addition to the average rule statement, you must also define intent, contact, and harmful or offensive.  Why?  Because these three key terms will drive your analysis.

IRAC Method

Remember, it is not enough to use the IRAC method in an answer.  Even average answers tend to use IRAC, but they miss out on points because they fail to define necessary key terms. You don’t have to define obvious words like “is” or “the.” But you do need to define every term that judges and lawyers find significant. And by significant, I mean words that can be disputed at trial.


Finally, don’t forget that a great rule statement is only the first step in getting a good grade. Some students have superb rule statements, and then bomb the application section of their essay.  It is imperative that you apply the facts to the rules to get higher grades. This isn’t the only thing that differentiates the average answer from the superior answer, but it is a significant factor in students receiving lower grades.

How to Improve

The best way to improve is through practice.  You need to take short practice exams and then get feedback on how you performed.  Most professors will not review your practice exams, so get help from your academic support department or private tutor.  Also, create a small group for the sole purpose of taking practice exams. If you’re not in a group, you may want to watch this video on law school study groups.

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Rule Statements That Get Top Grades