Skip to content
Free Event - Baby Bar Final Drill - Substantive Lecture - Saturday, June 15th
Free Event - Baby Bar Final Drill - Substantive Lecture
Criminal Law Essay - Fleming's Fundamental Law

Whodunit? Solving the Mystery of Writing a First-Rate Criminal Law Essay Exam

I was leaving the post office one day and I saw a license plate that was an acronym for Nancy Drew. I stopped to admire the plate because it immediately took me back to when I was young and would voraciously read Nancy Drew mystery novels. It reminded me that reading the books taught me how to solve mysteries. As a civil litigation attorney, I regularly apply that skill in my practice because, as I go from one case to the next, I solve one mystery at a time.  

Normally, the mystery is the extent of the wrongdoing by the opposing party. However, sometimes it is discovering the relevant facts that my client conveniently failed to share with me. Tapping into your inner sleuth will assist you with learning to write first-rate Criminal Law exam answers as well as answers in any other type of law school exam you may encounter.

Prepare to Solve Your Mystery

Preparation is essential to solving the mystery of writing a Criminal Law exam. As a law student, your preparation commences with reading and briefing all the assigned cases. This teaches you the law and how to reason. Further, it assists with preparing your study outline for the class. It also teaches you the discipline of IRAC, which is fundamental to law exam writing. 

Fleming’s is in a powerful position to assist with your law school exam preparation - as demonstrated by one of our law students receiving the only known perfect score on a Criminal Law Bar exam. The student who wrote the answer implemented what Fleming’s teaches when answering a Criminal Law exam, and the Bar Examiners rewarded him with a perfect 100 score for his presentation.  

So that you can see Fleming’s law exam methods and techniques at work for yourself, I recommend reading our recent article about this student’s impressive accomplishment: 

Bar Examiners Give Fleming’s Law Student a Perfect Score on His Essay Exam Answer 

The question, along with the student’s perfectly scored answer, is appended at the end of the article. You, too, can achieve this result with Fleming’s at your side.

Every Sleuth Needs a Partner

As Nancy Drew had her Bess Marvin, every sleuth needs a partner. For law students, legal study supplements are your Bess Marvin sidekick. Fleming’s has a wide array of supplements that can assist law students with course substantive law outlines as well as fail-safe methods and techniques for law exam writing.  

I highly recommend Fleming’s Sail Through Law School with The Exam Solution® for Criminal Law because it provides a four-hour substantive law lecture, a substantive law outline, and three essay exams with sample California Bar exam answers. This is all you need to tie together everything about the subject that you are learning in the classroom. Reviewing Bar exam answers is invaluable because they assist with how to format, weigh issues, and write persuasive analysis. One of my former students conveyed that the resources from this series really helped her prepare for her recent midterms.  

Identify the Suspects

Now that you are ready to commence your law exam writing, you must start with identifying your suspects. Therefore, the first thing you do is read the call of the question. Read it at least twice because it is imperative to understand the scope of your investigation. You must headnote and write on each call of the question separately because failure to do so will result in a failing grade. 

Examine the Crime Scene

The next step of your investigation is to examine the crime scene, which is the fact pattern for the exam. Read it twice – concentrate solely on the facts. Read it again to prepare your issue outline as outlining is imperative to your success on the exam. It tells you how many issues you have to write on, which ones are major and minor, and how to allocate your writing time so you do not run short in finishing before time is called.

Map Out the Scope of Your Investigation

When writing law school or California Bar exam answers, you must write on the issues in the order that they are spotted in the fact pattern. You strategize this when outlining the exam, which is why outlining is so crucial to your success. 

When drafting your outline make four columns, one for each part of IRAC, to ensure that you write your answer in an orderly manner - including all the required crimes and defenses. 

The first column is for the issue, the next for the rule, then the facts for your analysis/application, and the last column for the conclusion. You should abbreviate whenever possible to keep your outline time between 15 – 20 minutes.  

The example below for outlining the issue of robbery is taken from Fleming’s Writing Workbook p. 43. 







(trespassory taking)

Slipped wallet from pocket



(carrying away)

Ran off


(personal property of another)

Amos’ wallet


(force or fear)

Stuck pipe in back

Amos raised arms

Don’t move or I will shoot


(specific intent to deprive)

Threw under streetlight

Expected Amos to find it

Now that you have examined the crime scene and created your outline, you are ready to write your essay answer. Think about what you want to say before beginning to write. This will help you formulate your thoughts and prevent you from rambling once you get started.

Write Your Investigation Report

A successful answer applies the relevant facts to each element of the rule to persuade the reader as to why the crime or defense succeeds or fails. What you are trying to do is answer the “why” or “why not” regarding each element of the rule, using the facts from the exam. 

As an initial matter, you must weigh the issues to ensure you have enough time for major issues such as homicide. A classic Criminal Law California Bar exam will contain a number of crimes and a homicide at the end. Generally, when there is a homicide, you will need 15 – 20 minutes to write on it because you must write on each required issue/subpart. If you run out of time to write a full homicide analysis, you will likely fail the exam because it is a heavily weighted issue. 

A superior answer will analyze the arguments of each party. You want to argue on behalf of the State first because it is prosecuting the case. Then you write the counterarguments for the defendant. 

Writing both sides will set you apart and increase your score because the majority of students only write on behalf of the prosecution. Developing this skill is essential as an attorney because you must always anticipate the arguments of the opposing party. 

There are certain issues that require writing on the common law rule as well as the modern rule or Model Penal Code. Burglary is a classic example. You must analyze common law burglary as well as the modern law distinctions because the burden of proof is lower. When writing on the insanity issue, you must always write on all four insanity excuses.  

You must write a one-sentence conclusion regarding each issue on the exam as well as an overall conclusion if required by the call of the question.

Justice Is Served

Writing a first-rate Criminal Law exam takes hard work and discipline. This can be achieved by stepping into the exam to spot and solve each mystery of whether or not the crime or defense succeeds or fails. 

Justice will be served when you write a first-class answer and receive your desired passing score. This will put you one step closer to going from law student to lawyer. 


Previous article Strategize Your Way to Passing the California Bar Exam
Next article Bar Examiners Give a Fleming's Law Student a Perfect Score on His Essay Exam Answer

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields