Answering Problem Questions – Introduction
Aims and Objectives
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
1. Understand the need to answer problem questions
2. Identify what a problem question is
3. Analyse the differences between the skills required to answer problem questions from those required to answer essay questions 4. Identify the issues raised in problem questions
5. Using research, deploy relevant legal principles to answer problem questions 6. Apply the law to the facts of a problem
7. Clearly and methodically structure your answer to a problem question 8. Provide concise and focussed conclusions to the issues raised in the problem question Why the need to deal with problem questions?
You will be examined in various ways on a law degree. A common type of question you will encounter is the so-called “problem question”. Problem questions are popular with examiners as they test students’ abilities to apply the law to factual scenarios. It is also generally believed that it is harder to plagiarise an answer for a problem question than an essay question, as problem questions tend to be bespoke i.e. specific to that assessment. As such, you will find that problem questions feature in both in-semester assignments as well as end-of-semester examinations. The advice here on how to answer problem questions will generally apply to both situations. Real-life situations
In essence, problem questions reflect the real-life work of lawyers. A lawyer is typically presented with a real-life problem that requires a legal solution. In asking you to answer problem questions, your lecturers are merely preparing you for a professional working life in the future. When clients approach a lawyer with their problems, they do not want to be given an extended account of some legal principle, however accurate that account may be; they would also have little interest in having a long line of judicial authority or statutory provision recited to them in depth. They certainly will have little interest in an academic debate on the merits of the law, or the respectable dissenting judgment of an eminent judge from an early 1900s case. Instead they want to know how the law would deal with the situation they find themselves in, and what the most likely outcomes would be for them if their case was to progress. What is a problem question?
Although a problem question attempts to replicate real-life scenarios faced by lawyers in practice, it is the case that the problem questions you will encounter are most likely to be fictitious i.e. made up by the lecturer who set the question. At times, the fictitious scenario can appear quite absurd and unlikely to happen in real-life. Do not worry about that – the reason your lecturer would have constructed that scenario was to be able to assess your ability to analyse complex issues which do not have clear-cut answers. Therefore, a problem question takes the form of a set of facts about a certain event or series of events. The facts are then followed by a question requiring you to discuss either the general legal position or certain specific legal issues flowing from those facts. For example, you may be asked to discuss the legal rights and remedies available to a particular party, or the legal position more generally. Problem questions are sometimes also called scenario questions, or case studies. It is not an essay question!
This might seem very obvious to you after everything we have said in this chapter; however, as lecturers we still see answers to essay questions masquerading as solutions to problem questions. And more often than we would like to! The problem tends to stem from the fact that in your hurry to get started on the answer, students tend to speed read through the problem question and allow key words or events from the problem question to dominate your attention. For example, in a Criminal Law problem question involving a complex set of facts revolving...
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