Writing at CUNY Law School: A Pervasive Approach
Professor Ruthann Robson
The disadvantage—and the advantage—of taking a multiple choice test is the lack of writing. A student may know the doctrine being tested, yet be torn between two very close responses. During multiple choice exams one can almost hear students saying, "But if only I could write a few words and explain my choice!" On the other hand, a student can guess at answers without providing rationales and even be right.
There are several ways to integrate writing and multiple-choice skills into classrooms in which there will be a multiple choice test. One method is to allow students to "write a few words" and explain their choice of a correct answer. Usually, this also requires students to explain their rejection of other possible responses.
Another, and more challenging, method is to require students to construct their own multiple choice questions. Students must write the short hypothetical, the interrogatory, and the responses. Students must also provide a "level of difficulty" for the question. Most demanding, students must provide an analysis that supports the correct answer; students must explain why the correct answer is correct and explain why the incorrect responses are wrong.
Here's a sample from a constitutional law course:
Assume Oklahoma passed a state statute that declares "Native Americans automatically eligible" for state-funded health care and also declares that "persons other than Native Americans may be eligible for state-funded health care if household income is at or below the established poverty guidelines." Assume Mehmedalija Selimovic challenges the state statute as a violation of equal protection. If the state of Oklahoma asserts that its government interest in passing the statute is remedying past discrimination against Native Americans, which fact, assuming it could be proven as true, would be most supportive of the state's argument that the statute is constitutional:
A. Until 1924, Native Americans were not citizens and could not vote in Oklahoma.
B. Until 2000, Native Americans were prohibited by state statute from using traditional medicines that were deemed "narcotics" and otherwise criminalized.
C. Until 2000, Native Americans were prohibited by state statute from receiving state-funded health care.
D. The most recent information available in 2007 demonstrates that Native Americans in Oklahoma continue to have a household income that is less than the poverty guideline.
CORRECT ANSWER: C
LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: MEDIUM
ANALYSIS: This question requires an analogy to the post-Brown "busing" cases, specifically Freeman v. Pitts, which the Court in Seattle discusses. The context here is much different, however the same principles would arguably apply (and given the "universe" of the multiple choice question, the arguments that these principles do not apply is inapposite). The key here is nexus, or the "tightest fit" between the previous discrimination and the present "remedy." Considerations of time and place (as in Freeman) as well as subject matter are operative. Although D is the most recent, there is a serious problem regarding state-mandated discrimination; D is not a statute or direct state action and the Court would consider D a "social condition" not subject to being remedied. A, B, and C all involve state action, but A is less recent. Comparing B and C, both from 2000, C is most directly related to the fact pattern's remedy of state-funded health care while B concerns "traditional" remedies (presumably not state-funded).