The Problem Method

The problem method gives students practice in applying substantive law and helps them develop analytical skills. Proponents of the problem method state that it best teaches inductive reasoning, most closely approximates the principal tasks of the practicing attorney, best brings into play the student’s knowledge, and is most intellectually stimulating; claims identical to the Socratic/case method. Here the professor assigns problems that reproduce factual circumstances for the students to analyze using the concepts they are learning or have already covered. Rather than employing an appellate case to provide context for analysis or application of a rule a written problem allows a real life set of facts to become the platform. One researcher states that teaching with problems results in better student performance than using the lecture method due to the fact that the cognitive skills of application and analysis (developed by the problem method) are retained to a much greater degree than the ability to recall given facts or rules.

A law-related empirical study comparing the Problem method, Case method and Self-instruction showed that scores on the essay portion of a combined objective/essay examination given four months after the end of the semester showed that students in the Case section had significantly lower scores than students learning by the Problem method. In the same study, student evaluations of the three different methods show that the Problem method was rated significantly more positively than the Case method.