By: Tasneem Mewa
As November rolls around, 1Ls face their first round of law school final exams. Surely, most of us can recall feeling uncertain about how to prepare. With the hope of addressing that uncertainty, this article offers tips on exam management. That said, take this article with a grain of salt; everyone learns differently, so know what works best for you.
Preparing for Exams
Outlining is an excellent way to begin studying. Generally, outlining involves (1) reviewing the material, (2) seeing the through line of the course, and (3) efficiently accessing information.
Reviewing the material takes time because you’ll likely have questions you hadn’t considered before–you want to leave time to ask your professor these questions. While getting these questions answered, you’ll begin to make connections between the various topics you covered throughout the course.
As you learn and re-learn, consider how you’re going to consolidate the information. Your outline doesn’t have to be a document that compiles class notes. You can consolidate these learnings by reviewing them with a study group, drawing mind maps (detailing issues, rules, authority, and examples), writing detailed tables of content, or creating checklists. Your learning style and course content might lend itself well to certain formats.
Familiarizing yourself with the material is only half the battle. Practice exams are the key to productive study. Practice exams allow you to apply what you know, give you a sense of your professor’s style, and if you can get feedback (or compare your answers against a sample answer), practice exams can teach you how to improve. If your professor does not provide practice exams, rely on any hypos you discussed in class or ask your professor for specific exam taking advice. Each professor’s approach is unique; another section’s tort professor may not have emphasized the same concepts yours did or discuss policy as much. Know what your professor spent time discussing and why. Use this knowledge to supplement your understanding of the material. If you have access to more than one sample exam, do at least one under timed conditions.
After studying and applying the material, consider how you can most efficiently organize the information for exam day. This could mean using a color-coded tab system, a condensed table of contents, or flow charts to quickly trigger your thought process. Efficiency is necessary because when you’re writing an exam, every second counts.
You have studied and you’re ready to go.
Pay attention to any emails from your school about general exam instructions and policies. You should also be familiar with instructions specific to your classes (most Professors make instructions available in advance). Is there a word count? Formatting requirements? Page limit?
If you’re writing your exam in person, try your best to optimize the environment. Granted, 1Ls often have less control over their exam timing and location, but even small steps, such as wearing earplugs, could go a long way.
Once you begin the exam, take deep breaths, and read the instructions and questions carefully. Representative practice exams should give you a sense of what to expect. If the question asks you about issues that arise for Bill, don’t bring up issues that arise for Betty. If the question asks for what advice you would give as a lawyer, give that advice. Be mindful of the time and try to stick to the recommended time allotments for each question. If you are running behind, bullet point your answers instead of leaving any questions blank.
Once the exam is over, you’re going to have an itch to discuss the details with others. Instead, focus your attention on the next exam and continue to care for yourself physically and mentally as best you can.
Grades and Lessons Learned
Congratulations, you made it through exams!
After taking a well-deserved break, you’ll probably begin to wonder how your exams went.
Remember, grades are not everything. A grade will not make or break you. Nor is a grade an indication of whether you should or should not pursue a certain field of law. It is just a grade.
Despite being just a grade, it can still be useful. Whether you did well or not, use it as a learning opportunity. Review your exams with your professors. What worked, what didn’t? What practice should you continue and or how will you adjust your habits in the spring? Think about asking your peers, 2Ls, 3Ls, for advice, or trying out academic support resources.
You’ll continue to re-evaluate and readjust throughout law school. And as future lawyers, thinking of ways to better ourselves and our process for our clients will hopefully become second nature.
Good luck, all!
About the Author:
Tasneem Mewa earned her undergraduate degree in Critical International Development Studies from the University of Toronto, Scarborough. During her studies, she worked for a research and policy organization in Bengaluru focusing on privacy, tech, and data issues in India and across Asia. As a student at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Tasneem has had the opportunity to work in a litigation clinic, as a judicial extern, and within a law firm setting. She hopes her career will involve exploring new areas of law and contributing to policy.