Today I get to share another new guest post from one of my favorite guest bloggers and supporters here! Read Ashley post below to learn more about preparing for law school exams!
One of the law students that I tutor, who I’ll call Brad, ran to me in a panic right before his law school exam study period last year. Brad had been diligently reading and briefing the cases all semester but then, a couple weeks before final exams, study period began and there were no more cases assigned.
“What should I be doing?” He asked me. Without any assignments and without much guidance, he did not know how to prepare for law school final exams.
While it might not be your final exam study period yet, law school final exams are not far away. Maybe you find yourself feeling like Brad – wondering what to do once all of your reading assignments are over. Or maybe you even want to begin to prepare for law school final exams now. After all, the earlier you begin preparing, the higher the chances are of boosting not only your confidence, but also your grades.
So how can you best prepare for your exams? To answer that question, you have to answer the question: What do law school final exams test?
Law school final exams test two things:
· First, whether you know the law; and
· Second, whether you are able to apply it to fact patterns.
So really the question, at a fundamental level is, “How I can I better learn and apply the law?” This is a two-part question which has a two-part answer. We’ll look at each in turn.
First, how do you learn the law?
The best way to learn the law is to outline and learn your outlines. Think of making an outline as putting pieces of a puzzle together. You organize the important bits and pieces from your class notes, your cases, and supplements and create a big picture of the law in your outline.
Outlining is the best way to learn all of the material you have learned throughout the semester. It is best to make your own outline (build your own puzzle!) rather than using someone else’s outline. Why? Because the process of outlining – of putting the pieces together - helps you more than anything else! You are cheating yourself out of really internalizing the material if you simply use outlines that others have made.
What should you do when you’re done making your outline? You learn it! It is not enough to just have the outline (even if you have an open book exam!). You need to know your outlines as well as possible.
Second, how do I get better at applying the law?
You have to practice! Some students make the mistake of simply reading a lot of theory about how to get better at answering exam questions. They read books about how to answer exam questions and they obsess over different strategies and different ways to make arguments. And that’s fine – but it’s not enough. In reality, whether you use the IRAC method (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) or something else, the best thing you can do is practice taking exams. This is true whether your exam is essay exam (the most common), short answer, or multiple choice.
If you wanted to get better at tennis, you wouldn’t sit around and read books about how to play tennis all day – you’d go to the courts and actually practice! So get a hold of as many past exams you can. Look at your professor’s past exams. Look online. Consult supplements such as Examples and Explanations supplements or Glannon guides, which usually have plenty of problems available for you to review. Practicing will truly help you to perfect the skill of taking law school exams.
What shouldn’t you be doing?
There is no reason to spend extra time reading cases, briefing cases, or doing anything that doesn’t directly help you to learn or apply the law when you begin to study for final exams. A lot of first year law students make the mistake of obsessing over cases – reading them, rereading them, and briefing them to prepare for exams. However, most professors do not test on cases – in fact, many professors will tell you that you can get an “A” without citing one case on your exam!
If you keep in mind that you will be tested primarily on whether you know the law and whether you can apply it to fact patterns – both now and during your final exam study period - you will be well on your way to succeeding on law school exams.
Ashley Heidemann graduated as the number one law student out of over 200 students in her class of 2011 at Wayne State University. She now works as a tutor for law school and the bar exam. She also teaches an Online law school exam preparatory course. For more information, and to find out more about the Law School Exam Preparatory Course, visit her site at http://www.excellenceinlawschool.com.