by Joshua Kahn
You’ve spent what seems like the longest couple of months since you-were-6-and-summer-felt-like-forever doing your reading, going to class, and outlining. Now, you’re wondering, how to ace your 1L exams, land the job of your dreams, make tons of money and guarantee a lifetime of blissfully safe employment. . . right?
So, here are a few helpful pointers for exams:
Learn Your Professor’s Style
Every professor has a specific exam style, which they’ll generally telegraph over the course of the semester. If not, then ask them about it in person. Also, make sure to track down 2L’s and 3L’s to ask them about that professor’s style. Often, they’ll have helpful insights into what to expect on the exam.
Short Test Outline
Once you begin studying, the first thing you should do is write a concise version of your outline. It should have big font, not be spaced in tiny clusters of sentences, and focus on the elements of each claim. Cut as much as possible until you only have the core elements and tests for the areas of law you learned.
This short outline is your cheat-sheet for the exam, not a security blanket. It’s a way to remind you of the elements to make sure you don’t forget something, not re-teach you the material on the fly.
If your professor only lets you have a single front-and-back sheet, then use different colors to differentiate elements and tests visually. The idea is to be able to quickly glance at the sheet and know what you’re looking for.
If you have a closed book exam, just ignore this and do more practice tests, memorize what you need with flash cards or both.
Taking Practice Exams
Practice exams are by far the best way to study for law school exams. Take a few untimed and fully write out your answers, don’t just outline them (which will be tempting). Then, take at least one fully timed practice exam for each course. That process will help you with both analysis and speed once the pressure is on.
Many people find it helpful to go over their practice exams with a study group to see if they got the answers right, and get suggestions from classmates. Often, they’ll actually take the exams together all at once in a library room to simulate the pressure of an in-class exam.
This is one of the very few things study groups are useful for, but, don’t let it take too much time. Practice exams are painful and it’s very tempting to talk through them to avoid having to take another.
Finding Practice Exams
GSU has an exam archive and professors often give out a copy of past exam, but it’s a good idea to practice on exams from other schools.
Most exam archives are password protected, but here are a few which are not:
Law school exams reward clear writing. If you’re a good, concise writer, your grades will probably be one step or so higher than otherwise (from, say, a B+ to and A-). If you are not a good writer, there probably isn’t much you can do about it in the next month, so pretend I didn’t just say this. (But consider reading this over your break).
There is one thing anyone can do to quickly improve their exam readability however, and that’s clearly organize your paper. Include headings for each section and subsection so your professor knows exactly what points you are addressing, start a new paragraph for each element of the claim you’re proving, etc.
It is OK to Be Nervous
Finally, it is ok to be nervous. Law school exams are a horrible hazing ritual, especially 1L exams, and they never stop being nerve-wracking.