Category Archives: Law School Exams

4 Obstacles to Success on Multiple Choice Exams

Yesterday I explained the difference between law school multiple choice exams and those you took in undergrad or high school. An understanding of those differences is one key to achieving success in your law school exams. Today, I want to talk about some of the obstacles to success in law school multiple choice exams, as well as some suggestions for how to avoid or recover from those obstacles.

There are 4 major obstacles to success in law school multiple choice exams:

The Race to the Finish: The first obstacle is speed—often, students rush through law school multiple choice questions too quickly. There is a lot going on in each multiple choice question; often a single fact may be the key to the correct answer. If you read too quickly, you are likely to miss the most important part of the question. The key to not moving too fast through multiple choice questions is to fully utilize the time you’ve been given for that section. Take the time to read each question carefully, and don’t cheat the multiple choice questions by racing through them to get to the next part of your exam.

Reliance on Instinct or Emotion: The second obstacle is the temptation to be guided by instinct or emotion. Before you came to law school, you may have had professors tell you that you should go with your first instinct. The same is not true for law school multiple choice—in fact, there is commonly a wrong answer that will appeal to those who rely on instinct. Law operates on logic, not instinct or emotion. You must put aside your first impressions and carefully analyze all possible answers before choosing the best answer.

The Fear Factor: The third obstacle is panic. Maybe you’ve had this experience. You start the exam, look down at the first question, and suddenly every thought leaves your head. It is as if you never took the course. You immediately think to yourself, “I’m going to fail!” The key to dealing with this obstacle is preparation. If you have done a good job preparing in advance of the exam, you have the resources you need to do well on the exam. Trust in your preparation, and get started. Before long, you will forget your panic and get into a rhythm answering questions.

“I’ll Just Wing It”: Finally, the most serious obstacle to success on law school multiple choice exams is lack of preparation. I talked about this in the last post, but it’s worth emphasizing once again—preparation is critical to success in multiple choice exams. There is just no way around doing the hard work prior to the exam.

Stay tuned for my next post, when I will provide some additional tips for successful multiple choice exams in law school.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Study Tips

Introduction to Law School Multiple Choice Exams

Law school multiple choice exams are not like the multiple choice exams you took in undergrad or high school—law school is a new world, and law school exams require a new approach. Unlike undergrad, where a basic familiarity with the course materials could potentially help you answer multiple choice questions, the same cannot be said of law school. Those who try to rely on basic recognition of information in multiple choice answers will likely fail the exam.

The foundation of success on multiple choice exams in law school is preparation. You have to study for multiple choice exams in the same way that you study for essays—you must have a thorough understanding of the law to be successful. This is because law school multiple choice exams do not just test your ability to recognize the law. Instead, they test your ability to apply to a new set of facts, a new hypothetical example. The fact pattern in a multiple choice exam resembles the types of hypotheticals your professor might give you in class. You will have to spot the legal issues and identify what law is required to address those legal issues.

The other reason why law school multiple choice questions can be so challenging is that they commonly ask you for the best answer, not the “right” answer. This means that more than one answer could solve the problem presented by the question. A “correct” answer may not necessarily be the “best” answer. Identifying the best answer will require you to have a thorough understanding of the law, but it will also require you to develop other test-taking skills.

Keep reading this week as further posts explore how law students should approach multiple choice exams. I will describe some of the obstacles to choosing the best answer for each multiple choice question, as well as techniques that will help you achieve success in your multiple choice exams.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Study Tips

3 Tips for Spotting Issues in Law School Exams

It’s that time of the semester when law students are beginning to think more about exams, either because they’re in the midst of midterms (if their law school has midterms) or they’re anticipating final exams. One of the skills required for success on law school exams is the ability to spot legal issues. Law school essay questions contain complex fact patterns that incorporate numerous legal issues. The more issues you are able to identify, the more opportunities you will have to show your understanding of legal principles and your analytical abilities—and capitalizing on those opportunities contributes to better grades. Issue spotting can also help you on multiple choice exams. When you are able to identify the specific legal issue being tested in the question, you can use your knowledge of the relevant law to eliminate wrong answers and help you identify the best answer.

With these benefits in mind, here are 3 tips for spotting issues in your law school exams:

1. Outline, Outline, Outline!: The most important key to being able to spot legal issues on law school exams is the preparation that you do before the exam. In recent weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring the best approaches to outlining in law school (for more information on outlining, see here, here, here, and here). If you have organized your outline in the right way, you will already have identified the possible types of legal issues on an exam. You will also have an understanding of the important rules and tests that relate to each issue, as well as key policies and relevant case examples.

2. Create an Issue Checklist: One way that you can make sure that you do not miss important issues is to create an issue checklist for each of your classes. Creating a checklist is easy. Just take an outline that you have done for one of your law school classes, such as Property, Torts, or Evidence. Go through your outline page by page, making a separate list of all legal issues and sub-issues. Write out the list in the order that it is organized in your outline. Don’t include any details–your checklist should be made up of key words and phrases, not tests, definitions, case names, or other detailed information. Think of the checklist as something similar to a grocery list. If you were shopping for the ingredients to make a certain recipe, you wouldn’t write the entire recipe out again to take to the grocery store. Instead, you would just list the ingredients you need to purchase. That’s the approach you want to take to the checklist as well. If the outline is the recipe, your checklist is the shopping list of ingredients.

Once you have your checklist organized the way that you want it, commit it to memory. When you go into the exam, use the checklist to make sure that you don’t miss issues in the hypothetical fact patterns. You can use the checklist to identify legal issues in both multiple choice questions (short hypotheticals) and essay questions (longer hypotheticals).

3. Identify Relationships Among Legal Issues in Advance: There are usually relationships among certain legal issues. If you identify those relationships in advance, you are more likely to recognize them in fact patterns during the exam. For example, one major legal issue in Torts is negligence. But if you see a negligence issue in the fact pattern, you know that there are other legal issues that might also be relevant, such as vicarious liability, joint and several liability, comparative/contributory negligence, various defenses, and various types of damages. As you begin to identify issues in that fact pattern, you should look for any facts that suggest that those legal issues are at play as well.

If you notice, the common theme to these issue-spotting tips is advance preparation. What you do before the exam is what ultimately makes your issue-spotting efforts successful!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

Making the Best Use of Study Aids

Study aids come in a variety of forms, such as treatises, hornbooks, commercial outlines, and study guides. Sometimes your professors will assign study aids as either required or suggested reading for a course. Often, the professor has selected this additional material because it supplements the reading from the casebook in some way. Many law students also purchase study aids on their own, without a professor’s recommendation, or they may check them out of the law school library.

So what is the value of a study aid? If used properly, study aids can enhance your understanding of what you are studying. The key is to do your assigned reading first, and then, after you have created your case brief, refer to any supplemental materials to clarify things that you didn’t understand. Or, if you are in the process of synthesizing course materials and creating an outline, you might use a study aid as a way of checking your understanding of the law. Some study aids contain practice multiple choice and essay questions that can be used as you are studying for your exams.

Where problems arise is when law students attempt to rely upon study aids as their primary way of learning new material. Keep in mind that you need to know what your professor expects you to know. Exams are based upon assigned course materials, and the study aids will have information that is presented differently or has not even been covered in your course. Learning is a process in law school—you gain more and more understanding of the law by going through various layers of studying and learning—reading cases, creating case briefs, taking notes in class, reviewing and updating your case briefs and notes, and synthesizing course materials by outlining or some equivalent process. If you skip multiple steps in the learning process, you will not know the law at the level that you need to know it for your law school exams or the bar exam. As with other areas of the law school experience, attempts to take shortcuts will backfire.

Another problem that law students have is that they are overwhelmed by the number of study aids out there and don’t know which one(s) to choose for each class. Costs add up and, for many law students, purchasing very many study aids is just not an option. Not all study aids will be equally valuable—they vary in format, and what works for one class may not work for another. Before buying any study aids, talk to your law professors and see what they recommend for your classes. If your law school library has study aids, look through them first to see what you find most helpful. Academic Support offices also often have study aids that you can look through or borrow.

The bottom line is that study aids can complement your other study efforts, but they can’t be a substitute for doing the hard work.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

Case Briefing Shortcuts

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nonicknamephoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over the past several posts, we’ve explored how to read and brief cases for your law school classes. As you’ve read those posts, you’ve probably started to realize what a time-consuming process law school studying really is! All that reading and briefing takes a lot of time, actually—and that’s why I think a cautionary note is appropriate at this point. As you read and prepare for class, resist the urge to take shortcuts. The reading and note-taking process I’ve described in my previous posts is really what you need to do to understand the material when you are a new law student.

You may hear upper-level students talking about “book briefing”—in other words, just underlining or highlighting material in the casebook and jotting a few notes in the casebook margins, without actually completing a case brief. Some students may eventually get comfortable enough with their reading that they can book brief and get by, but book briefing is not a sound approach to studying during your first year of law school for sure, and for most students it doesn’t work well even after the first year. You will get more and more efficient in your reading and case briefing over time, but you still need to do the things that give you a deeper understanding of the assigned reading and organize material in a way that will be helpful to you later, as we’ve talked about before.

You should also avoid the temptation to rely upon other students’ case briefs or commercially prepared briefs—it may seem easier and quicker to take this approach in the short term, but you will not know the material as well and will not remember it as much when you are studying later for the exam. When you rely too much upon commercially prepared materials, you are not thinking about the subject in the way that your professor has organized your course. Commercial materials can be valuable, but as a supplement—not your primary source of information for the course. Don’t forget who will be grading your exams–it’s rarely the person who created those commercial briefs.

Moreover, don’t forget that many of the courses that you are taking in law school, including all of the first-year courses, are on the bar exam. The harder you work to really understand the law in each of these courses now, the better foundation you will have when you start studying for the bar exam after you graduate.

The bottom line: there is no real shortcut to law school success—if you cut corners with your studies now, you will find it harder to be successful on your law school exams—and on the bar exam. Shortcuts are really a dead end when it comes to learning.

Leave a comment

Filed under Bar Exam, Grades, Law School Exams, Pre-Law, Study Tips

What Should You Do the Summer Before Starting Law School?

Congratulations on being admitted to law school! The next few years will be a time of challenges, opportunities, frustrations, and successes. Law school will be hard work, but, if you approach it the right way, it will also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. So, what should you do this summer before you enter law school? Here are a few suggestions:

Learn more about what to expect during your first year in law school. For many law students, the first semester of law school can be a real shock. Law school is like nothing you have ever experienced. Talk to current law students and lawyers about what to expect during the first week, month, and semester in law school. Ask them what they wished they had known as a new 1L. There are also a number of good books out there for new law students. These books can provide more information about what it is like to be a law student, what skills you need to develop (and even some suggestions about how to develop those skills), and what the language of law school means. You don’t need to read every book out there though—one or two is probably sufficient to get you started.

Some books that you may find helpful (in no particular order):

Starting Off Right in Law School (2nd ed.), by Carolyn J. Nygren. This book is an interesting read, as it uses a fictional case to introduce students to the vocabulary and skills of law school and legal practice.

Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul. This book discusses the differences between undergrad and law school approaches to studying, explains how legal reasoning works and how to apply legal reasoning to class and exam preparation. Much of the focus is on how to perform well on law school exams, and it may be most helpful to read once you are part way through your first semester.

1L of a Ride: A Well-Traveled Professor’s Roadmap to Success in the First Year of Law School (3rd ed.), by Andrew J. McClurg. This book provides a straightforward explanation of what to expect during the first year of law school, including suggestions and comments from former law students.

Expert Learning for Law Students (2nd ed.), by Michael Hunter Schwartz. This book provides a lot of useful advice about how to tackle the various skills you need to develop and tasks that you must accomplish as a law student. It also helps you to understand more about how you learn, and how you can approach law school based upon your learning preferences.

Reading Like a Lawyer: Time-Saving Strategies for Reading Law Like an Expert (2nd ed.), by Ruth Ann McKinney. This book focuses specifically on how you can develop the reading skills you need to effectively and efficiently read for law school.

Learning Outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently, by Leah M. Christensen. This book is a great resource for students who learn differently from the average student, including those who have diagnosed or undiagnosed learning disabilities that affect the way they learn.

This is not an exclusive list—there are certainly other books out there that may be helpful in introducing you to what to expect in your first year of law school. Ask law students you know about any books or other resources they have found particularly helpful.

Make your health a priority. There are a lot of studies out there that demonstrate links between taking good care of yourself—eating healthy foods, getting exercise, and getting enough sleep—and cognitive skills and stress management. Make lifestyle changes that improve your health even before law school begins, and continue those new habits into the school year. You will be better off for making your health a priority in the long run.

Finally, take some time to relax and recharge your batteries before law school begins this fall. Some people try to do too much during the summer before law school—reading every book about being a successful law student, trying to get a head start on first-year law school course materials, etc. Your first semester of law school will be an intense, demanding experience, and it is important to go into it feeling rested and ready to tackle the challenge. Read for fun. Go on long walks. Spend time with friends and family. Do the things that make you happy and renew your spirit!

Stay tuned to this blog over the next couple of months–I will be adding additional posts on this topic!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Pre-Law, Study Tips

Making the Most of Summer Law School Classes

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many law students choose to take classes during the summer because (a) they want to graduate in less time, or (b) to reduce the number of classes they have to take in future semesters. Students often believe that summer classes will be “easier” because they are only taking one or two classes instead of five. Although there is definitely a benefit to taking fewer classes at one time, the drawback is that summer classes generally last half the time. Instead of lasting 14 or 15 weeks, the entire course is usually crammed into 7 weeks.

How can you make sure that you obtain the greatest benefit from taking summer classes and set yourself up for academic success? Here are four tips for making the most of your summer law school classes:

1. Create a study schedule, and stick to it. It can be tempting to take a relaxed approach to your studies in the summer, as there are so many distractions: summer movie series, outdoor activities, longer days . . . you get the picture. You should definitely make sure you take some breaks and enjoy your summer, but you still have to take a disciplined approach to your studies. The best way to do this is to create a study schedule for the summer semester. You don’t want to get behind in a class that only lasts 7 weeks.

2. Start outlining early; don’t wait until the last minute. Students often wait until several weeks into a semester to start outlining. If you take this approach in the summer, the outline will never be finished. Outline each topic as you finish it in class, and you will be better prepared for the final exam. Even though it’s summer, you still have to do the same things you need to do during the rest of the school year to be successful.

3. Don’t miss class unless you absolutely have to. Missing one class during the summer is often the equivalent of missing a week during the rest of the year. When a class has a condensed schedule, it can be difficult to get caught up if you miss even one class. Save class absences for true emergencies, and have a plan for getting quickly caught up if you have to miss class.

4. Learn from the past; don’t repeat it. Make sure that you review your exams from Spring Semester. If you did not do as well as you hoped in a class, set up an appointment to go over your exam. I’ve also discussed how to get the most out of past grades here and here. Use those past final exams as a basis for how to approach future exams.

Taking summer classes can contribute to your overall success as a law student if you approach them in the right way. Make the most of your summer studies!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Study Tips

Making Sense of Law School Grades: Three Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Final Grades

Now that the semester is over, the wait for final grades has started. But even once those grades are released, law students don’t always know what to do with them. If your grades are good, of course you celebrate—and if they’re bad, you may be depressed. But what do these grades really mean? How can you make sense of your law school grades and get the most out of them?

Exams are really just a means of assessing how you communicate information that you learn, and grades are one component of that assessment. I’ve previously talked about how you can use grades to get more out of graded assignments. Here are three more ways to get the most out of your law school grades:

  1. Grades can be a way of calibrating your own perceptions of how you perform on exams. Did you do as well (or as poorly) as you thought you did on your exams? If you didn’t do as well as you thought you did in your classes, you should consider whether you were overconfident in your approach to your exams. You may need to rethink your approach to studying and/or attacking the exam in order to obtain the grades you want. In contrast, some students beat themselves up about how they did right after each exam ends, but in reality they performed much better than they thought. Regardless of which type of student you are, you can use grades as a way of adjusting your own understanding of how you perform on exams.
  2. Grades can help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses in taking exams. Look for patterns in your final grades. Did you do better on multiple choice exams that you did on essays, or vice versa? How did you do on exams in which time management was more important? What are the common aspects of exams that you did particularly well on versus those on which you did not perform as well as you had hoped? Understanding these patterns can help you create a plan for how to approach exams in the future.
  3. Grades can help you to evaluate particular test-taking strategies that worked (or didn’t work) for you. Sometimes students will do something during one exam that they didn’t do in other exams, and they get different grades based upon those different approaches. For example, did you outline before you started writing in some classes but not others? Create a checklist for one class but not the others? Hand write versus use your computer? Use highlighters to break down essay questions on only one exam? Think about any differences in how you approached exams from one class to the next, and see if there are any corresponding differences in grades.

One trait of successful people is that they are able to learn from past experiences and apply what they have learned to their future endeavors. Take an active approach to learning from your final grades, and you will be on the path to success!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams

Sleep for Success: Stealing Time from Sleep Doesn’t Help You Do Better

The other day I had a student tell me that he planned to stay up all night studying for his next final exam. His statement brought back memories of my own years in law school, studying in a coffee shop early in the morning before the Civ. Pro. final as some of my fellow law students–those who had stayed up all night studying–either crashed with their heads on the tables or drank gallons of coffee in a desperate attempt to make their brains function. One of my friends once told me that, during one of her finals, a student fell asleep in the middle of the exam. Other students sitting around him surreptitiously tried to wake him up without causing a disruption to the rest of the class.  My friend looked over again about 20 minutes later, and he was once again asleep.

At the time, staying up very late–or even all night–may seem to make sense as you are studying for your final exams. The final exam period is a very stressful time, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day for studying. Law students may have four or five finals during a 10 to 14 day period, and often the entire grade for each course hangs in the balance. If you didn’t get your outlines done before the semester ended, you may still be scrambling to synthesize course information and memorize key concepts. If you don’t sleep less, then how will you get enough time to study before finals?

The problem with this reasoning is that sleeping less does not necessarily mean a better outcome on the exam. You’ll be more tired, have a harder time focusing on what you are doing (either studying or actually taking the exam), or even fall asleep at critical moments, like the law student in my friend’s class. Just because you study longer doesn’t mean you’ll do better. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived students don’t perform as well as those who get enough sleep, and they’re more susceptible to getting sick. It’s also important to remember that you are not just trying to learn this information for a short period of time–you are studying legal concepts that you will be tested on again during the bar exam.

So what should you do instead? Ideally you should study for your exams throughout the semester by outlining and creating flashcards. If you spread out your studying throughout the semester, you will not feel as much pressure during the exams period. It will be easier to balance studying with sleeping and taking good care of yourself by eating healthy and exercising.

At this stage though, you are already in the midst of exams. Lectures about the perils of procrastination aren’t going to help you with your immediate problems. Instead, you should take stock of where you’re at with each of your classes and how much time you have left before the final exams. Triage your studying. What are the most important things that need to be accomplished for each class? For example, it won’t be possible to create an entire outline for a course in 48 hours. A more productive approach at that point may be to start by creating the one-page checklist of topics I have described before, but this time drawing from your class notes and casebook table of contents. The checklist is a master list of the topics that could be tested on the exam. Once you have the checklist, you can evaluate which topics you feel pretty comfortable with versus those that you realize need more work. By consciously evaluating each course, you will be able to spend your time on those topics you’ve identified as needing more work, rather than on reviewing information you already know. Triage studying may not be a perfect solution (less procrastination would be better), but it is a better option than stealing time from sleep.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Study Tips

The “Best Answer” Dilemma: How to Succeed at Law School Multiple Choice Exams

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the reasons why law students often dread multiple choice exams is that questions may have more than one possible right answer. In fact, many multiple choice questions instruct the student to choose the “best” answer. There’s nothing more frustrating than choosing a seemingly “correct” answer but still getting the question wrong.

So how can you resolve the “best answer” dilemma and achieve success on your multiple choice exams? Here are some tips for approaching these questions on law school exams:

  • First and foremost, always approach law school multiple choice questions by eliminating the wrong answers first rather than looking for the right answers. This may seem counterintuitive. But eliminating obviously wrong answers gets rid of answers that are distracting and may lead you astray. It also improves your chance of choosing the correct answer if you are not able to determine which answer is best and have to guess.
  • Second, don’t just choose the first answer that seems right. Instead, make sure that you evaluate all possible answers and determine whether any other answer could also be correct. It’s hard to decide which one is the best answer if you don’t evaluate them all.
  • Finally, if you narrow your options down to two possible answers, both of which seem right, then you should analyze which answer is best. One way to do this is by asking yourself which answer is more specific. If one answer is fairly general but the other is much more narrow in its application, the narrow answer is usually the better answer. If one references a general rule of law but the other incorporates very specific details from the question’s fact pattern, the detailed answer is probably the better answer.

Ultimately, the key is to be methodical in your approach to evaluating the answers. Approaching each multiple choice question in the same way will help you solve the “best answer” dilemma.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams