Category Archives: Study Tips

5 Tips for Reading Statutes

Law students must develop a number of important skills to be successful in their legal writing assignments and exams. Those same skills are equally important for success on the bar exam and in legal practice. One skill every law student needs is the ability to read statutes. Because statutes are a primary source of law, the ability to read, understand, and apply a statute can be critical to academic success in many law school classes. As an attorney, your ability to read and interpret statutes will enable you to provide better legal advice to your clients and predict legal outcomes. But reading statutes is not always as easy as it seems on the surface.

Here are some suggestions for how to be more effective in reading statutes:

(1) Slow down! Don’t read too fast. Statutory provisions are often pretty short, and it is easy to let yourself skim the statutes without really seeing the important details. Take the time to read the statute carefully, and you will understand it better.

(2) Put the statute in its proper context. Law students (and lawyers) often try to read statutes without putting them in context. But statutory provisions do not exist in a vacuum. Statutory codes often contain tools to help you interpret their provisions, if you take the time to look for them.

It can often be helpful to look at related statutes. For example, in criminal law, there can be different degrees of felonies or misdemeanors, each set out in a separate statute, for the same general criminal act (such as drug possession or drug dealing). Comparing the differences between these related statutes can help you understand how a court might interpret them and apply them.

You should also look for statutes that provide definitions for key terms. Sometimes definitions are included as provisions in the statute at issue, but often there is a separate statute that provides definitions for key words. You don’t want to make assumptions about what a word means when the legislature defined it for you.

In some cases, the legislature may have even provided specific interpretive instructions. For example, sections 15.15 and 15.10 of the New York Penal Law provide specific interpretive rules for interpreting culpability requirements for state criminal offenses.

If you look at the table of contents surrounding the statute at issue, you are more likely to find these context clues.

(3) Pay attention to the details. Every word in a statute has a specific purpose. Certain types of words are signals. For example, if you see a list of requirements for a legal test that are connected by the word “and,” you then know that all of the requirements must be proven in order for the test to be met. In contrast, if you see a list connected by the word “or,” then the test may be met without proving all requirements. Other signals include words such as “unless,” “except,” “shall,” and “may,” but this is not an exclusive list. Specific areas of the law may have their own signal words as well. So, for example, words specifying mens rea (such as intent, knowledge, recklessness, etc.) can be signal words for criminal law statutes.

You also want to pay attention to punctuation. Where a comma is placed can affect the meaning of a statute, as can the use and placement of other forms of punctuation.

(4) Break the statute down into smaller pieces. If the statute is complex, it can help to chart or diagram the statute so that you force yourself to identify the key components. Maybe the statute sets out specific elements for a legal test—identify the parts of the test and see if you can define what each of those elements mean, using those context clues I mentioned earlier. Ask yourself what the statute is meant to do. Understanding its purpose can also help you to separate out the parts of a more complex statute.

(5) Use cases to inform your understanding of the statute. You can often find cases where the court analyzes the meaning of a statute. If you are having difficulty understanding a statute, try Keyciting or Shepardizing the statute to find cases that interpret and apply the statute. Case law can further your understanding of a statute’s meaning. (In some cases, you may also find a government agency’s interpretation of a statute helpful—you may want to look for administrative code provisions, administrative law rulings, and advisory letters if you are reading statutes in areas of law with agency oversight, such as tax, immigration, employment discrimination, securities, etc.)

The key to reading statutes is to go below the surface—take the time to get to know the statute and its context, and you will have a better understanding of its meaning and application.

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Law School Resolutions

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s something about the start of a new year that signals a new beginning, a chance to make your life better or get things right. That’s why so many people decide to make New Year’s resolutions. For law students, the new calendar year means that grades from last semester are coming in and another semester will soon begin. It’s an opportunity to set new goals in law school as well—this is true regardless of what grades you’ve earned previously or what your class rank is.

So whether you are a 1L or an upper-level student, have received good grades or are on academic probation, I challenge you to set some New Year’s law school resolutions. Be intentional in what you do this semester—don’t just sit back and wait for things to happen to you. Assess the areas of your life as a law student that you want to improve, and set out some specific actions you will take to make those improvements. I’ve provided some suggestions for law school resolutions below, but don’t be limited by these ideas.

Possible resolutions for students who want to improve academically:

  • Taking more practice exams (You can sometimes get these from your professors, but also don’t forget about the academic support professionals at your law school)
  • Outlining each major topic as you finish it in class
  • Joining a study group
  • Meeting with last semester’s professors to go over exams and determine how to improve
  • Meeting with an academic support professional at your law school to come up with an action plan for this semester

Other possible academic resolutions:

  • Creating a study schedule and sticking to it
  • Volunteering as a tutor (or seeking a tutor to help you with your studies)
  • Trying new approaches to studying or outlining
  • Getting up earlier to get assigned reading done before each day’s classes
  • Complete a legal externship or internship

Possible career planning resolutions:

  • Finding more networking opportunities
  • Revising your legal resume and cover letter
  • Reaching out to alumni of your law school to learn more about what they do as lawyers
  • Revising past writing assignments to create strong writing samples

Other possible law school-related resolutions:

  • Joining a mentoring program
  • Getting involved in a law student organization
  • Volunteering for pro bono opportunities
  • Not missing class except for emergencies
  • Being on time to class

As you assess where you are in law school and where you want to go with your studies this year, you will likely think of other resolutions that make sense for you. The key is to take action—don’t wait on the sidelines for good things to happen to you!

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Staying True to the Course During Final Exams

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Final exams can be a stressful time for law students. Much, if not all, of your grade for each course hinges upon how you do on the exam. There’s a lot of pressure, and it can be easy to become distracted by what is going on around you. If you study at the law school (or even follow your law school friends on Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media), you will hear students talking about how stressed they are. The more you listen to them, the more stressed you find yourself as well!

One of the things that law students often do is compare what they are doing to prepare for exams to what others are doing. One student will talk about how he is studying so hard that he has quit taking showers—basic hygiene simply takes too much time! Another student claims that she is surviving on gallons of coffee, candy bars, and four hours of sleep a night. You hear two others arguing over who has more supplements for Torts, or Evidence, or Secured Transactions . . . and when you look at their table in the library, it looks like they have accumulated an entire bookstore of supplements! You begin to feel that, in comparison to these other students, you just aren’t putting enough effort into your studies.

Or maybe you are still trying to study with your study group, and you find that the study sessions quickly deteriorate from a productive environment to a gossip session or gripe fest. Or, when you finish an exam, some of your classmates immediately start going through each part of the exam, trying to figure out what they got right and what issues they might have missed. Listening to them, you convince yourself that you must have failed—it doesn’t seem like they are even talking about the same exam as the one you just completed! Rather than turning your attention to studying for the next exam, you spend your time wondering if you should use the holiday break to come up with an alternative career plan.

If you resemble any of the students I’ve described above, you’re not alone in your feelings. Each semester, law students go through the same experiences, and it can be particularly stressful for students just finishing their first semester. But it is important not to let the stress, the comparisons, and the other distractions prevent you from accomplishing what you are capable of on exams. As you make your way through your finals this semester, keep in mind the following tips for staying true to the course:

  • Surround yourself with the right environment. If the law school is becoming too distracting, find a coffee bar, public library, or other location to study. If your law school friends are complaining about exams too much on social media, limit the time you spend reading their tweets and posts. If the study group isn’t working for you any more, take a leave of absence from it until next semester.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other students. Everyone has a different approach to outlining, studying, and memorizing information, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Furthermore, what you hear other students talking about may not be working for them either! A lot of times students get caught up in comparisons that are more related to quantity rather than quality—those types of comparisons are rarely accurate or helpful.
  • Don’t relive each exam as soon as it’s over. Resist the urge to revisit the exam immediately after you’ve left the classroom. Students rarely remember the exam accurately in its aftermath, and that type of discussion only leads to increased stressed and distraction. Close the door on that exam, and focus forward on what comes next—whether it is another exam or a well-deserved holiday break. You’ll have time enough next semester to meet with your professor to review how you did on that exam, and that review will be much more beneficial than any speculation about exam results right now.
  • Take care of yourself. Law school final exams are a marathon, not a sprint. It is important to eat well, get exercise, get a good night’s sleep each night, and build small breaks into your study so that your brain comes back to things refreshed.

Stay true to the course, and good luck on the rest of your exams!

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Thanksgiving Break and Law School

Image courtesy of watiporn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of watiporn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Thanksgiving holiday period is always an interesting time for law students. It’s so close to the end of the semester—some schools finish their regular class schedule right before Thanksgiving, while others will come back for another week of classes before final exams begin. If you are a 1L, you are getting ready for your first set of final exams as a law student, and many of your classes may depend on the final exam as the only grade for the course. But upper-level students are also feeling the pressure, especially if you have fallen behind on your outlining and other exam preparations. Some students choose not to travel to visit family to the holiday, concerned about potential distractions from studying, while others feel that a visit home is just what they need at this point in the semester.

Regardless of whether you are going to be with family or on your own for the Thanksgiving holidays, there are things that you can do to stay on track with your law school studies. Like so much about law school, the key to studying over Thanksgiving break (or any other holiday break, for that matter!) is balance.

Here are some tips to making this upcoming week a time for both recharging the batteries and getting ready for final exams:

1. Give yourself permission to take a break. Sometimes law students feel so guilty about taking time off that they don’t actually enjoy the holidays. But it’s important to take a break sometimes so that you can recharge your batteries, and your family and friends’ support may be just what you need after working so hard this semester. Whether you are going home to visit family or staying near school for the Thanksgiving break, give yourself some time off so that you come back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your finals. At the same time, law students are rarely in the position to take the entire Thanksgiving break off from their studies, so consider the additional suggestions below.

2. Create realistic goals for what you want to accomplish during the holiday period. Students often tell me that they packed every casebook, supplement, notebook, etc. when they traveled home for the holidays, and it isn’t necessarily realistic to think that you will have the time to work on every single class. When students set unrealistic goals for themselves, they are tempted to give up entirely once they realize that they do not have time to get everything done. If you set realistic goals, you are much more likely to accomplish what you set out to do. The result will be that you build momentum as you head into the final exam period.

3. Create a schedule, and stick to it. If you do go home for the holidays, create a realistic schedule for what you want to accomplish—and, most importantly, hold yourself to that schedule. Communicate with family and friends about what you need to accomplish, and find the time and the right distraction-free location to get your work done. Maybe you set aside several hours each morning to work on your outlines, and then visit with family and friends in the afternoons and evenings. Or maybe you commit to studying all day long on certain days so that you take other days off entirely. If you set aside time to study and stick to it, you will be able to enjoy your time off even more because you won’t feel like you have so much hanging over you. If you are not traveling for the holidays though, make sure that you take the same approach—create a study schedule for the break so that you accomplish your study goals. It’s much easier to make progress when you have a plan for what you want to accomplish.

4. Get some sleep. Make sure that you come back from the Thanksgiving break refreshed and ready to tackle the end of the semester. This is the perfect time to make sure that you are getting enough sleep, eating well, and getting exercise so that your brain and your body are ready for those final exams.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Tuning Out the Noise

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At this point in the semester, I often have overwhelmed law students come to my office, worried or upset about the conversations they hear going on around them in the law school. Based on what they have heard other students say, these students are concerned that they:

  • aren’t studying hard enough,
  • are studying too hard,
  • are being too generous in sharing study materials with friends,
  • aren’t sharing enough,
  • should be participating in a study group,
  • shouldn’t be participating in a study group,
  • should have created a traditional outline instead of a mind map,
  • should have created flow charts instead of a traditional outline, or
  • have the wrong study strategy altogether.

You get the point—it’s easy to listen to what other students are talking about and let self-doubt creep in. You hear the person who sits next to you in Contracts or Evidence talking about how she hasn’t gone to bed until at least 2:00 am for the past two weeks because she wants to make sure her outline for the class is perfect. You begin to ask yourself if you are being irresponsible, throwing away your dreams of becoming a lawyer because you’ve been going to bed at 10:30 pm instead. Or maybe you have had another student warn you that law students should never study together because law school is competitive, and you might be giving that other person an advantage that will result in him receiving a higher grade than you. As final exams approach and you feel stressed about doing your best, you may be tempted to take what other students are staying much too seriously.

The problem with listening to what everyone else is saying around you is that a strategy for academic success in law school is not one-size-fits-all. Another student’s approach to his or her studies may not work as well for you, and comparisons between your approach and someone else’s is likely to be imperfect. The woman who stays up until 2:00 am studying may not get up in the morning until 9:00 or 10:00 am, just in time to make it to class. Maybe you get up early and do much of your studying in the morning, before class, while your brain is fresher. The fact that you go to bed 3 ½ hours before her then is irrelevant. Or maybe you are an auditory learner and remember information better if you talk through your study materials with a friend. The fact that you may be helping your friend do better on the exam becomes less of an issue because you’ve benefited from that process as well.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t periodically reevaluate your study strategies—all students should periodically assess their approach to their studies, trying new techniques and making sure that the time put in to their studies is used efficiently and effectively. In the process, you may realize that your study group is not really working for you any more, or you are spending too much time surfing the internet and not enough time outlining. You may decide you need to add flashcards to your study strategy, or that creating a flow chart for the Erie Doctrine will help you visualize how to address that legal issue on your Civil Procedure exam. Just make sure that the changes in your study strategy are based upon what you need to do to be successful on your exams, rather than just a reaction to what your fellow students are saying.

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Why Your Professor is Your Best Resource for Law School Exams

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iosphere/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This may seem like an obvious statement, but your professor is the most important source of information for what will be tested in law school essay exams and how your essays will be graded. As exams approach, you may be tempted to bury yourself in purchased products, including outlines, hornbooks, and other commercial study aids. Except in rare circumstances, those resources were not created by your professor, and they haven’t been tailored to your specific class. These types of resources should only be used as supplements, not your primary source of information—instead, keep your focus on assigned course readings and what your professor tells you.

Make sure that you listen closely to your professor—not just in the days and weeks leading up to the exam, but also throughout the semester. Professors often give clues about what they will test, how they will test it, and how they will grade. With that advice in mind, if your professor spends a lot of time stressing policy arguments in class, you should look for opportunities to include those policy arguments in your essay. If you professor uses terminology or terms of art that vary from what the assigned readings use, make sure you use the terms that your professor has used. If you don’t see a topic on the exam that your professor spent a significant amount of time on in class or stressed as particularly important, look close to make sure you aren’t missing that issue. There is no guarantee that the exam covers that topic, but it is likely to be tested.

You also want to familiarize yourself with your professor’s approach to testing. If your professor provides access to past exams, take the time to look them over. Use them as practice exams to test your ability to answer essay questions in the amount of time allowed. (And, as I explained in a previous post, there are many other benefits to practice exams as well!)

The best way to make efficient use of your study time is to use what your professor has assigned or discussed in class as a guide. You’re less likely to focus your energies on information that won’t be tested, and you will be able to better anticipate the types of questions you will see on the exam.

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The Value of Practice Exams in Law School

The fall semester is flying by at a rapid pace, and final exams are quickly approaching. Whether this is your first set of exams or you are an upper-level student with experience taking law school exams, practice exams can be a valuable study tool. Here are some ways that you can use practice exams to improve your preparation for exams:

(1) Practice exams can provide insight into your professor’s expectations. Many professors release at least some of their past exams. Those past exams may be handed out in class, posted to the course website, or put on reserve at the law school library. You miss an important opportunity to understand your professor’s approach to exams if you do not review available past exams. As you look at the exams, ask yourself: Are the essay questions constructed in a way that gives you plenty of time to analyze all legal issues, or are there more legal issues than it is possible to cover in the allotted time? Do multiple choice questions resemble the types of questions that are on the bar exam, and you have to apply the law to hypothetical fact patterns? Or do the multiple choice questions just test your basic understanding of the black letter law? Do they ask for the best answer, or just the correct answer?

(2) Practice exams can help you gauge the effectiveness of your outlining and study strategies. Taking practice exams can help you determine whether your outline includes the information that you need for ultimate success in your final exams. After you take a practice exam, you should note the areas in the practice essays where you either missed legal issues or didn’t fully develop them, and you should also make note of legal issues that were tested in the multiple choice questions you missed. Go back and reevaluate your outline at that point, making sure that you have included everything you needed to answer those types of questions. You may need to add additional detail to your outline, or maybe you discover that reorganizing it will be more helpful. Use the practice exam as a ruler to measure your pre-exam preparations.

When you evaluate your outlines, you may discover that everything that you needed is actually in your outline, but you just don’t know that information well enough to use it on an exam. If that’s the case, set aside more time to review your outlines on a regular basis, and consider whether it would be helpful to create flashcards to help you memorize important legal tests and definitions.

(3) Practice exams can reduce anxiety about testing. Another way practice exams can be helpful is by making you feel more comfortable with the testing process. Many students struggle with anxiety on exam days, and that anxiety can interfere with their ability to be successful in their exams. The more practice exams you take, the more prepared you will feel for that experience. Your brain will be used to thinking about the material in the way that it will be tested, and it should help to reduce your stress. You can come up with strategies for how you will approach different types of questions in advance—there should be no real surprises on exam day.

(4) Practice exams can provide focus for study group meetings. Members of your study group can take practice exams prior to meeting, and then use the meeting to go over those exams. Or your group may take either essay questions or multiple choice questions and answer them together during your meeting. Sometimes talking through practice exams with someone else, who may have a different perspective and identify different legal issues than you have, can be helpful.

Everyone’s heard that slogan, “Practice makes perfect.” Although practice does not guarantee perfect scores on your law school exams, it can help you hone your study strategies, focus your attention on what your professor expects you to know, and reduce test-taking anxiety. Practice exams can help put you on the path to academic success in law school.

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Playing Catch-Up When You’ve Fallen Behind

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By this point in the semester, most law students are in the final stretch of what seems like a very long race. Final exams loom ever closer on the horizon, and you’ve probably realized that you have a lot to get done in the next several weeks. Law school can feel stressful enough under normal circumstances, as writing assignments are coming due and professors are trying to cover the course materials prior to finals. But if you’ve fallen behind in your studies, you most likely are feeling even more pressure.

Law students fall behind for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve been sick and missed several classes, and, because you were feeling so poorly, you didn’t keep up with the reading. Maybe you’ve participated in the on-campus interviewing process and have spent more time working on job applications than you’ve spent studying lately. Maybe you’ve been overcommitted to extracurricular activities or focused on other priorities and haven’t had enough time for your studies. Or maybe you just weren’t taking law school as seriously as you needed to, and you now realize that you’ve got a lot to do to earn the grades that will let you achieve your long-term goals. Whatever the cause, you’re realizing that you have to do something now to catch up.

If you’re one of the students that have fallen behind, don’t just give up. If you get started now, you can get your studies back on track before final exams begin. Here are four tips to get you caught up when you’ve fallen behind:

Don’t delay: The longer you wait to attempt to catch up, the harder it will be. Make a commitment to a plan now so that you have the time to do what you need to get done to be successful in your classes.

Don’t give up: Students who fall behind often decide that it is easier to quit trying to catch up than do the hard work necessary to get back on track. They may decide to rely on commercial outlines rather than creating their own outlines or utilize commercially prepared case briefs rather than reading the cases themselves. While this strategy may seem like it gets you caught up much quicker, you will not know the material as well. When you go to apply the law to new hypothetical examples in the final exam, you may not understand the law well enough to be successful in your efforts. It is also important to remember that many of these courses are going to be on the bar exam. You need to study effectively now, so that you have better long-term recall of legal concepts.

Don’t neglect new assignments: Don’t allow current assignments to suffer because you are trying to complete past reading. Sometimes students think they must go back to the place where they got off track in order to get caught up, and they neglect current assignments in the process. Make sure that you first schedule current assignments before adding in the time you need to get caught up. You will get more out of each class if you have done the reading for that class in advance.

Make a plan: Most importantly, you need to make a plan. Getting caught up will take deliberate effort; it will not happen on its own. You need to make a schedule and stick to it. Revisit the study schedule strategies that you had at the beginning of the semester. Map out the remaining reading and writing assignments for the semester, making sure that you’ve scheduled enough time to complete each of those assignments. This schedule should cover the remainder of the semester.

Once you’ve scheduled all forthcoming assignments into your study schedule, you should then create a list of your backlogged tasks. On that list, estimate how long you think it will take you to complete each task. Go through the list and decide which tasks are the highest priority, then the second highest, third highest, etc. You will realize that some tasks are more immediate in terms of importance because you cannot complete your outline until those tasks are done, or because a current topic in a class builds upon the law covered in the backlogged reading. Once you have prioritized your list of backlogged tasks, begin inserting them into the remaining time in your study schedule. Don’t forget to allow time for outlining these assignments as well.

You won’t necessarily be caught back up by the end of the week (unless you were only behind a class or two), but, if you stick to your new study schedule, you will be in a much better position by the time you enter the final exam period. A good study plan can not only keep you on track on a daily basis but also help you to catch back up if you’ve fallen behind.

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7 Strategies for Success on Multiple Choice Exams

In the past two posts, I described how law school multiple choice questions are different than those that appear on undergraduate or high school exams, and we’ve explored some of the common obstacles to success on law school multiple choice exams. As I’ve already mentioned, the most important key to success in law school multiple choice exams is preparation. Today, I want to talk about some additional strategies that can help you answer law school multiple choice questions.

(1) Watch your speed: I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth emphasizing again. Take your time as you go through the multiple choice exams. It is easy to feel rushed because time passes so quickly during law school exams. But when students rush, they often choose the wrong answer because they missed a key word and not because they didn’t know the material.

(2) Allocate your time: Allot an equal amount of each time for each question, and stick to that schedule. You should divide your time based upon how much each part of the exam is worth. If you have a 3-hour exam, and the multiple choice section is worth 1/3 of the total points on that exam, then set aside one hour for the multiple choice. If there are 30 multiple choice questions in that section, then you should take approximately 2 minutes for each question. Don’t take time away from the multiple choice when the point distribution signals how much time you should spend on that section.

(3) Don’t add to the question: Ask yourself, what’s on the page? Don’t complete the definition or argument in your mind and conclude that it is correct. This especially becomes a problem when you’ve studied a topic extensively and know it so well that you can define every key term. Be sure that everything is on the page, and that you are not completing things in your head.

On a related note, assume nothing in addition to what has been established or given. Don’t assume the existence of any facts or outcomes. Your professor may be testing whether you recognize that an essential fact is missing!

(4) Ignore red herrings: There are two kinds of facts in multiple choice questions: important facts, and facts that are there to distract you. Make conscious choices about which facts are essential to the question, and don’t let those red herrings lead you off track.

(5) Answer all questions: This may seem obvious, but an additional key to success on multiple choice exams is to answer all questions. Specifically, skipping a question creates the possibility that your remaining answers will be out of order. Answer each of the questions in order, and mark and come back to questions you were not sure of if you have time.

On this same theme, if you begin to run out of time, make sure you leave no answers blank. You will not be penalized if you get the answer wrong, but you have no chance of getting the question right if you don’t put an answer down. If you’re running close on time, make sure that you save enough time to fill in any remaining answers.

(6) Eliminate wrong answers: In law school, you get to the best answer by eliminating answers which can’t be correct. Make sure that you eliminate answers that don’t resolve the issue or focus on a different issue. You should also eliminate answers that apply the wrong legal reasoning, mischaracterize the facts, or misstate the law. In order to be correct, an answer must be correct in every respect.

(7) Make smart guesses: Finally, when you can’t decide what the best answer is, make sure that you make an intelligent guess. Don’t guess until you’ve eliminated any wrong answers that you can identify. Be careful not to overcomplicate the question–the issue that jumps out at you is likely the issue that the correct response addresses. You should also be careful about answers that include absolutes – as you’ve already learned in law school, there are few things in the law that are absolute. That’s one of the reasons why the most common phrase in law school is “It depends.” Words like “must,” “always,” and “never” often (but not always) indicate an incorrect answer.

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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.

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