Tag Archives: essay exams

How Time Management Contributes to Success on Law School Exams

stopwatch by digitalart_freedigitalphotos

If only I’d had more time.

Such is the lament of law students across the country during the final exams period. Time is almost always an issue during law school exams – some professors even warn students that it’s impossible to completely answer all questions in the time allotted. A student’s ability to manage time during the exam can be key to academic success, and the failure to do so can have disastrous consequences. Almost every semester, students do poorly or even fail exams because they spend too much time on one part of the exam and either don’t have enough time to finish or never get to the final part of the exam. And the time constraints also contribute to feelings of stress both before and during the exam.

You may feel like you have no control of the time challenge. After all, it’s your professor who creates the exam and determines how much time you will have to complete it. All you can do is show up on the day of the exam and write as quickly as possible, hoping to make it to the finish before time is called. In reality, however, there are steps you can take to manage time during the exam. These steps, by themselves, are not sufficient to guarantee success – but with a strong study plan before the exam, and good written analysis during the exam, time management can contribute to your academic success.

With that in mind, here are some tips for managing time during your law school exams:

Assess Before You Write. You can’t manage what you don’t know. If your professor doesn’t give you specific details about the number and type of questions in advance, take a minute or two at the beginning of the exam to evaluate what the parts of the exam are and what each section is worth.

Follow Your Professor’s Instructions. If your professor tells you how much time to spend on each section of the exam, pay attention to those instructions. Your professor designed the exam with those time constraints in mind, and the time is likely to correspond with the value of each part of the exam.

Assign Time Based on Value. If your professor’s instructions do not include time suggestions, allot time based on value. For example, let’s say you are taking a Contracts Law exam that is scheduled for 3 hours. When you look at the exam, you see a multiple choice section, worth 1/3 of the exam, and two essays, each worth 1/3 of the exam. You should allow 1 hour for the multiple choice section, 1 hour for the first essay question, and 1 hour for the second essay question.

Create a Schedule for the Exam – and Stick to It. Once you have calculated how much time you should spend on each part of the exam, create a schedule. Write down the times you should finish one part of the exam and move on to the next, and then stick to the schedule. If you happen to finish a section a little early, then the remaining time can go towards another section. But don’t “steal” time from one section to give to another by ignoring the schedule altogether.

Don’t Let Open Book Exams Get Out of Control. Occasionally, students will have an “open book” exam, where the professor allows students to bring in casebooks, outlines, and class notes. Students often think that open book exams are easier, but that is usually not the case. Every time you have to look something up during the exam, you are not writing. It is almost always better to prepare for open book exams in the same way that you would prepare for a closed book exam, and only look things up during the exam if you really can’t remember the law you need to answer the question.

Take Practice Exams to Develop Time Management Strategies. If your professors have released any old exams, take a few timed practice exams before the exam period begins. Practice exams allow you to develop your time management strategies without worrying about grades.

With these time management tips in mind, good luck on your final exams!

1 Comment

Filed under Law School Exams

Avoid “Brain Dumping” in Law School Exams

Law school essay exams are different from essay exams you may have taken before law school. They require more than just memorization—you have to analyze the facts presented in the questions and develop strong legal arguments. This means that you shouldn’t just “brain dump,” or write down everything you know—law school essays must remain focused on the question that is asked.

Sometimes students get so caught up in trying to explain the law that they lose sight of the question. Or they don’t see an issue that they were really prepared to discuss, and so they decide that they will write about that issue anyhow. You will not be rewarded for doing a “brain dump” in a law school essay. Your professor will not give you any points for writing about something that has not been tested; that is why everything you write should be linked specifically to the questions asked and the hypothetical facts.

There are other negative consequences to “brain dumping” on law school exams. There is a time crunch during a law school exam. Although this isn’t true of every law school essay question, many questions are designed so that it is impossible to answer all parts of the question in the time provided. The best answers analyze as many issues as possible in the time allotted, which is another reason why you don’t want to waste time on topics that haven’t been tested by the question. Furthermore, if you write about topics that are not being tested in the exam, you may be burying your more important analysis so that the professor will not even see it.

Stay focused on what your law school exams ask, and avoid the temptation to write about topics that are not being tested. This focus is one important tool for academic success in law school.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams

Law School Exams and the IRAC Method

There is a general method for developing strong arguments and analysis in law school, whether you are working on an assignment for your Legal Writing class or taking an essay exam. You’ve heard of this method before—it’s called IRAC, which refers to Issue, Rule, Application, and Conclusion. There are numerous variations of the method, so your professors may also refer to it as CREAC (Conclusion, Rule, Explanation, Application, Conclusion), TREAC (Thesis, Rule, Explanation, Application, Conclusion), or some similar title.

Regardless of what your professor calls this method, there are common things that you must do as part of it:

(1) identify each issue raised in the hypothetical fact pattern;

(2) decide which legal rule(s) are relevant for each issue and set forth a statement of the rule(s), with exceptions as applicable;

(3) explain how the rule(s) should be applied to the facts in the exam question; and

(4) conclude how the issue is likely to be resolved.

As part of this process, you must show the reasoning that you’ve relied upon in reaching the conclusion for each issue. Make sure that you address relevant counterarguments and policy arguments in your analysis. As you write, be careful not to be too conclusory—don’t jump too quickly from the issue to the conclusion. You have to “show your work” to get full credit for each issue in a law school essay.

Most professors give you credit for developing each part of the IRAC formula. Generally, fewer points are associated with your identification of the issue and your conclusion; more points are associated with your articulation of the rules that are relevant to the issue and how you apply those rules to the hypothetical facts.

The secret of doing well on law exams lies not only in what you know, but how you apply what you know. You get little credit for just stating a legal conclusion, even if you are correct. You must explain how the law is applied to the facts in the hypothetical, and how your conclusion results from that analysis.

1 Comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams

Racing Against the Clock: Time Management Techniques for Law School Exams

Image courtesy of Winond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Winond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anyone who’s ever been in law school has had this experience: you’re writing or typing along on your exam, fingers cramping and back stiff from sitting in the same position for too long. All of a sudden, you look up at the clock and realize that you only have five minutes left before the exam is over. The problem: you have at least 30 minutes’ worth of material to cover before you will complete the final essay question. All you can do is rush to get as much of it crammed in as possible. The end result is that your essay ends in jumbled confusion, and your grade is lower than you had hoped for.

Time management can be a challenge for many law students, even when they have studied hard before the exam. Many law school exams are intentionally designed to take more time than you will actually be given. In order to succeed on those types of exams, you need to not only be prepared for the content of the exam but also have a strategy for how to tackle the exam. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for developing your own time management strategy:

  1. Always allocate time by the number of points or percentage of grade that each section of the exam is worth. For example, maybe your exam consists of two essays and 30 multiple choice questions. Each essay is 1/3 of the total exam grade, and the multiple choice is 1/3. The exam is scheduled for 3 hours. You should allot 1 hour for each of the essays and 1 hour for the multiple choice (each multiple choice question getting two minutes). Time should almost always be allotted according to how much that part of the exam is worth. Once the exam starts, calculate your end times for each part of the exam—and most importantly, stick to those times! Don’t be tempted to “borrow” time from one part of the exam to have more for another.
  2. If you have control over which part of the exam you take first, think carefully about your plan of attack. When the exam consists of both multiple choice and essays, students invariably want to tackle the essays first because that is where they feel the time constraints the most. But when you tackle the essay first, there is a temptation to “borrow” time from the multiple choice section if you aren’t done with the essay when the time allotted for that section runs out (see suggestion #1). To avoid that temptation, I recommend taking the multiple choice section first. If you have extra time left over once you complete it, you can save it for a later section (or for reviewing the multiple choice one more time), but you will make sure that you give the multiple choice the time that it is worth.
  3. Finally, outline or chart your essay answers before you start writing. So many students start right in on writing their essays without organizing their thoughts first. There is a temptation to do this when time gets tight because students know they will not be graded on that outline. But effective outlining proves more efficient in the long term, as it allows you to determine what issues you want to cover in your essay and what facts relate to those issues. You will see which issues are minor and don’t deserve as much time in your essay versus those issues that have numerous relevant facts and will be worth more credit. By jotting down facts that go with each issues, you also create efficiency because you will not have to go back and read the fact pattern again and again as you write your essay.

The key to managing time in law school exams is creating your time management strategy before the exam even starts, and then sticking with it. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in a limited amount of time!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Outlines

Getting Past Panic in Law School Exams

We’ve all had that feeling—that moment when you are sitting in the classroom, your professor hands out the exam, and every rational thought flees your brain. You are paralyzed. Sweat begins to bead your forehead. And then the voice in your head screams out: “I can’t remember anything I studied! I’m about to fail my exam!” The challenge is how to move past that feeling of panic and successfully complete the exam.

While you can’t vanquish those feelings of panic with a magic wand, there are things that you can do to conquer panic during exams. As with so much else in law school, one of the most important keys is what you’ve done prior to the exam—your preparation. We’ve talked before about how taking the right approach to outlining can help you to predict what may be tested on the exam. One of the reasons why law students panic at the beginning of an exam is because they are afraid of the unknown. Law students view exam creation as a mysterious and unpredictable process. In reality, as I’ve explained before, professors tend to test the nuances in the law—areas where there are competing approaches, shifting outcomes based upon facts or policy approaches, and fact patterns that require students to recognize how a series of legal issues relate to each other. Identifying those nuances in advance through outlining will make the exam more predictable and reduce your feelings of anxiety.

I have also explained previously about how to create a one-page checklist of legal issues that may be tested on an exam. This checklist is a very specific way of connecting your preparation prior to the exam to what is going on during the exam. If you create a checklist of potential legal issues, you have a mental prompt you can rely upon when that feeling of panic rears its head at the beginning of the exam. How can you do this? If you immediately panic when you look at the exam questions, try this technique: Put your exam aside for a minute and take out your scrap paper. Quickly replicate a shorthand version of your checklist on the scrap paper. Once you have put that checklist on paper, you have a tool that you can use to answer the exam questions. You can literally take each issue on the checklist and evaluate whether that issue is raised by the fact pattern in the essay question. If it is, you can jot down quick notes about what facts you wish to talk about with respect to that issue. By the time that you get through the checklist, you have created a quick outline, chart, or list about how you will tackle the essay question, and the writing should go smoothly and quickly. The feeling of panic will go away as your preparation kicks in!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Essay Exams Are About the Journey, Not Just the Destination (Part 2): Don’t Forget Counterarguments!

In my last post, I introduced the idea that essay exams are about the journey, not just the destination. In doing so, I explained that most of the points in an essay exam are earned by explaining how you got to the answer, not by giving the answer itself—in other words, by “showing your work.” Today, I want to continue that theme by talking about counterarguments.

One of the key ways to maximize the number of points you earn for discussion of a complex legal issue is by exploring counterarguments. A counterargument is simply an alternative argument that you have chosen not to make because you have concluded that your path to your answer is the correct one. In practice, a lawyer deals with counterarguments on a regular basis. He or she must anticipate the opposing party’s possible arguments and address in his or her own pleadings and briefs why those arguments are invalid. By exploring counterarguments in your essay, you demonstrate to your professor that you understand the complexity of the legal issues and are thinking like a lawyer.

Not every issue requires a counterargument. Sometimes the analysis is pretty cut-and-dried, the answer predictable. But more often than not, your professor has chosen to set up legal issues with enough complexity that a counterargument is warranted. Look for legal issues in which multiple public policies are at work—those public policies may create different paths for your analysis. Sometimes there may be competing approaches to a legal issue, such as majority vs. minority approaches, or common law vs. statutory approaches. Or maybe courts apply a balancing test to resolve this legal issue, and you need to compare the essay fact pattern to the facts in a range of cases you read for the course. If you’ve done a good job of outlining course materials, as I talked about here and here, you can predict exactly when a counterargument may be warranted.

Finally, once you’ve analyzed the counterargument, make sure you don’t forget to explain to the reader why your approach is superior to the counterargument—this is the final step to setting up your conclusion of that issue.

Counterarguments are a great way to maximize your success in an essay exam—take time to explore them and don’t just rush to your destination!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines

Essay Exams Are About the Journey, Not Just the Destination (Part 1): Show Your Work!

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Like most law students, you are probably beginning final exams this week, if you aren’t already in the midst of them. In support of your hard work, this week’s posts will focus on tips to improve your performance on essay exams. It’s important to remember that essay exams are about the journey, not just the destination. The right “answer” is only one small part of your essay-writing task.

Remember when you were in math class as a child, and the teacher counted off if you didn’t “show your work”? You would get the right answer, but because you did the calculations in your head rather than on paper, you didn’t get full credit for the problem. Your teacher wanted to make sure that you actually knew how to apply the appropriate rules and formulas–that your correct answer wasn’t just a lucky guess. The same rules apply to law school essay exams—in order to be successful, you must show your work!

So what do I mean by “show your work” in your essay? As you know from previous law school exams, law professors create essay questions that each raise a number of legal issues. The question will set out a number of facts that relate to each legal issue. Your job is to identify the issues and answer the questions found at the end of the fact pattern. This is Law Exam 101—the basics.

In reality, your professor has assigned a point value to each legal issue, and that point value is connected in some way to the issue’s degree of complexity and the facts associated with the issue. Your professor expects you to develop your discussion of that issue using some type of IRAC/CREAC/TREAC formula. The only way to get all of the points is to show your work by going through the entire IRAC process for each issue. (Note: minor issues with limited facts and little legal complexity will take much less space to IRAC, which makes sense because those issues are also worth fewer points).

Let’s take a look at a quick example. Maybe in a Torts essay question, one of the issues is whether John was negligent when he drove his car into the back of Mary’s car. Maybe the professor has decided that this first issue was worth ten points. The professor might award one point for identifying the issue, and another point for your conclusion that John was negligent. But there are still eight points outstanding. The professor may assign three points to your discussion of the relevant legal rules that applied for this issue, and another five points for your analysis of how those rules apply to the relevant facts. If you skip from issue identification to conclusion, you will only earn two out of ten points! But even if you go a little further and set out the relevant rules for that issue, you still will only get half of the points unless you explain how those rules apply to the facts in the essay question. A successful essay will fully develop all parts of the IRAC analysis for each issue.

The key is to show your work—don’t leave anything in your brain, but instead put it all on the page!

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams