Tag Archives: final exams

A Road Map to Success on Law School Exams

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The most common way to study for law school exams is to create an outline for each subject, synthesizing everything from the course (case briefs, class notes, etc.) into a single coherent document. Outlining is an effective way to study, as it forces you to consider how cases, statutes, and hypotheticals fit together. A good outline identifies the key legal issues from the course, pulls the rules, definitions, and explanations from the cases related to those issues, and organizes the material in such a way that the student can predict how to use that material on the exam.

Although outlining is a solid approach to your law school studies, some subjects benefit from an even more focused approach – a technique that I’ll call “road mapping.” A road map takes the material related to a legal issue from your outline and turns it into an action plan for how you will analyze that issue on an exam. If you take this approach, each legal issue should have its own road map. When you identify that legal issue in a fact pattern on the exam, you will know exactly how to tackle that issue.

So how do you create a road map?

  • First, start with identifying the issue. The issue is the starting point on your road map. You may want to think about what types of facts may signal that this issue is “in play” in the question. For example, if you are taking a Torts exam, and the defendant is identified as an employee, you may ask yourself: “Could there be a vicarious liability issue here?” Usually, you’ve identified all possible issues for a subject in that subject’s outline, so this step is usually easy.
  • Second, ask yourself: “What should I do first?” Generally, the first thing that you want to do is identify the appropriate rule for the issue. Does this issue have two or more possible rules? In many subjects, there may both majority rules and minority rules. Some professors may assign jurisdiction-specific reading based on the state your law school is in. And in Contracts, for example, you must determine if you should apply the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) or the common law. As soon as you realize that there is more than one possible rule, you know you must answer a preliminary question. For example: “What jurisdiction are we in?” or “Is this a contract for the sale of goods?” Identify what the steps are for determining the applicable rule. Then based on which rule is chosen, determine what the actual rule statement should be.
  • Third, ask yourself: “What should I do next?” Answering this question requires you to think about how the rule should be explained or defined further. Does the rule include a series of elements that must be met? If so, how would you work through those elements in an essay exam? Keep repeating this process until you reach the end of your rule analysis portion of your road map.
  • Fourth, ask yourself: “Are there exceptions to the rule that I’ve identified and explained?” Those exceptions should be included in the process as well – after determining if the rule would otherwise be met, you will want to work through the possible exceptions.
  • Fifth, ask yourself: “Have courts applied public policy to their analysis of this issue?” If so, you will want to identify and explain what public policies may be applied to the issue, and determine when you would want to go into that policy discussion.
  • Sixth, having gone through this process, identify at which points you would want to include facts from the exam hypothetical in the analysis. Note in your road map the places where you would apply the legal rule to the hypothetical facts.
  • Finally, note how you would approach the conclusion to any analysis of this issue.

As you can see from the steps above, the key to a good road map is being intentional. Don’t just memorize rules – think about how you would apply those rules to a new set of facts. Your road map should be an action plan for how you would tackle each issue on the exam.

The last month before finals is the perfect time to create road maps. Much of your outlining should be completed by this stage, and you should be focused on reviewing material and taking practice exams as finals approach. An additional benefit to road mapping: you will identify aspects of  legal issues that you don’t yet understand, and you have the time at this point to work through those legal issues and go to your professors’ office hours to refine your understanding of the material.

(Want more information about how to effectively outline for law school exams? I’ve previously explored this topic here, here, here, and here.)

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How Time Management Contributes to Success on Law School Exams

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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!

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5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) during Law School Final Exams

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

As law students head into final exams, here are 5 tips for surviving (and thriving) during the final exam period:

(1) Take care of yourself. Law school exams are not a sprint but a marathon. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep each night – if you stay up late (or all night) trying to get ahead on your studies, your brain will not function as well afterwards. The next day, it will take you longer to accomplish tasks that would normally be easy, and lack of sleep also has a negative effect on memory. A tired brain does not contribute to academic success in law school. It’s also important to not skip meals – brains need food too! And make sure that you take regular breaks from your studies. Take a walk, or do something else that gets you up out of your chair. After each break, you will go back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your outlines!

(2) Create a study plan. Students commonly spend most of their study time on the first exam or two, and then they run out of steam before the end of the exam period. Print out a blank calendar, and divide up your days so that each class gets a reasonable portion of the remaining study time. You will realize that you need to rotate your schedule to give each class its due. For some students, maybe assigning one subject per day makes most sense; for other students, studying two subjects a day may work better. The important thing is to be intentional – if you have a study plan, you know exactly what you should be doing each day to stay on track and maximize your studying.

(3) Identify your priorities. Students often study for exams by going through their outlines over and over again, from cover to cover. Although that approach may work for reviewing course material throughout the semester, it is usually not the most efficient way to study in the days leading up to your final exams. Instead, create a checklist of issues for each subject (instructions for creating a checklist can be found here). Once you’ve created your checklists, start each day by printing out the checklist(s) for that day’s study subject(s). Go through the checklist, evaluating if you can comfortably discuss the law for each issue.

(4) Develop road maps. After you’ve created your outline, think about how you would actually use the information on an exam. If you identify a particular legal issue in an essay exam question, what would you do first? What would you do next? Some students create a flow chart that shows the analytical process they would use in their essays, while other students list a series of steps (kind of like following a recipe). The form is up to you, but try to do much of the thinking about how you would organize your analysis for each legal issue before you get into the exam. If you do, you will spend more time writing during the exam, and less time thinking. And your essays are likely to be more focused and better organized. The process of developing a road map also helps you to identify topics that may need more review.

(5) Take practice exams. Sometimes your professors have released old exams or practice questions. If they have, there’s an opportunity to better understand what your professors are looking for in the exam answers. One way to use a practice exam is to simulate the actual exam experience. Find a quiet, distraction-free place to take the practice exam. Time yourself, so that you write for the amount of time that the professor would allow for that question during an actual exam. If the exam is closed book, don’t look at your notes. Taking an exam, even if you only do one essay, can be a great way of assessing how prepared you are for the exam. You can then spend more time reviewing the areas of the law that seemed too vague or fuzzy. If you feel that you don’t have enough time to write out complete essays, you can still use a professor’s old exams to test your ability to spot legal issues and make sure that you know the law for those issues.

Following these tips can help you make the best use of limited time in the days leading up to final exams. Good luck on your exams!

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Using Study Groups to Develop Hypothetical Practice Questions

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday, we explored some of the dos and don’ts for effective law school study groups. Today, I want to take that discussion a step further and explain how the members of your study group can develop your own hypothetical practice questions as you prepare for final exams.

One way to test your understanding of course material in law school is to go through hypothetical questions, but your casebooks and commercial study aids often have a limited number of practice questions. Students often ask me where they can find more practice questions, and I always explain that it is possible to create your own hypotheticals. This approach is particularly effective if you participate in a study group. For the best results, you should first complete your outline of the legal issue(s) you want to practice.

Here are 5 steps for creating hypothetical practice questions:

  1. Identify specific legal issues that you want to practice. The best issues for this purpose are complex issues—the kind that you might have some difficulty with on an exam. For example, in Civil Procedure you might want to practice how you would apply the law to fact patterns where the Erie Doctrine or Subject Matter Jurisdiction was at issue. For Constitutional Law, you might choose to focus on Equal Protection or Due Process issues. For Evidence, maybe you want to explore some of the hearsay exceptions.
  2. Assign each member of your study group a time period or jurisdiction for their hypotheticals. Taking this approach ensures that two people do not bring the same hypothetical to the next group meeting. For example, if your group is going to study the Erie Doctrine, maybe one person looks for Erie cases from the Second Circuit, another looks for cases from the First Circuit, and the third looks for cases from the Third Circuit. Just make sure that, if the law has changed in recent years, you do not assign time periods prior to any changes in the law.
  3. Each person will look for cases on Westlaw, LexisNexis, or other legal search platforms that focus on the legal issue your group has chosen. You may choose to create your own search terms or may look to see what other cases have cited the cases you studied in class. Just make sure that any cases you choose are still good law! (An added benefit to this process is that you practice your research skills as well!)
  4. Look for cases that have a well-developed but concisely worded set of facts and good explanations of the legal outcomes. The statements of facts from your cases will become the foundation for your hypotheticals, and the court’s explanations are your answer keys for the hypotheticals.
  5. Have each member of the study group bring 3 to 5 hypotheticals to your group’s next meeting. Take turns having each person present one of their hypotheticals. The other members of the group should talk through their legal analysis for that hypothetical, based upon their outlining and studying prior to the group meeting. After the group’s analysis is complete, the person who brought the hypothetical should explain how the court actually resolved the legal issue(s) in the underlying case.

Taking this approach, your study group can create an endless number of hypothetical questions. The process of talking through the legal analysis for these hypotheticals, as well as explaining how the court actually resolved the legal issues in this case, will improve your understanding of important legal issues and provide practice for how you should analyze similar fact patterns in your exams.

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Using Study Groups to Study for Final Exams

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With final exams coming up soon, I’ve had a number of law students ask me about how to use study groups to study for final exams. Study groups can be very helpful as you are preparing for finals—if you take the right approach. But it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls associated with study groups if you want to maximize their value in the upcoming weeks. Today, we will explore some of the Dos and Don’ts associated with law school study groups.

Don’t use study groups to divide up the work. Sometimes law students think that study groups can provide a shortcut for creating an outline. They will divide up the course materials among the members of the group, with each person only creating one part of the outline. The problem with this approach is that outlining is about synthesis. Some of the most important parts of law school learning take place as you weave together the course materials and figure out how everything fits together. Students who take the “divide and conquer” approach to outlining only fully understand the material that they have outlined on their own—if they are tested on the legal issues that others outlined, they do not tend to perform as well.

Instead, do use the study group to reinforce your own outlining. Some of the best study group meetings take place when everyone in the group has already tackled his or her own outline. Set a specific goal for what legal issues everyone must outline prior to the study group meeting. When the group comes together, you can compare what each person has done. If you have identified something you don’t understand, maybe another member of the group has figured that issue out and can explain it to you. You will be better off as you begin to see how others have interpreted the course materials, and you can clarify your own understanding of the legal issues. Even students who are teaching other members of the group benefit in this environment, as the process of teaching the material helps the teacher to understand it even better as well.

Don’t let study groups become a time drain. Sometimes study groups meet for long periods of time without really accomplishing anything. Law students usually have limited time available to study, and it’s important that your group study sessions do not degenerate into a gossip fest or otherwise not accomplish its goals.

Instead, do create an agenda for each study group meeting. Get the members of your study group to set goals for what you want to accomplish at each meeting, and create a plan for how you will accomplish those goals. Make sure that the study group stays on track at each meeting so that your goals are accomplished and your time is used effectively.

Don’t schedule so many study group meetings that you don’t have time to study on your own. Study groups can be one effective way to study, but as I talked about before, it is important to have the time to work on your own outlines as well.

Instead, do schedule study group meetings to ensure that you maximize both your personal study time and the benefits of the group. If properly spaced out, study group meetings can provide additional motivation for your studies and a system of accountability. There is nothing like knowing that someone else expects you to have something done to help you stay on track with your personal study plans.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog post, when I will explain how a study group can be used to create and explore hypothetical practice questions! And happy studying!

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Making the Best Use of Spring Break in Law School

Law students the world over look forward to breaks from law school. Some students view these breaks as a holiday—a time to get away from the intense daily demands of their studies, travel, and visit with family and friends. Other students have ambitious plans for catching up or getting ahead in their studies. Regardless of which approach you take, you are probably pretty happy when you see Spring Break finally approaching. There is nothing wrong to either approach to Spring break, at least in the abstract. In fact, the best Spring Break plans should probably include some of both. The key is to come back to law school after the break in a better place than you were before—and accomplishing this task takes just a little advance planning.

Here are a few tips for making the best use of your Spring Break or other holidays:

Set reasonable goals for studying during the break. I often have law students tell me that they are going to outline for all of their classes during the break, do practice exams for each class, get ahead in their reading assignments, and read a bunch of supplements. Spring break can be the perfect time to work on getting caught up in your studies, but it is important to set realistic goals. After all, Spring Break usually only lasts a week. You aren’t superhuman, and you can’t do everything. When you set unrealistic goals for yourself, it is easy to get defeated and give up when you realize that you can’t get everything done. Instead, decide what your highest priority items are, and focus on those first. Create a study schedule for yourself during the break, and set reasonable goals for what you intend to accomplish during each of those study sessions. You will be focused and productive, and your efforts will build momentum for the weeks leading up to final exams.

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of smokesalmon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Give yourself permission to take some time off. Don’t get me wrong—it’s good to work on getting caught up on your studies during Spring Break. In fact, I encourage you to do so. But it isn’t particularly healthy to work long days every day during the break, including weekends. There is still a lot of time before the end of the semester, and you don’t want to burn yourself out. If you take a little time off from your studies, you will come back refreshed and ready to tackle the hard stuff. At the minimum, give yourself a couple of days off entirely. Do something fun. Get out of the house. See your friends and family. Read that book (for fun) that everyone has been talking about. Go see a movie. Do something entirely unrelated to law. On the days that you study, take regular breaks. Maybe you will decide to get up and do your studying from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm each day, and then take the rest of the day off. (You can even accomplish this if you travel on vacation during the break—just make sure your goals and study schedule are reasonable!) If you set realistic study goals for yourself and create a study plan to achieve those goals, you will be able to build in some time to relax as well. Your studies will be more productive, and you will return to law school ready to tackle the remainder of the semester.

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Make vacation plans that recharge your batteries, not leave you even more tired. Maybe you are caught up on your law school studies, and you’ve decided to go on vacation during Spring Break. (Or you are making it a combination study/travel break!) It’s important to make sure that your vacation plans don’t leave you exhausted as you are heading back to classes. It’s still a long uphill climb to final exams, and you won’t be setting yourself up for success if you have run full speed the entire break. It’s best to avoid the type of Spring Break plans that were popular in undergrad, where everyone partied hard and drank heavily every night. Think about what you need to do for yourself to recharge your batteries while you on vacation, and following through on those things will help you in the long term. I also recommend that you not plan to come home at the very last minute—it’s good to give yourself the time to get sorted about before classes resume, and you will have reading to do for your upcoming classes.

Above all, think balance. As with everything in law school, taking a balanced approach to Spring Break and other holidays will help to keep you on the right path to academic and personal success.

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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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Tackling Conclusory Legal Analysis

One of the common comments that law students receive on their legal writing assignments and exams is that their analysis was too conclusory. Often, students don’t really understand what the professor means by this comment. Even if they do understand what the comment means, they don’t know what to do to improve their legal analysis.

So what does the professor mean when he or she writes that your analysis was conclusory? Legal analysis is conclusory when it jumps too quickly to the answer to the question without explaining how and why the answer is correct. For example, in your exam essay, you may have appropriately identified an issue, mentioned some of the facts related to that issue, and then concluded what the result should be for that issue. You may have thought that you appropriately explained your answer, but, in reality, you left too much of the answer in your head instead of putting it on the paper. This type of answer will generally receive limited credit from the professor.

There can be several reasons for conclusory analysis in an essay exam. First, most law school exams have time constraints—when students are concerned about running out of time, they tend to rush through their analysis so that they can move on to the next issue. This is particularly the case when the professor has designed an exam with more issues than are possible to cover during the time allotted. When you are trying to mention as many issues as possible, it is easy to gloss over more detailed analysis. Second, many students assume that they don’t need to explain the law that is applicable for an issue because the professor knows that law—they think that, because the professor taught them the material, they don’t need to explain why their answer is correct. Third, students often fail to fully develop their explanation of the relevant legal rules and how courts have interpreted those rules because students do not know that law well enough—they may not have memorized the appropriate tests or definitions, or they may not have thought about the course material in a way that allows them to connect what they have studied to the issue. Without that explanation of the applicable legal rules, there is no foundation for the rest of the analysis of that issue, and your legal analysis is vague and flat.

The problem with conclusory analysis is that it prevents you from receiving full credit for that issue. Professors generally give the smallest amount of credit for identification of the issue and your answer for how that issue should be resolved; most of the points for each issue are awarded for the parts in the middle—the explanation of the relevant legal rules and how courts interpret those rules, and how those rules should be applied to the fact pattern set out in the instant question. Even if you identify a lot of issues, you still will be lacking the points you need for a higher score on the exam. It’s a lot like what it used to be like in those math classes you took as a child, when your teacher wouldn’t give you full credit if you didn’t “show your work.” It isn’t enough to just get the right answer—the path you took to get there is important too.

So what can you do to make your legal analysis less conclusory? One way to make sure that you go through the appropriate analysis is to apply a form of the IRAC/TREAC/CREAC analytical structure that you have learned in legal writing. Each professor has his or her own preferences for the analytical structure, but usually your analysis should follow some sort of IRAC, TREAC, or CREAC form. Commonly, the professor prefers that you state the resolution of the issue up front, as either a thesis or conclusion, rather than just stating that the issue exists. Using an analytical structure helps to remind you not to skip important components of the analysis. It also allows you to demonstrate to your professor that you understand why the answer is the answer—you didn’t just get there by accident.

Although it may seem like you are taking away from the time you need to write, your analysis will usually be better, and therefore receive more points, if you quickly outline or chart your answer before starting to write your essay. Outlining in advance helps you to determine how much time you need to spend on your analysis of each issue. If the issue is not complex, the facts demonstrate that part of the legal test is not at issue, or there are few facts to apply to the law, that is a signal that you can be more concise in your analysis of that issue. You can state outright that two elements of the legal test aren’t at issue, based on the facts in the hypothetical, and move on quickly to the elements that need more development. You will make better use of your time as you write and score better because your analysis will be organized, focused, and efficient.

Finally, one of the key ways to improve your analysis is grounded in what happens before the exam. The more you have synthesized course materials by developing a strong, properly organized outline, the more you have committed to memory the legal rules, tests, definitions, etc. that will be the foundation to your analysis of issues on the exam, the better your written legal analysis will be. This is true whether your exam is open book or closed book, as grounding yourself in the law will help you to think about issues in a more nuanced way. How you approach your studies and preparation prior to the exam is directly related to the effectiveness of your legal analysis in your exam essays.

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

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