Tag Archives: practice exams

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!

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under General, Law School Exams, Study Tips

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.

Leave a comment

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

Studying for the Bar Exam Using MPT Practice Exams

In just over two weeks, law graduates from all over the United States will be taking the bar exam for the first time. Approximately 80% of states include at least one Multistate Performance Test, or MPT, on their bar exam. Some states, including those who utilize the Uniform Bar Examination, include two MPTS on each exam. Each state values the MPT differently in calculating the total bar exam score, and it is important to check your state bar examiners’ website for more information about scoring.

For current law students who are just beginning to think about the bar exam and don’t know what an MPT is, here is a brief description. Unlike other parts of the bar examination, the MPT focuses on fundamental lawyering skills, not the bar taker’s knowledge of the applicable state’s law. As a result, the MPT is a closed universe exam—you are given a File, which includes any documents that provide facts for the “case,” and a Library, which includes statutes, regulations, and case law. The bar taker completes an assignment from a hypothetical supervising attorney or judge, based upon the materials found in the File and Library. Bar takers have 90 minutes to complete each MPT. According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ (NCBE) website, the MPT specifically requires exam takers to:

(1) sort detailed factual materials and separate relevant from irrelevant facts; (2) analyze statutory, case, and administrative materials for applicable principles of law; (3) apply the relevant law to the relevant facts in a manner likely to resolve a client’s problem; (4) identify and resolve ethical dilemmas, when present; (5) communicate effectively in writing; and (6) complete a lawyering task within time constraints.

When law graduates are studying for the bar exam, the amount of material that must be studied, memorized, and absorbed can feel overwhelming. Because the MPT is a closed universe task, it is not possible to “study” for it in the traditional way. There is no bar outline for the MPT, and flashcards aren’t helpful either. Because of these limitations, bar takers are tempted to skip over their preparation for the MPT and instead focus on studying the subjects they will need to be successful on the essays and Multistate Bar Examination questions (multiple choice). Because the MPT can be a significant portion of your total bar exam score, it can be a real mistake to not spend some time preparing for it.

So what is the best way to prepare for the MPT? Make yourself familiar with the format of the MPT and the range of possible tasks involved. The NCBE has released a number of past MPTS, as well as the point sheets that it provided into state bar examiners for those MPTS. Some states, like Georgia, have also released past MPTs—some states even provide sample answers that demonstrate what a high-scoring MPT looks like. Go over a number of these past MPTs just to get an understanding of how they are organized, what types of materials are included in the File and Library, and how you might need to organize your time to accomplish the assigned task in 90 minutes.

Most importantly, set aside time in your studies to take a practice MPT on a regular basis. The only way to really be prepared for the MPT is to have completed several MPTs prior to the bar exam. You need to figure out the proper strategy for reading and digesting the materials provided in the File and Library, organizing what you need from that material so that you can write effectively and efficiently, and completing the assigned task in the time allotted. Time can really be the bar taker’s enemy on the MPT, and it is important to understand what you need to accomplish and have a strategy for accomplishing it when you go into the bar exam. This is definitely one of those situations where practice is a key to success!

Leave a comment

Filed under Bar Exam, General, Study Tips

Write and Repeat: Using Practice Exams to Study for Finals

Final exams are right around the corner for most law students, if they have not started already. Taking practice exams can be a great way to study for law school finals, but only if you use them properly. Successful law students often use practice exams to test the adequacy of their exam preparation and to simulate the experience of taking exams. Here are some suggestions for how to make practice exams work harder for you:

1. Don’t take practice exams for a particular topic until you have actually studied that topic. Many students take practice exams before they have outlined the material at issue or committed legal rules, tests, elements, etc. to memory. You will not get as much out of a practice exam if you don’t prepare for it as you would for a graded exam. If you don’t have the important stuff committed to memory, you will waste time in taking practice essay exams because you just won’t be able to recall what you need to write an answer. You will also be guessing much more on multiple choice questions, and the result may not adequately reflect your understanding of the material. Study first to make practice exams a productive use of your time.

2. Take practice exams in a simulated test environment–give yourself the same amount of time you will have to take the graded exam, and take the practice exam in a quiet, distraction-free environment. Practicing the entire exam experience trains your body and brain for what is expected during a graded exam, and it can help reduce stress and exam anxiety by desensitizing your brain to taking exams.

3. Allot enough time to go over the practice exam answers once you have completed the exam. Part of the benefit of taking practice exams is comparing your answers to the model essay answers or correct multiple choice answers. Compare what you have done to the model answers and make note of what needs improvement. Read the explanations of the right and wrong answers for multiple choice–it will help you to better understand how questions are constructed as well as gain a deeper understanding of the underlying legal issues. I recommend setting aside the same amount of time to review the answers as you set aside for taking the practice exam to begin with.

4. Use practice exams as a way of fine-tuning your outline and rethinking further exam preparation. If you don’t get something correct or miss an issue entirely, evaluate whether your outline adequately covers that topic. Ask yourself if you need to create a flashcard for a legal rule so that you have it fully committed to memory. Studying is a process, not an destination–practice exams are a way of checking the health of your studying process before you move forward with it.

So, where can you find practice exams? Often, your professors are a great resource for practice exams. Many professors release older versions of their exams, and you can use those to practice for your finals. You may also want to seek out the Academic Support professionals at your law school, as they often have many practice exam resources. If you are paying for your bar prep course as you go, the bar prep providers, such as Kaplan and BarBri, often provide supplemental materials containing practice exams. Many other supplements also offer practice questions–just make sure those questions cover material you have actually covered in class.

Practice exams are one of the best ways to measure your understanding of course materials and reinforce test-taking skills–just write and repeat!

1 Comment

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