Law School Final Exam Angst: That Train is Never Late!
Seems like the semester just began, but final exam season is right around the corner. Time flies when you’re having fun. In fact, it flies even when you’re not having fun. My point is that Law School success requires that you manage time wisely.
Grades matter, whether you’re a 1L sitting for your first exams or a 2L trying to catch the top third of the class. Be certain that you know the challenge of exams and are developing the skills needed to overcome that challenge. Law School does not award effort. Only results.
But don’t panic! Instead, be smart about preparing for exams. That means picking the right strategy for exam prep and having the discipline to follow through.
You got questions? I got answers. Hit me.
Question: It’s early November. Is time still on my side?
Answer: Yes – especially if you have learned the law in each of your classes. That’s achieved by drafting and memorizing well-organized, comprehensive course outlines (of course, that assumes you understand the challenge of exams in the first place – which most students do not). By now, you really need to be more than just familiar with the rules. If this is news to you, then you ought to rethink your exam prep strategy. Just saying . . .
Question: Wait. Are you saying that exam success is all about memorization?
Answer: Not at all. Exam success is based on using your knowledge of the law to spot and analyze legal issues. Memorization is just the first step in that process, and it’s the primary way you to learn the law. It relies on skills you developed since high school – going to class, reading the text, outlining and memorizing.
Take control of the learning process early in the semester. Create efficiencies by reading ahead, getting outlines from other students who previously had the same professor and crosscheck your work against commercial outlines. It’s not rocket science.
Question: If memorization isn’t key to exam success, then what is?
Answer: First of all -- don’t you think you should have figured this out before now?
You’re paying a fortune in tuition and busting your butt seven days a week. Be proactive. Don’t assume that it’s business as usual. Make an informed decision about what is required for exam success and how you will achieve that. Sorry. Your parents made me say that.
Second -- and most importantly, know that essay exams require you to identify and analyze legal issues according to the structure and writing style professors expect. Students struggle to develop that ability. Professors teach rules of law but test your ability to use those rules. You can’t do well on essay exams unless you recognize that gap.
Students devote too little effort during the semester practicing what they learn. Most don't even realize the need to do so. No wonder they struggle on exams despite working so hard all semester. Somebody should warn laws students that how you learn is just as important as what you learn.
Question: OK. You got my attention. But do you have any solutions?
Answer: You bet. Practice testing! Hands down. Toss it in the oven and bake until golden brown.
Nothing is more effective than practice testing. It’s how you develop critical thinking and writing skills. It’s also a highly effectively way to learn what will be tested and how well you know the law. Practice exams help you anticipate exam tactics designed to confuse and distract students. You will improve your time management skills and build mental stamina.
Don’t just take my word for it (though I have been helping law students achieve exam success for almost twenty years). Educational psychologists have proven that practice testing is by far the most effective learning technique. They also found it to be the most efficient. Nothing else comes close. Check out this short article if you doubt me.
Do you have a better exam prep strategy?
Question: If practice testing is so effective, then why don’t more students do it?
Answer: Great question. There are several reasons. Some students don’t know that practice testing is useful. Others don’t manage their time well enough to learn the law and practice using it before exams. Some assume that it’s not important because their profs don’t post many old exams or discuss the merits of practice testing.
Of course, practice testing is easier said than done, especially when you lack a methodical strategy for using your knowledge under stressful exam conditions. Students have no idea how to begin answering these questions, so they don’t. Some who do begin turn away from them the moment they get frustrated. In order to regain confidence, they return to memorizing course outlines. That’s something they can control, even if it’s only part of the exam prep equation.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. Embrace the usefulness of practice testing. Be excited about developing powerful lawyering skills. Fight the urge to turn away and, instead, respect practice testing as the clear path to exam success. And the sooner the better!
Question: Is there any special method you recommend for writing essay exam answers consistent with the structure and style expected by professors?
Answer: Yes. But for that you must pay. Sorry. We are passionate about academic support but also are running a business. Otherwise, at least recognize that you need a strategy to bridge the gap between your knowledge of the law and the ability to use it on exams in a “lawyerly” manner.
Law school is fascinating, exciting and empowering. But it’s also challenging. Preparing well. That means working smart, seeking out meaningful support, and avoiding wasteful distractions.