We have been getting a lot of inquiries from students who say they are struggling with a specific class or a specific exam and ask us how to succeed on a law school exam, especially when exams are coming up so soon. Many students have just one or two classes that are especially bothering them. We constantly hear things like, “I feel okay about Criminal Law but I am really worried about Contracts! Any advice for Contracts?” Here is a quick guide on how you can succeed on those law school exams that you feel the least confident about. We also offer other methods of law school exam help (such as tutoring) which we discuss below as well.
1. Know your Exam: Figure out the format of your law school exam, and figure out how you get points.
It matters whether your exam is an essay exam, short answer, multiple choice, or some combination of the three. If it is a combination of the three, it matters what percentage each one is worth. Why? Because it will affect how you study (as we’ll explain in #3).
And it also matters how the exam is scored. Does your professor use a checklist where you are supposed to recognize certain issues? Or does your professor give you a point for each issue you spot and rule statement you make? Does your professor give points for case names or ignore them? Do they like to see policy arguments or do they tell students to stay away from them?
Find out as much of this information as possible ahead of time. That is the first step to turning a scary “unknown” exam into one you can conquer.
How do you find this information out?
- Look at the syllabus.
- Get practice exams that your professor gave in the past (you will need this anyway, if they are available!) or
- Simply ask your professor what the format of the exam is and how grades will be rewarded.
2. Learn the law that will be tested.
It should come as no surprise to you that you will actually have to learn the law to do well on a law school exam. The good news is, you have been (hopefully) going to class, learning material, and paying attention all semester so more than half the battle is already over.
Now, at this point in the semester, it is time to cement in the law that you have already learned. Start by nailing down the basics then perfecting the nuances.
The best way to cement in the law that you have already learned is to make an outline with a strong focus on your class notes. Your class notes come from class, which means they come from your professor, which means that your professor’s exam will likely test that material. They are by far your most important resource. Oh, and remember to learn your outline once you are done making it.
Do not fall into the trap of rereading cases. And don’t buy a hornbook to start reading now. You have your class notes and a semester’s worth of preparation behind you so you already have what you need. No need to create extra work for yourself this late in the game when it is unlikely to result in a higher score.
If you learn the law really well, you are halfway there. You’re armed with your weapons, now you need to learn how to fight! In other words, you need to practice some old exams. You have the knowledge you need — practicing helps you fine-tune the technique to use that knowledge to issue-spot and analyze the law. (If you are looking for an in-depth guide to answering law school exam fact patterns, click this link!)
The best resource at your disposal is your professor’s past exams (with any model or sample answers available).
Remember to tailor your practice to the type of exam you’ll be given. If your property exam is made up of multiple-choice and essay and is 20% multiple-choice and 80% essay, you should spend about 20% of your practice time on multiple-choice and 20% on essay. This helps you maximize your efficiency and tailor your work to the exam you’ll be given, thus increasing the grade you’ll be given.
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