Law School Exam Tip: Study for the Kind of Law School Exam You’ll Be Given
The kind of law school exam you are given should determine how you study for it. In order to tailor your studying to the kind of law school exam you’ll be given, you have to first know what kind of law school exam you’ll be given. If you do not know what kind of law school exam you’ll be given, find out as soon as possible. If your professor makes past exams available for review, even better – look at those right away!
Some law school exams are essay exams; some are multiple-choice exams. Some are open-book exams; some are closed-book exams. Some are in-class exams; others are take-home exams. We will explain how the kind of law school exam you have should determine how you should study.
Essay vs. Multiple-Choice law school exam:
Many students mistakenly study the same way for a multiple-choice exam as they do for an essay exam. This is a mistake. Essay exams test very different skills than multiple-choice exams. For an essay exam, you will be expected to write the rules, analyze the law (usually with a complicated IRAC-type analysis), and arrive at conclusions. Most points in an essay exam are granted for a good, in-depth analysis rather than a correct conclusion (in fact, many times there are not “correct” conclusions for the major issues on an essay exam!). Thus, using the rules of law to arrive at arguably-accurate conclusions is the skill you should aim to develop.
Studying for an essay exam requires first, learning your outline, and second, practicing as many essay exams (and model answers) as you can get a hold of.
In contrast to essay exams, there are always correct answer choices that you will be expected to pick for multiple-choice questions. These exams focus primarily on whether you know the law and can spot the correct answer choice for a given problem. Thus, you need to focus heavily on the rules in your outline (rather than cases or analysis). The ability to find issues, sub-issues, and sub-sub-issues is not so heavily tested in multiple-choice fact patterns. Knowing the law and being able to arrive at the correct conclusion is. In order to develop this skill, learn the rules of law and practice as many multiple-choice questions as you can get your hands on.
Open-book vs. Closed-book law school exam:
There is not a huge difference in how you should study for an open-book exam (where you are allowed to use your outlines, notes, etc.) versus a closed-book exam. You need to know the rules well and you need to know how to apply the rules in either case.
A couple of key differences to note, however:
- First, a professor will not be as impressed by your rule statements in an open-book essay exam (since you have the rules right there!) Thus, you will want to make sure you write a stellar analysis since this is likely what the professor is focusing on.
- Secondly, we never think you should depend on your outline in an open-book exam, but because you will be able to use it if you need to refer to it, you should definitely organize it and tab it ahead of time. You may forget a rule or want to refresh your memory on something during the exam, and the last thing you want to do is spend valuable exam time shuffling through papers. Thus, tab your outline ahead of time.
In-Class law school exam vs. Take-Home exam:
In-class law school exams require you to have the rules of law on the tip of your tongue, so to speak You need to be able to recite them, apply them to the facts, arrive at conclusions – and do this for multiple issues in a short period of time.
Conversely, take-home exams do not require that you know everything super-well. Take-home law school exams require:
- (1) good class notes (you want to make sure you have everything the professor said in class to utilize when you write your exam!) and
- (2) A solid understanding of the material (rather than memorization of the material). You can write an A+ take-home law school exam without memorizing a lot of material.
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