Law School Midterm Exams: What They Are And How To Prepare For Them
Preparing for exams in law school can be time-consuming and stress-inducing. Knowing what to expect ahead of time though can help ease your anxiety and lower your stress so that you can approach exams with confidence and be prepared to tackle the tasks ahead. While most students focus on final exams (because they usually are worth the bulk of your grade), law school midterm exams are important as well—and can even help you to better succeed on your final exams! In this post, we focus specifically on what law school midterm exams are and how to prepare for them.
Law School Midterm Exams: What They Are And How To Prepare For Them
Overview of Law School Midterm Exams
Although some law school courses may only give a final exam, many courses have midterm exams. Many students dislike the idea of taking law school midterm exams. After all, they add to an already busy schedule of going to class, trying to outline, and working through hundreds of pages of reading and case briefing each week. And because your final exam grade usually makes up the bulk of your course grade, it can be tempting to brush off midterms and not prepare for them.
Even though law school midterm exams will take up more time in your schedule, and may seem unimportant, there are numerous benefits to taking them, including:
Boosting Your Course Grade: Law school midterm exams usually factor into the final grade calculation, which many students prefer to scoring based solely on performance on the final exam.
Checking In on Your Progress: Law school midterm exams act as an important “check in” on your progress to see how well you understand the material studied thus far. Rather than finding out later in the semester, you will know what topics could use some work. When it comes time to really buckle down and study for finals, you can do a lighter review than you would if you didn’t know those topics.
Receiving Insight into Course Exam Format: Your professor likely will make your final exam format similar to that of your midterm exam. This will give you some insight into what types of practice exams you need to work on mid-semester through the end of the semester. You will also get a better idea of how your professor tests material and what types of answers they seek.
So, don’t be fooled into thinking that law school midterm exams are not that important! If you take them seriously, they can be immensely beneficial as you prepare for finals.
How to Prepare for Law School Midterm Exams
For most, preparing for law school midterm exams can be daunting, especially as a first semester 1L. Even later in your law school career, midterms are still the first time you will really be exposed to what your courses’ final exams may look like. Each professor writes exams in their own unique way, chooses different formats, and focuses on certain material. Given the endless possible variations, you may be wondering how you can best prepare. Luckily, there are a few tips that are generally applicable to virtually all law school midterm exams:
No matter what the course is, or what the exam format is, or so on, outlining is an absolute necessity. An outline is a summary of an entire class condensed down into an easy-to-navigate guide based on your class notes, case briefs, and supplements.
A few key points when it comes to outlining before your law school midterm exams:
Make Your Own Outline. Although there are countless commercial outlines available, or outlines from upper-class students passed down over the years, it is important to make your own outlines! Students who take the time to create their own outlines have an effective and efficient way to learn the material. It will be easier to learn an outline you made because it will be better tailored to your learning style.
Start Outlining Early. Ideally, you will start outlining at the very start of the semester. If class has begun, your outlining should have already started as well! You will cover a ton of material in your courses. Then, add to your outlines as the semester goes on. By adding to your outline periodically, it becomes a more manageable task. It also helps ensure that you are fully grasping the material because outlining is a way to review and study.
Utilize Your Class Notes. Your class notes should be the primary resource when outlining. Simply including summaries of cases or black letter law in an outline will not get you very far. Remember that it is your professor who writes your exams. So, what they say in class is what will likely appear on the exam! Just be sure you don’t just type up your class notes and call it an “outline.” You do still need to organize your notes into an outline format.
Ready to start outlining? Check out our in-depth guide on how to create a law school outline here and this post with our top law school outline tips!
Memorize Your Outlines
Although creating an outline in and of itself does help you to study and learn course material, you still need to review and memorize your outlines! Even if your midterm exam is open book or open note, you still will not have enough time to consult your outline for every single rule. It is important to have the concepts well memorized to score high and avoid getting overwhelmed on exam day.
Some top tips for memorizing your outlines prior to your law school midterm exams include:
Start Memorizing Early. We recommend that you start memorizing your outlines as soon as you make them. The same is true as you continue to update it with new information—keep memorizing as the new material gets added. This keeps the information fresh in your mind, and as you repeatedly review, you will also repeatedly learn. At the end of the week, review your entire week’s notes. This will help you to retain the material.
Use Active Studying Techniques. Reading your outlines over and over and over again is an example of passive studying. It is passive in that you are not actively engaging with the material. Although reading your outlines is important, doing only that is not the most efficient and effective way to study. You can actively study by drawing diagrams and pictures, invent mnemonics, quizzing yourself and others, making flashcards (check out this post on how to use law school flashcards the right way!) and so on.
Break the Task into Sections. Although there is no set rule on how long your law school outlines should be, they generally end up being 50 and 80 pages long per class. That is a ton of material to memorize! By breaking your memorization task into chunks, it becomes more manageable. For example, if your outline is 60 pages, tackle 10 pages at a time. This will help you feel less anxious and overwhelmed. It also helps ensure you are actually memorizing the material and not just trying to rush through 50 pages.
Read this post with more tips on how to memorize law school outlines!
Identify Your Exam Format
Knowing the format of law school midterm exams is key to adequately preparing. Consult your syllabus or ask your professor what the exam format will be. For example, is it multiple-choice? Essays? Short answers? Or is it multi-faceted (i.e., a mix of essay, short answer and/or multiple-choice questions)? Then, check out our post on how to write a law school exam answer in any of those formats and our in-depth guide on how to answer law school exam questions!
Take Practice Exams
One of the best ways to prepare for midterms is to take practice exams well ahead of the exam date. These exams are beneficial for a few reasons:
Practice makes perfect! Law school fact patterns are often long and require you to spot multiple issues. Practice issue spotting and then writing out a strong answer in the proper format is critical to excelling on exams.
You will see what you do (and don’t) know. How you perform on practice exams will help you gauge which topics you have memorized and which need some work. That way, you can focus less on what you know and more on what you still need to learn.
It is best to practice in the exam format you will be given. Practice exams will help you to prepare for the format you see on your law school midterm exams so that there are fewer surprises on exam day!
When taking practice exams, keep in mind the source. Although there are many free law school practice exams available online, the absolute best practice exams to use are your professor’s past exams for the course, if available. Not only will this give you an idea of the exam format, issues tested, and professor’s testing style, but you will also feel more comfortable on exam day knowing that you have properly prepared!
Read more about how to take law school practice exams here!
Join A Study Group
If you are not already part of a study group, consider joining (or forming) one prior to your law school midterm exams period if you think it might be helpful. Even if you typically prefer to prepare for class solo, it can be immensely helpful to collaborate with your classmates when studying for exams for quite a few reasons, including:
Accountability: Your study group relies on you to show up prepared to discuss, just as you rely on them. This helps to keep you on top of your exam preparedness and maintain accountability.
Clarity: In law school, you will encounter may concepts that are difficult to grasp. Concepts that come naturally to some students will be a struggle for others and vice versa. By discussing course material in a group, you have the opportunity to gain clarity on any legal issues that you are struggling to grasp. You also can help others to grasp any issues that they may be struggling with but that you understand!
Knowledge: By discussing in a group, you are committing concepts to knowledge. Conversely, you also will realize what you know or don’t know! There may be gaps in your knowledge that your study group peers can help fill in for you to ensure that your outlines are complete.
Perspective: Even if you understand a legal concept perfectly well, there may be a diverse perspective on it that your peers can share. Having a well-rounded understanding of the material can help you prepare to make counterarguments on your exams.
Friendship: Don’t take for granted the value of friendships in law school! Your law school classmates understand what you are going through in a way that your family and friends outside of the legal field cannot. Being able to lean on your classmates for support is invaluable—and you will build lasting friendships that last well beyond law school!
Note that there are downsides to joining a law school study group as well, such as time wasted socializing and negative comparisons to other students’ progress. So, you should weigh the pros and cons to decide what works best for you. Ultimately though, if you are comfortable studying in a group, it is a great way to prepare for midterms!
Take Advantage of Office Hours
Law professors have office hours for a reason. They know that students have questions about the material, but cannot answer all students’ questions during class. Or maybe some students are too embarrassed to ask a question in front of the class but they feel comfortable asking the professor directly.
You should absolutely take advantage of office hours! Meeting with your professors one-on-one (or with your study group) will allow you to perform well on your law school midterm exams and gain a better understanding of certain material.
Ready to meet with your professors? Check out this post on how to make the most of law school office hours!
Although it is easier said than done, try not to stress out over law school midterm exams.
As discussed above, they likely aren’t worth much of your overall course grade. (That does not mean you should not take them seriously—because you absolutely should!) Remember though—midterms are a dress rehearsal for the final event, which is the final exam! Simply take our tips in stride and prepare for your law school midterms as best you can. If you don’t do well or aspire to get a higher score on your final exam, adjust your law school study schedule to accommodate any necessary changes and focus on your weak areas.
With these tips in hand, you are well on your way to succeeding on your law school midterm exams. Best of luck!