Law school final exams are right around the corner. It’s not too late to take steps to increase your chances of writing a high-scoring essay answer. To help you put your best foot forward, we explain common mistakes that you should try to avoid on your law school exams!
1. Don’t simply focus on the obvious issues because you are unsure of how the more difficult issues turn out.
Law school exams require you to spot and analyze all the relevant issues. Do not make the mistake of focusing all of your energy discussing the obvious issues (e.g., contract formation) and failing to discuss the more challenging issues (e.g., the parol evidence rule, how conditions are excused, how duties may be discharged, etc.). It is okay if you do not arrive at the correct conclusion. What your professor really wants to see is your ability to discern the issues that are raised by the fact pattern and your ability to martial the facts when you apply them to law in order to reach a well-reasoned conclusion.
It is quite common for law school exams to contain ambiguities or facts that cut both ways (i.e. facts that can be interpreted to favor Plaintiff or Defendant). If you address these ambiguities in your analysis you will rack up a lot of points!
2. Don’t panic and regurgitate the entirety of your outline.
Yes, it’s important to memorize your outline. However, a law school exam does not test your ability to outline-dump. Rather, it tests your ability to determine which issues are presented in the fact pattern, and how these issues fit into the big picture. Make sure that your response is focused and answers the call of the question. Sometimes, professors will explicitly tell you not discuss certain issues in your answer. Do not avoid such instructions! You will not get any points by neglecting to follow directions.
3. Don’t read the fact pattern too quickly.
Timing is important, and to that end, students often race through the fact pattern and rush to begin writing their answer. Taking a few extra minutes on the front end to figure out who the parties are, which facts are relevant, and the issues you want to discuss will save you so much time as you begin to write your answer. This will prevent you from wasting time rereading the fact pattern as you analyze each issue.
Also, be careful not to confuse the parties in your answer. This may seem obvious, but under the time constraints students often mix up the parties, which can be a very costly mistake.
Similarly, do your best not to summarize the facts—your professor wrote the fact pattern in a particular way for a reason. In your analysis use the facts as they appear and pay close attention to any language in quotation marks.
4. Don’t forget to keep track of the time.
Use your time wisely and keep an eye on the clock! All too often students take too long writing out their answer to the first portion of the exam. They then run out of time for the remainder of the questions. In doing so, they miss out on valuable points! Your professor can only grade you based on what you write. They cannot read your mind to see whether you would have accurately spotted and analyzed issues that you did not include in your answer. Similarly, they do not grade you on any notes you take on the fact pattern or any outline you make on scrap paper.
The best way to make sure you keep track of time is to complete timed exams prior to the actual exam. Which brings us to our next point . . .
5. Don’t forget to do practice exams and review your answers thoroughly.
All of the mistakes discussed above can be prevented if you do some timed practice exams and meticulously review the model answer and/or grading rubric. In doing so, you will discover whether you have trouble with organization, timing, issue spotting, and/or aspects of the substantive law. Then you can work on tackling any problem areas. You do not want to go into the classroom on exam day without having worked through practice exams. It is highly likely that you will panic and feel like you did not study enough if you do. This can easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. You want to feel confident when the proctor tells you that the exam has begun. If you haven’t done any practice exams yet, start today!