As a 1L, your first round of law school exams can seem daunting. Between adjusting to a new way of studying, establishing time management, and keeping up with assigned readings it can be hard to know exactly how to navigate finals week.
Luckily, we’ve gathered the top 10 tips from our students to teach you how to survive law school exams.
Law school exam period can become really hectic. You may have exams back to back and feel like you have no time to breathe let alone take breaks. It’s important to schedule breaks in between studying and exams. Studies show that taking breaks can increase your productivity.
It will help you focus better, decrease fatigue, and help with memory retention. Whether you go see a movie or go for a walk, taking time to exhale and relax will be vital to your mental health during your exam period.
Stay On Top of Assignments
It’s important to stay on top of your readings and class assignments. Preparing for exams starts way before you actually sit for the exam. It may seem self-explanatory but staying on top of classwork during the semester makes exam time way less stressful.
Also, stick to study habits that helped get you to law school. It may seem like others around you are doing way more, or in some cases way less than you, to prepare for exams. It is important to stick to what makes you most comfortable and helps best prepare you.
This could mean having a 100-page outline or studying 12+ hours a day. It could also mean having a 10-page outline or studying for less than eight hours a day. Speaking from experience it is far more beneficial to do what makes you most comfortable.
Find What Works For You
There will be a lot of people taking different approaches to studying for finals. It can be easy to follow along with what everyone else is doing, but everyone studies and learns differently. Some people study best in groups and some people study best individually.
While it can be very helpful and also fun to study with a group and bounce around what you are learning from each other, some people will learn the best working by themselves. Make sure to find what works best for you and keep that in mind.
Make Your Own Outline
There are a lot of old outlines out there for classes. These are a great guide to get started and find extra information. However, one of the best ways to learn the concept of a class is to make your own outline. Going through notes and putting them into an outline is a great way to learn the material for the exam.
For open book exams, it’s important to know where you put the information in the outline for easy access on the exam. Professors can change the course from year-to-year, so it’s important not to rely only on someone else’s outline.
Start Outlining Early
One way to ease some of the stress from law school exams is to start outlining early. The consensus among law students is that outlining is a process that should begin no later than one month before the start of your exam.
In my experience, outlining is a foreign concept to many 1Ls. Therefore, 1Ls should start the outlining process at least 6 or 8 weeks before their scheduled exams so that they can get accustomed to the process of creating an outline.
Additionally, starting the outline process early allows students to flesh out questions early. This means that students will have the opportunity to meet with their professors several times throughout the semester instead of hoping the professor has time to meet with the student in November when seventy other students also need to meet with the same professor.
What do teachers mean when they say the words “supplement”? There are various resources which can be considered supplements, for example, to start, there are the ‘examples and explanations’ resource, which provide students with additional exam-type questions and examples to help understand specific topics.
The “e & e’s” are a great resource for any student trying to practice law school style exam answers before seeing the exam for the first time. Additionally, there are the “Short and Happy Guides” to a specific class. The Guides provide a great macro-level view of a topic and can be very beneficial to a student to understand the big picture before diving down into the specifics.
However, a word of caution, these books are not meant to teach you the topic. Also, consider using the 1L course books provided for FREE from some of the various bar prep providers on campus.
Again, these books do not replace the content being taught in classes and on their own will not help you do better. But when paired with active reading and preparation, these books can help you make sure you are on the right track with your outlines and can break down more complex topics into easy-to-read and digestible points.
Find Your Favorite Park
Sitting and studying throughout the week can make you feel boxed in and trapped. Try to take the time to go for a walk and enjoy nature, I especially enjoy doing this during the chilly months.
I can always notice a difference in my outlook after I’ve taken the time to go to my favorite park, Southwood Central. Long hours of staring at casebooks and outlines tend to drive me crazy, so it’s nice to get outside and just breathe.
Make Use of Office Hours
A lot of 1Ls don’t go to office hours because they aren’t sure what to ask their professors and think they need to have specific questions to gain anything from talking with them. That’s definitely not true! In my 1L spring semester, I would visit each of my professors during their office hours to simply ask how I should outline for their class and prepare for the final exam.
A professor’s teaching style and view of the subject can define the exam, so it is crucial to learn how to study the material similarly. While each professor will discuss exam prep tips in class, you will not get their most comprehensive insight on what they want to see unless you talk to them one-on-one.
Another great question to ask before the exam is how you should write your responses to the questions. In law school, many things come down to communication, and clearly communicating your ideas in a way that appeals to your professor can make a huge difference in your final exam grade.
Structuring your outline according to what your professor suggests can also help you start thinking like your professor early on, which may be key when exam day finally arrives!
Do practice exams. Do them early, and do them often. Some professors will give you feedback, some won’t. Even when they don’t, there is so much value in just learning how to write the exam. Go to their office hours and ask what they give points for.
Then, only include that information. Don’t regurgitate facts or specific case language if your professor doesn’t give points for that. It takes away time from spotting other issues and doesn’t earn you anything extra. And you can always use more time on a law exam. There is always another issue to spot.
Remember, One Grade Will Not Make or Break You
Towards the end of every semester in law school, everyone is feeling the anxiety that comes with the looming final exam period ahead. It’s hard to talk to another law student without the topic of final exams coming up in conversation because exams are at the forefront of everyone’s minds around that time– and sometimes we unintentionally multiply each other’s stress by talking about how stressed we are.
Whenever I start feeling anxious about law school exams, I make it a point to spend time with family and friends outside of the law school community. Sometimes, even just a quick phone call to a parent or friend from undergrad will take your mind off of exams enough to remember that one grade will not make or break you.
Study hard and do your best, and then be proud of yourself for all the effort you put in, even if you do not get the exact grade you were hoping for.