5 Tips For Success On Law School Exams — Flemings Fundamentals of Law
While the prospect of preparing for law school exams can seem daunting, there are a series of study techniques and methods that successful law students engage in that help propel them towards success. You will have the same success by implementing the same behaviors.
One of the most terrifying aspects of law school exams is that, in most cases, students don't get a lot of feedback on their assignments over the course of the semester. They never really know where they stand because they are not given feedback in order to assess their legal knowledge or exam skill proficiency prior to a midterm or final exam.
By the time they really find out where they stand, they have already taken their exams, received their scores, and realized - often too late - that a large portion if not all of their grade has already been determined. That is why it is so crucial that, as a law student, you develop great study habits, you utilize law student study guides effectively, and you make yourself accountable for your own law school study schedule and exam development from the very first day of the semester.
Here are my five most important tips to help you successfully prepare for your law school final exams:
1. Start Early
One of the worst mistakes you can make as a law student is to "wait to learn the law before practicing law school exams." A common refrain among law students is that they are not ready to start preparing for exams because they do not know all of the law yet.
This idea is a fallacy; an all-too-common misconception.
Learning how to write a law exam is an essential ingredient to learning the law. The law is not learned in a vacuum. It must be learned with the reasoning behind the law, and then applied to facts to give it context. Learning the law without learning how to apply it to facts is just a toothless smile – it lacks substance.
The typical semester is approximately 13 to 14 weeks of instruction before law school final exams. If you wait to learn the law before you start preparing for those exams, there is little chance you are going to be ready. You might be able to regurgitate the black letter law. However, you will not have learned how to apply the law to exam facts, which is a skill that is developed and perfected only through diligent practice.
The best thing to do in order to develop effective law exam skills is to find practice examinations that cover the topics of law you have already covered in class. Start working with them early and often. Not only will you then be more prepared for your law school final exams than your competitors, but when you practice by using the law, this is also the most effective way to learn the law itself. Experience is the best teacher.
2. Make A Schedule And Stick To It
One of the toughest aspects of preparing for your law school final exams is that once you fall behind in your studies, it can be virtually impossible to catch up.
As the semester moves along, new topics are covered more quickly and more frequently. Early in the semester, introductory material is typically introduced slowly, but by the end of the semester, the law is covered at a much more rapid pace. As a result, playing catch-up is almost an impossible game to win. That is why it is extremely important to make a schedule, stick to it, force yourself to be accountable and keep up on your studies - because your professors are certainly not going to do it for you.
Schedule a specific time to practice law school exams and update your substantive law outlines. Make sure you keep up. Your substantive law outlining should keep up with your class syllabus to the best extent possible so that you are always on track. The last thing you want to do is get weeks behind in your outlining because catching up at that late date will cost you valuable practice examination time and only hurt you in the long run.
3. Listen To Your Professors To Figure Out What They Are Looking For
The best way to figure out exactly what your professors are looking for on an examination and what issues they think are the most important and the most likely to be tested is simply to listen to them.
Very rarely will your professor’s test topics on your exam that they have not focused on in class. Logic dictates that the more important your professors find something to be, the more time they will spend on it in class, making it more likely the same topics will come upon an examination.
So, make sure to pay close attention to what your professors say because the odds are, whether it is being done directly or subconsciously, your professors will be clueing you in on what to expect on your law school final exams.
4. Synthesize The Information You Learn Into Barebones, Plain English Outlines With Checklists And Approaches
One common trap that law students often fall into is spending a ton of time trying to memorize the black letter law verbatim rather than figuring out what it means and then how and when it applies.
Memorizing is an important skill, but understanding and knowing how to use the law is even more important. This is where you can help yourself by crafting short, to-the-point outlines that explain the law in your own words.
Better still, you can craft checklists and approaches for each subject, and create lists of the relevant subject matter that you need to know, most of which can usually be taken right out of the table of contents in your casebook.
These techniques are akin to self-made law student study guides that reveal organizational structures on how to issue spots and handle those topics when they come up on a law school exam.
Use mnemonic devices, flashcards, and whatever other study methods you find helpful to hammer down those checklists and approaches.
If you are having trouble figuring out how to do this, commercial outlines and study guides for law students, such as Fleming's Fundamentals of Law's Exam Solution outlines, give you great examples of checklists and approaches for almost every law school subject. You can take a commercial outline like ours and tailor them to what your professor finds important to create the perfect study material for your class.
5. Practice Exams
There is no more important part of preparing for a law school essay exam than taking actual practice exams to directly improve your law school essay exam skills. These exams can come from your professor's archive, the State Bar website, or a commercial exam workbook such as the Fleming's Essay Examination Workbook series. Taking exams under timed conditions helps you learn the law and see where you stand, all while preparing for your midterm and final exams.
Needless to say, the more practice law school essay exams you take, the more prepared you will be for the real thing.
After all, as the old saying goes: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”
Practice, practice, practice!