Should You Proofread Your Law School Exams?

glassesMany law students struggle with time management during the law school exam period. One culprit of this can be spending too much time trying to make your essay perfect for the grader. News flash — under timed conditions, your professor does not expect perfection. So let go of the idea of perfection (I know, many of us are type A and this is challenging.)

Now, please note this caveat: If your exam is a take-home exam and you are given ample time to work on it, you better build in some time for proofreading. In this case, your professor expects you to have time to proofread and turning in something sloppy will likely hurt your scores.

Now let’s turn our attention to the common in class exam (open or closed book) in law school.

Your exam may be three to four hours and will likely contain a majority (if not the entire exam) essay questions. You want to spend about 1/4 of your time planning out your answer before you write (because if you don’t think before you write, things are likely to get out-of-wack come writing time). Then comes the writing. You spend hours writing and writing. You are writing at a speed perhaps you didn’t know you could write at (thank you, adrenalin). Then your answer gets sent to the professor, all 10 to 20 pages of it. And you know what happens? They spend, likely, 15 minutes or less (likely less) reading your answer and giving you a grade.

Let’s sit with that for a minute. Likely less than 15 minutes.

You might be thinking, “This is crazy talk!” But do the math. How many students are in your class? Let’s say 45. If your professor spends 15 minutes grading papers for your class that is 11 1/4 hours of grading for this one class. More often than not, professors teach more than one class (sometimes two or three). What if they had two classes, each of 45 people? And grading isn’t something you can just sit down and plow through in one sitting (at least not every time I have done it). You have to make sure you are fresh and able to stay focused on each new exam. That takes time. And this is all work done around the holidays!

So what can you do to make sure your exam is easy to read and helpful for the professor? 

Knowing your professor is going to be reading really quickly, you want to think about what you can do to make your exam easy for them to read and grade. (Hint: Perfect proofread essays is not one of them.)

  • Your essay should be the quality of a decent rough draft. Sure, it may have typos and it may not be your best writing, but it needs to be readable. If if is riddled with typos, that might be problematic. If the typos make it hard to read, then that can also be problematic.
  • Do not ignore the rules of the English language. If you decide to ignore normal writing rules of the English language (like not using capital letters or punctuation — not kidding, we have seen stuff like that) that is going to be problematic. Law school is a professional school and lawyers write for a living. You want to show you know how to write, generally speaking.
  • Run spell check, if you have time. Now, I am a terrible speller (admittedly) so I always tried to run a quick spell check (something that is almost always included on exam software), but only if I was done with the exam and had a couple of minutes left. But I wouldn’t have skipped an issue to run spell check. My spelling wasn’t so terrible that the professor couldn’t follow what I was writing, so if I didn’t have time to run spell check, I don’t think it would have hurt my scores.
  • If you have time to proof read one thing, proof your headers. Headers are important (in my opinion) for an easy-to-read exam. They can help your professor see your answer’s organization which can help them read faster (happy professor) and also focus on your fabulous analysis (instead of trying to follow your thought process). But try not to have these headers riddled with painful typos. It doesn’t create the best impression of your work.

So remember, perfection is not what is required of you so be thoughtful about how you spend your time. However, don’t be reckless with your writing. Make sure your answer is still easy to read and looks professional.

Good luck and happy studying!

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Image by mihow via stock.xchng.


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About Lee Burgess

Lee Burgess, Esq. is the co-founder of the Law School Toolbox, a resource for law students that demystifies the law school experience, the Bar Exam Toolbox, a resource for students getting ready for the bar exam and Trebuchet, a legal career resource. Lee is also the founder of Amicus Tutoring, LLC, a company she started to help students find success in law school and on the California bar exam. Lee has been adjunct faculty at two bay area law schools teaching classes on law school and bar exam preparation. You can find Lee on Twitter at @amicustutoring, @lawschooltools, @barexamtools & @trebuchetlegal.

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