No matter where you are in your law school career, finals probably always seem stressful and overwhelming. If you’re a 1L, you might struggle to identify the most effective ways to prepare. If you’re an upperclassman, you’re probably balancing studying for exams on top of a whole lot of other commitments. There is no single, right way to prepare for exams, but there are a number of things you should consider to perform your best.
1. Create a Study Plan
Whether you’re starting early or cramming before finals, you can probably benefit from creating a study plan. If you can, try to start preparing early, as this will give you more flexibility in your schedule and allow you to take your time learning the material. When scheduling your study time, you should try to focus on a few main things. First, you’ll need to create an outline or other study aid. This can be time consuming because it forces you to synthesize and organize what you’ve learned – so try to give yourself time throughout the semester to work on these. As it gets closer to finals, you’ll need to shift your time to memorizing your outline and taking practice exams. Even if your exam is open book, you should still aim to memorize at least a basic version of your outline, because you likely won’t have time to look things up during the exam!
2. Focus on what your Professor Emphasizes
With the limited time you have to prepare for exams, it is crucial to spend your time focusing on the things that are most likely to be tested. Many professors will say that anything that was covered in the reading is fair game, but they literally can’t test you on every single thing you’ve read in great detail. When you’re making your outlines and studying from them, try to focus on the information that came from your class notes, as those should help you determine what your professor thinks is important. Try to pay attention to the main points that your professor emphasized or spent a lot of time discussing rather than the nuances of cases. Remember, your professor writes the exam, so you can expect that it will focus on the things they think are important!
3. Stick to the Methods that Work for You
For whatever reason, law students love to talk about what they’re doing (or not doing) to prepare for exams. With all the chatter, it can be tempting to question your own study habits – but don’t give in! At this point, you’ve been in school long enough to know what works for you, so stick to the methods that help you learn best. This rings especially true for study groups – if you don’t learn well by discussing things with other people, then do not feel pressure to join a study group! Group learning can be particularly helpful for auditory learners, but if you’re more visual (as many people are), try color coding your outline or drawing out flowcharts to help you memorize rules. There are a million and one ways to learn the material, so be sure to do what works for you.
4. Use Supplements Wisely
Supplements and study aids can be incredibly helpful in clearing up confusing areas of the law, as they are often written in a more simple and straightforward manner than casebooks. However, you should be careful not to rely too heavily on these, or you may wind up trying to memorize more information than you need. Most study aids will cover far more information than you will during your semester-long course, so be very careful not to waste time reviewing things that weren’t covered in your class. To get the most out of your study aid, try to review and outline the topic on your own, then read only the section of your study aid that covers that specific topic, if you need clarification. If a particular nuance or area of the law doesn’t look familiar, you may not have covered it, and you shouldn’t waste your time with that section. Another great use of study aids is reviewing the practice questions they provide, as these are great ways to test your understanding of the topic. Whatever you choose, be sure to rely on them only as supplements to your own materials, not your exclusive resource!
5. Take Practice Exams
Taking practice exams is by far the most important thing that you can do to set yourself up for success on law school exams – I cannot emphasize this enough! You can spend tons of time creating the most perfect, beautiful outline ever, only to find that you’re struggling to write out an answer to an actual question. Taking law school exams is a skill, and it’s one that everyone (I repeat, everyone) can develop – with enough practice. It can be really painful to start doing this, because most people will feel like they don’t know enough to do a full question. However, doing a practice problem can actually help you work through areas of confusion and see how concepts fit together. You don’t have to be able to write out the perfect answer from the get go, but you do have to start trying before you can improve! Try to set aside some time well before exams to work through these, so that you have enough time to work through issues before the real exam.
Preparing for finals can be overwhelming no matter where you are in your law school career. Fortunately, focusing on the right things can help you study more efficiently and perform your best!
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