Ah, midterm season. You may hear people say “midterms are awful, stressful, GPA killers, etc…” But are they? Does the end begin now?
Midterms are just another part of law school. When you are well prepared, they are an opportunity to show what you know and lift your grades. They are manageable! Embrace the midterms! This is your opportunity to review what you have learned up to this point and see how the professor tests and grades. This is valuable insight and experience that can save your time and pain when preparing for your final exams. In this post, we want to recap some of our most important midterm advice.
Know What to Expect
This may seem obvious, but make sure you know basic things like the format of the midterm before you dive headlong into studying. If the professor has not mentioned the format in class, ask. Knowing if the test is all multiple choice or just one essay will significantly change how you prepare. If it is multiple choice, you need to find practice questions. If it is an essay, you need to start writing practice answers and getting feedback.
Once you know the format, immediately outline the material that will be covered. Outlining is a critical step in the studying process since it organizes the material. This is the first step in memorizing it. If you just flip through your notes several times, you will miss the opportunity to see how the different sections relate to each other. If you outline the course material, everything will be organized in a way that you can make better connections. Outlining the material is also the first step to laying out your study plan.
How to prepare
Practice, practice, and then practice some more. Got it?
How do you know if your studying is working? You try to write a practice answer. If you can’t identify the case law in the question, for example, you need to reevaluate your study methods. Practicing is the only way to test your progress in understanding the material while studying. Don’t let the midterm itself be the first time you attempt a question!
Feeling confident about your practice answer is a good thing, but you should still try to get some feedback on it. This is especially true for practice questions that the professor provides you. After you attempt them, go to your professor’s office hours to review your answers. You may be surprised by the feedback you might get on your work. Any piece of feedback is critical to learning what your professor wants on the actual midterm exam.
What to do If You’re Behind
We hope that if you are reading this post, you are getting started with studying for midterms. But if you are behind and your midterm is next week, here are some things you should and shouldn’t do to salvage the situation.
First off, don’t resort to third party review materials like online review sites or flash cards that a student uploaded from another law school. While there may be some general topics shared by your class and the third party material, we promise you that those materials won’t go in depth about the topics your specific professor has covered in depth. It is easy to either learn material too generally or to go too deep into material if you are not using review materials from your own class. Whatever you do, “cram” with your class’s own materials. Your lecture notes, your casebook, the supplement your professor listed as required reading, the hypos your professor brought up in class or on a handout, etc. This way you will at least be reviewing the important stuff!
If you are behind, don’t start studying like you have several weeks left to study. This is particularly true for outlining. Outlining is complex and takes time that you probably won’t have. The point of outlining is to organize the information before you start practicing. If you have to choose between organizing and practicing, start practicing. Don’t waste time outlining just to say you outlined. Outlines are a fantastic way to teach yourself information, but they are only as useful as the time you have to invest in making them and then actually using them.
Planning and organizing your essay answers is very important if you are running out of time to study an already planned essay. When in the midterm, spend about a quarter of the allotted time for an answer outlining your response. Then, organize your answer the best you can. Use headers, and stick to a strict IRAC or C-RAC formula (whatever your prof. prefers).
Never Get Comfortable
Whether you are starting well ahead of the midterm date or are way behind, never get comfortable with one method of studying. If you ever ask yourself, “why am I doing this to study,” you should probably stop and reassess. Use the studying methods that produce tangible results and progress in your understanding of the material. If you’re spending your time on anything that doesn’t have a direct correlation to how you can perform better on the test, don’t do it. Practice is the one thing that is always acceptable and needed. There is no such thing as a law student who can practice too much! But make sure you get feedback on your practice problems.
Remember, midterms are in many ways a good thing. Get a study plan together, practice well, get feedback, and you will succeed!
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