Even if you are a first year law student, you are now far enough along in your legal education that you need to start outlining the law for your substantive courses and taking practice exams. Below are three tools to make sure that you are on track to have your outlines and practice exams done in time to be well prepared for your midterm and final exams:
Tool #1: Your Course Syllabus
The first thing you need to find out is if you are having a midterm exam, and if so, the date of that exam. If the midterm is not listed in your syllabus, ask your law professor if there will be a midterm. If so, ask for the date of the midterm and what material listed in the syllabus the midterm will cover.
Most law professors will be very upfront with this information. Occasionally you will encounter a law professor who says something like, “I don’t know what material will be included on the midterm (or final) because I don’t know how far we will get.” If this happens, count how many class meetings there are until the date of the midterm (or final), and assume that each class will cover one entry listed on the syllabus. If the professor jumps ahead or falls behind on the syllabus, you can adjust your study schedule accordingly.
Tool #2: A Calendar App With Different Views and a Reminder Function
You need a good calendar app so that you can create your study schedule and send yourself reminders of what you need to do. You also need the calendar app to display your schedule in daily, weekly and monthly formats so that you can compare where you are in your studying to where you need to be. You will use your calendar app to create your study schedule backwards, starting from the date of your midterm (use your final exam if you will not have a midterm in your course).
First, insert the date of your midterm. You should plan to complete three practice exams in each subject prior to your midterm, and three practice exams in each subject between your midterm and your final, for a total of six practice exams per subject. The last practice exam should be the week before the midterm, the penultimate practice exam should be two weeks before the midterm, etc.
Be sure to schedule an appointment with your professors to go over your first practice exam in each subject, so that you can get feedback on your efforts and use that feedback to improve your grades. When you are meeting with your professor to go over your first practice exam answer, chances are that your first practice exam answer will not be perfect. Ask your professor if he would be willing to review a rewrite of your first practice exam. If so, make sure you rewrite your practice exam promptly and schedule a follow up appointment with your professor. If your professors are willing to review more than one practice exam, fantastic! Have your professors review as many practice exams as possible.
Some law students may feel inhibited about asking their professors to give them feedback on practice exam answers. In reality, most professors are delighted that a law student wants feedback on a practice exam. Do schedule feedback sessions early enough in the semester that your professor will have the ability to spend a good amount of time going over your practice exam with you. The week before an examination is generally not a good time to have a professor go over a practice exam with you because professors tend to be swamped with student meetings during these weeks.
Second, for each midterm and practice exam you schedule, create a weekly reminder so that you know exactly where you are and exactly what you need to do in your study schedule.
Finally, insert an appointment to outline what was covered in class as soon after each class as possible. It’s best to do your outlining immediately after class so that the material you have covered is still fresh in your mind.
Tool #3: A Good Commercial Outline
Let’s face it: some law professors are extremely organized brilliant teachers, and others are not. In addition, some law professors believe that it is their job to “hide the ball”, i.e. present the law in as a confusing manner as possible and thus force law students to organize a random mass of legal rules into a coherent body of law.
The number one reason to use a good commercial outline is to help you see the big picture organizational structure of a particular body of law. The outline will also contain black letter law and explanations of various cases and policies. Be careful with the black letter law, policies and cases in a commercial outline. Only include those cases, rules and policies that your law professor has covered in class or assigned in the readings. Some law professors become irritated when they see students citing legal rules or cases or policies in a law student’s exam answer that the professor did not cover in class or include in the reading assignments.
If you take your course syllabus and add a good calendar app and a good commercial outline, you have a collection of superb organizational tools to help you perform your best on law school exams.
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