Now that you’ve gotten some tips on how to sustain your motivation throughout finals weeks and maintain a pace that will help you perform your best, let’s get to part two of our series: managing your time during an actual exam. Law school professors (and bar examiners for that matter) tend to set for tight time limits on exams because writing under pressures requires you to know the law very well and forces you to think quickly. So, while it may initially seem like you have a long time to complete that four-hour exam, the minutes will fly by when you’re struggling with a complicated fact pattern or laboring over a difficult multiple choice question. Points-wise, it’s vital to spend a meaningful amount of time on each question posed, so good time management is an important test-taking skill. Use the strategies below to help you manage your time and maintain a steady pace throughout the exam:
Law school essay questions tend to be dense and laden with issues and sub-issues, so in an effort to be thorough, it can be easy to get caught up in answering just one question. Or, after scanning the questions, you may feel that you should put aside the more difficult questions and spend the majority of your effort answering the question that tests the concepts you know best. The better strategy, however, is to take note of the times allotted for each question (or the percentage that each question is worth) and stick to those limits as best you can. You generally need to garner a significant number of points from each section of the exam to do well, so it’s a mistake to devote all of your time to answering one question at the expense of the others, no matter how difficult they seem.
To help you stick to the time limits allotted for each question, check your progress every fifteen minutes or so. Typically, you’ll want to spend somewhere around 20-30% of the time allotted for the question reading the fact pattern and outlining your answer. While it may be tempting to jump straight into writing, creating a quick but complete, outline will help you write faster and in a more organized fashion. As you’re writing, make an effort to be concise and avoid statements that won’t earn you points, such as summarizing or restating facts without connecting them to analysis, repeating yourself, or fluffy transitional phrases. The grader will be looking for direct, straightforward issue spotting and legal analysis, so don’t worry if your writing isn’t particularly eloquent. If you reach a point where you’ve gotten ten minutes or so past the time allotted for a question, consider briefly outlining the remainder of your answer and moving on to the next portion of the exam. If you have time remaining, you can always complete it later.
Multiple Choice Exams
If you’re faced with a set of multiple choice questions on an exam, don’t worry too much about the number of minutes you have for each question. Instead, calculate the number of questions you need to complete every 10 minutes or so. Working at 10-minute intervals will be easier to keep track of and will accommodate the fact that some questions will take a little longer and some a little shorter. On multiple choice tests, it’s important to remember that each question is worth the same amount of points, so you don’t want to labor over a very difficult question for too long if it will prevent you from answering several of the easier questions. Put in your best effort to answer each question, but understand that there may be times when you simply need to make a guess and move on so that you have enough time to answer all of the questions.
Like the bar exam, many law school exams now contain an essay portion and a multiple choice portion. There are three strategies for determining the order in which you will tackle each portion of the exam – you can complete the longer portion first and save the shorter portion for last; you can complete the portion that you find the most difficult first, whether that’s essay or multiple choice; or you can complete the questions in the order presented on the test regardless of length or difficulty. The strategy that is best for you will depend on your preferences and strengths. If you struggle with writing, you may want to tackle the essay questions at the beginning, when you’re less mentally fatigued. If your exam has a couple of short answer questions but the bulk of the points are gained by completing a long multiple choice portion, you may want to start with the high-value multiple choice questions. Test out the different approaches by working through practice exams and then stick to your game plan during the actual test.
Test-taking time management is important to producing a good answer, but it can be difficult to achieve during a stressful exam environment. To keep an appropriate pace during an exam, use the tips above and be sure to incorporate the best strategy for improving your test-taking time management: completing as many practice tests as you can under timed conditions.
Check other helpful posts:
- Top Three Mistakes on Final Exams and How to Fix Them Now!
- Don’t Panic! Last Minute Tips for Final Exams
- The Three Most Important Things You Can Do as Exams Approach
- Tips for Surviving Law School Exam Anxiety
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