With your first semester of law school behind you, it can be easy to forget to reflect and reevaluate your performance in the Fall semester. Critical self-evaluation is not easy, but it is essential to success in law school. However, most grades are not released to students until mid to late January, which further complicates the ability of students to find time to review. Additionally, the intensity of law school increases substantially in your second semester, and it is easy to get bogged down keeping up with your current assignments. Do not fall for this trap!
Many students forgo reviewing their past exams falsely believing there is not much value in analyzing “last semester’s materials.” This ignores the fact that the best predictor of future performance in law school is past performance. You are not doomed if you underperformed in the first semester, but it does mean you are likely to repeat that performance without an adjustment to your approach to law school. Reviewing your exams is a critical component to adapting your strategy.
You need to have a strategy on how to approach your review, and I recommend emphasizing the below points in your review:
1) Rule and Issue Spotting Accuracy
Because most law schools do not test on material from the Fall semester on the Spring exams, it can be easy to overlook reviewing the accuracy of your issue spotting and rule statements. However, this is short sighted because failing to correct misunderstanding in rules or misidentifying issues will have serious consequences when you begin studying for the bar exam. You will be behind everyone else because you will need additional time to master these concepts.
Second, and more immediately, failing to recognize incorrect rules statements or failing to spot a major issue are mistakes that you are likely to repeat on your future exams without a course correction. When you took a final exam, you didn’t purposefully use the wrong rule, but something in your preparation manifested this mistake.
Perhaps you didn’t memorize all the exceptions? Perhaps your outline was too broad and failed to include the exception you needed? Perhaps you simply misread the facts on the exam? Understanding why you used the wrong rule is equally important to understanding why the correct rule applied to the situation on the exam. This is an issue you will want to address immediately so that you can course correct for your second semester exams.
2) IRAC Structure
IRAC structure is the backbone of legal writing and the sooner you master this concept, the higher you will score on your exams/legal writing assignments going forward. On exams, the limitations on time and word count combined with the general pressure/anxiety of the room create barriers to performing well. Please understand that these barriers are not related to your understanding of legal writing or the rules but are related to your ability to write under exam specific circumstances.
Common mistakes on first year exams include providing rule explanations in your analysis paragraphs, failing to include conclusions for every sub issue, and sometimes even missing issue or rule statements completely. While these errors may seem trivial, organization and precision are vital to a high scoring law school exam. Remember, your professor grades 80+ versions of the same answer. Some professors are generous with points, and some professors will ignore valid rules/arguments if they are not located in the appropriate section.
In law school, you must write with the target audience in mind; adhering to IRAC structure is important because it is the shared characteristic in all legal writing regardless of the circumstances of the writing. Mastery of this concept is critical to repeatedly beating the curve on your law school exams.
3) Comparison to the Point Sheet (if available)
If you are feeling confident about your performance regarding the first two review points, the next area to review can feel tedious, but it is critical to doing well on exams.
First year law students are often shocked at how many easy points are left unearned during an exam. For example, most professors will give you a 1 point or half point for including a conclusion on every issue and important sub-issue. If there are 15 critical issues to discuss on an exam, there were at least 7.5 easy points you could earn simply by writing: “therefore, the element is/is not met.” Did you maximize your score by earning all these easy points?
Particularly for students looking to improve around the margins, comparing your exam to an available score sheet will illustrate where you may have missed these easy points.
Additionally, you will want to review the score sheet to understand what the professor prioritizes. The score sheet may allocate more points to counter arguments, or policy arguments, or raise/dismiss issues. Each exam is unique and reviewing the scoresheet will give you clear insight into what is important to the professors. Also, remember to set an appointment to meet with your professor to answer any questions you may have.
Finally, don’t forget to review both your positive and disappointing results. Often, I meet with students who aced a first semester exam but received a disappointing grade on second semester exams because of overconfidence. Failure to review why the student did well is often the main reason the student did not do as well in the Spring. Consistent success in law school requires students to review their exams, modify their study strategies, and adapt to be even more efficient and effective as a law student.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.