All schools, not just law schools, have been forced into online models. This poses serious questions about testing and how that transition can be made fairly. Students used to traditional closed-book exams, are now facing the prospect of exams given over an extended period of time from the comfort of their homes. This change accepts the likelihood students will rely on notes and materials while taking that extended time exam. We’re looking at some common questions that may come up around this topic.
1. What skills and strategies transfer over from closed-book preparation?
The short answer is everything! The mistake many students make is thinking they should prepare differently for a take home or open book exam. The reality is you should still continue to work on your outlines, adding to them on a regular basis. You should also prepare attack outlines. This will help you integrate concepts more efficiently in your head. Finally, keep taking practice exams, maybe making adjustments for the change by relying on your attack outline during that practice exam, and only going to the bigger outline once you have completed a draft.
However, consider that now the quality of your writing will be given more scrutiny. If you are weak in your use of IRAC, or your analysis fails to use a lot of facts or raise counterarguments, you may not get by because you recognized all the issues and provided really good rule statements. Your answer now has to reflect the larger amount of time you were given rather than something you raced through to complete in an hour or two.
2. What changes to studying and preparing would you recommend when making the transition to open book?
You must work on the quality of your IRAC. If all your exams before this semester were of the three-hour variety, then bad grammar and thin analysis was often overlooked and excused because of the pressures of time. On a take home exam, you will now have the luxury of time to issue-spot, organize (aka outline) your response, write it out, then edit. Think about it: did you ever edit any of your final essay answers beyond a sentence or two?
So, in answering this question, the modifications to studying and preparing for the exam should not be the focus. You should prepare as you always have, memorizing the law and recognizing how issues might be raised in new fact patterns. The changes you make should be in how you practice and actually write these take home exams. Because you are given a longer period of time, there will be an expectation that your answers will have an attention to detail, good content, and style.
3. What would you recommend considering in advance, as well as during the exam, to move up the curve?
If you know the law cold, as you would if you were preparing for a closed book exam, then you will have all that time to concentrate on the quality of your presentation. You can almost bet there will be students who are going to rely on the fact they will have all their materials before them, so why would there be a need to memorize everything. While this might be true for the exact phrasing of a rule statement, if you have not fully studied the subject matter involved, you are likely to miss those nuances that raise a really good counterargument, garnering you some extra points.
The best thing you could do is to continue to study the way you have always studied. The recommended changes you need to make are in the way you write the exam answer and the quality of your analysis.
4. What strategies or advice do you have for using the 24-hour time window most effectively?
You must now think about how you are going to use your time strategically. First consider how much time you will actually spend on this one particular exam. Set aside time for eating meals, taking a walk (or some other form of exercise), and sleeping (depending on when you get the exam). Split up the remaining time according to how many fact patterns you have been assigned. For each fact pattern devote a block of time, then break these blocks into three parts.
During the first block of time for each fact pattern, read the question, spot the issues, and create a thorough outline. During this time, also consult your attack outline and even go to the larger outline if you feel the need. Before moving on, make sure your exam outline is well organized.
During the second block of time, rely on your outline and write the answer. Make sure your IRAC is tight and complete, incorporate counterarguments and use as many facts from the fact pattern as you can. You can consult you attack outline or the larger outline if you feel the need, but if you really did create a thorough exam outline before, the need to do this should be minimal.
Finally, edit your answer. Make sure your grammar is correct, and your sentences flow logically from one point to the next. Complete this essay, then move on to the next one. Don’t plan to go back – your mind needs to focus only on the next one. Start all over again on that new fact pattern.
In the end, how you study should not change. Don’t get drawn in thinking that a deep knowledge of the subject matter is not needed. Instead focus on how you write the exam – move from a “sprint” model to one that is more like a “marathon.”
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