What are the three most important things you can do?
Oh, you wanted to something complicated?
Why Simplicity is the Key
By the end of a law school class, you should be able to capture the entire course on no more than two sheets of paper. And I don’t mean 6 point font, crammed with a bunch of cryptic abbreviations. I mean normal writing, real words, and so on.
(You should also be able to explain the key concepts to your grandmother, but that’s a separate discussion.)
Where Law Students Often Go Wrong
It’s tempting as a law student to think you’ll only do well on your exams if you capture every single thing that your professor ever said, or the court ever discussed. This isn’t true.
Your goal is to have a thorough understanding of the course material, so you can ask the right questions, in the right order. While a lot of what your professor said is useful to remember, it’s only useful in context!
If you don’t have that basic framework — the two page structure — knowing a bunch of trivia about policy arguments and who dissented in which case isn’t going to help.
How to Simplify Things
Where ever you are in your law school exam preparations, do this today. Get out two pages for each class, and write down the most important points you’ve learned so far.
Don’t stress out over this task, but keep the result nearby. When something else REALLY important comes up, add it to the page. If you run out of space, get two fresh pieces of paper, and start over, eliminating the parts that you now recognize aren’t as critical.
If you do this for the next few days or weeks, you’ll have a finely honed checklist/flowchart/cheat sheet/whatever (any of these are fine ways to structure your notes) when you head into your exam.
If it’s a closed-book exam, memorize everything on these pages. If it’s open book, memorize most of it, and take with with you as a reference (put it where you can see it, and use it to look for relevant issues).
Oh, and One Other Thing
Okay, if you really made me pick one additional thing that matters: Practice. Start today, and don’t stop until the buzzer rings on your last exam.
It’s not much fun, but you’ll get better quickly. Better to do the “getting better” part BEFORE your first exam, not after.
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