Every law student starts the semester with the best of intentions. They’ll attend every class, always complete their reading, outline, and review throughout the semester, and work through practice problems before finals week. Those are great goals, and you should certainly aspire to that type of consistent and methodical studying throughout the semester. But with the end of the semester approaching, some students will start realizing that their reality doesn’t match the plans they made at the beginning of the term.
If you find yourself in a situation where finals exams are only days away, but you haven’t been preparing throughout the semester, it’s probably time for some final exam triage. Well, I definitely don’t recommend this course of study, if you find yourself in a situation where you have to cram a semester’s worth of preparation into just a few shorts days, here are some tips to help you maximize the time you have left.
Final exam triage requires you to prioritize your classes and prioritize the subjects you devote your limited study time to. First, think about how your classes will impact your G.P.A. A four credit doctrinal law course is going to have a bigger impact than a two credit seminar. You should certainly spend some time studying for all of your final exams, but you’ll probably want to allocate more time to the classes that are worth more credit. Second, for each course, think about which concepts are most likely to be tested. You may not have time to learn all the details and nuances of every rule covered in the class, but you can at least learn the basics of the major concepts. Knowing enough to coherently discuss the major areas of law that were covered probably won’t be enough to get you an A, but hopefully it will be enough to get you through the class.
Get a Good Commercial Outline
If you’re in last-minute finals crisis mode, you probably haven’t made a comprehensive course outline and you definitely don’t have enough time to make one now. It’s almost always easier to understand and remember a study aid that you’ve made yourself, but at a time like this you have to make compromises. Ask around to find out if there are any commercial outlines that is particularly helpful for the specific classes you are taking. A commercial outline won’t be tailored to your class or the way your professor likes to cover topics, but it will give you the basics that you need to know. Commercial outlines can be pretty long, so as your reviewing it, remember tip 1 above and be sure to focus on the major topics that are most likely to be tested. Then, review, review, review! Do your best to memorize the rules, but also, to the extent you can in the time you have left, make an effort to comprehend the rules and how they apply.
Make an Issue Checklist
Although you may not have time to make a complete outline for each class, you should have time to make an issue checklist (a.k.a mini-outline, skeletal outline, etc.) An issue checklist is a one-page document that lists the concepts and sub-concepts covered in the class. The concepts should be listed in a logical order and in the proper hierarchy. This document should contain a complete list of all the potential issues that could show up on an exam. An issue checklist typically won’t include a recitation of the relevant rules, but it will give you the big picture view of the class and help you see the structure you should use when analyzing potential exam problems. Compared to comprehensive outlines, issue checklists don’t take long to create or to memorize, so they are a particularly great study aid to make when you’re cramming at the last minute.Complete at Least One Practice Problem
Complete at Least One Practice Problem
If you don’t have time to complete multiple practice exams going into finals, try to complete at least one comprehensive practice problem for each class. Completing a single problem shouldn’t take more than about 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the complexity of the problem, but it can pay huge dividends in terms of preparation for the actual exam. Completing practice problems, even just one, will give you experience analyzing the types of problems you’re likely to see tested and will help you see which topics you know, and which topics you don’t. If you have the time, work through more practice problems and review any previous exams your professor has made available.
Procrastination is the enemy of law school success, so I highly discourage you from waiting until the last minute to start preparing for final exams. But, if you find yourself in a situation where exams are right around the corner and you don’t feel prepared, the tips above might help you salvage your grade in the class. Beyond that, if you’re cramming for final exams, get ready for some long study sessions and hope that your professor is an easy grader! Once exams are over, make a plan to prevent procrastination for the next semester.
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