During this time of the year, I am spending a lot of time with students who are getting ready for finals. And there is one consistent message they hear from me — especially given that many are just days or weeks away from their first exam:
Yes, practice. It is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do as part of your exam prep. Why? Well, students typically hate to practice. It is uncomfortable and frustrating.
Excuses Law Students Have For Not Practicing
Here are some common excuses for why students don’t practice:
(1) You can’t practice because you haven’t learned the law well enough. This is just not true. Remember that outline that you have been working so hard on (or, even if you are in crunch mode and have only recently completed an outline — that outline that you did prepare)? It has (or should have) all the black letter law you need. It should also have attack plans to help you with the analytical structure you should be using for your answers. So you don’t need to have “learned all the law” or even “have it all memorized.” You just need to have a good outline so you can use it to practice.
(2) You are still working on your outline. This is not a valid excuse! Many students feel like they are still refining their outline at this point in the semester. You know how you know if you need to refine your outline? Try using it to answer a question!
For example, today I got an email from a student who had just done her first practice question. Here is part of her email:
First, I don’t think that my outline is helpful for studying or practicing. I really struggled with how to answer the questions because I couldn’t figure out what to include from my outline.
This is such a common realization for students! She now knows that she needs to simplify and make her outline more conducive to exam preparation. And she has time to do that before finals. But what if she hadn’t practiced? Would she even know this yet?
You have already read about the importance of simplifying your outline so you can memorize the material or reference it for an open book exam. Practicing actually allows you to determine what needs to be in the outline and to test to make sure your outline is complete and easy to use.
(3) There is too much to memorize and learn, so I don’t have time to practice. This just cannot be the reality! You will be wise to realize that practicing is a form of active learning. And that means it is one of the best ways you can study and test yourself on the material. You are actually memorizing while you are practicing. So use the practice as a study tool.
You Can’t Skip the Dress Rehersal
Practicing is the “dress rehearsal” of law school exams. You would never go on stage without having practiced the whole show through before opening night. If athletic analogies are better for you, you practice for an athletic event for weeks (even months) leading up to a competition.
So why do we think we can put off practicing for an exam? It is just not that different than any other “performance.” You practice so you can get it right on exam day!
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