Welcome to reading week! Once classes end, an ominous “this is it” sort of ambiance can start to creep into most law schools. You’ve covered all the material you’re going to cover. You don’t have any more “homework,” and yet, things might seem scarier than ever.
You probably haven’t left the library in what seems like days, or maybe you’re barricaded in your room at home. However you decide to spend the next week or two, there are some important “do’s” and “don’ts” you should be thinking about to make sure you’re going into exams as ready and able as possible, and not wasting time unnecessarily.
DON’T: Spend equal time and effort on all subjects in all classes. Some of them don’t deserve as much time as others.
DO: Apportion your time according to how important a topic is. How much time did you spend on it in class? How much reading did you do on this issue? Try making a list of all the subjects you’ve covered in each class, and then reorganize them in order of importance (one list for each class). You might be doing some guessing, but if you take the cues from your Professor and how much she and the readings emphasized each one, you probably won’t be too far off. If you have limited time, study topics in order of importance.
DON’T: Go back and re-read cases. Save time and get what you’re looking for somewhere else.
DO: Read a supplement that discusses the case, review your lecture notes for the days when the case was discussed, or try to figure out the bottom line take-away point of the case by asking a classmate (or your Professor if you still have access to office hours). You don’t have time to slog through a bunch of dense court opinions. The most important thing right now is being able to remember and use a case if you see a situation in a fact pattern that triggers its application. Reading the case again won’t help much with this. Finding and reviewing the rule from the case and doing more hypos will.
DON’T: Continue doing practice exams in a way that doesn’t mimic the real test.
DO: Take a look at how each of your exams is structured. Are there always three issue-spotter essays? Are you allowed to use notes or not? Will you have exactly three hours? If you’re not doing timed, practice essays right now, you should be. Same thing with closed-book practice if your finals are closed-book. The days when untimed, open-book essays or multiple choice practice would actually help you are coming to a close now. That is for when you are still learning. Now, you should be focusing on quality of performance, accuracy, and exam time management. You need to get up to speed as soon as possible with how fast the time allocated to your exam is going to go by. Use a stop watch. Cut yourself off. Be ruthless with yourself about the time and materials allowed—you know your exam proctors will be.
DON’T: Gloss over a few difficult topics and just “hope they don’t show up on the exam.”
DO: Consider how relatively important these topics are in relation to everything else you’ve learned in the class (see above). Then, try your best to come up with some rules you could use if you saw these topics in an exam question. Ask yourself what kinds of facts might trigger this issue in a fact pattern or multiple choice question, and at least give it some thought. It’s important you are able to identify and potentially have something to say about every topic you’ve learned—just in case.
DON’T: Passively read your outline for hours at a time instead of doing practice problems.
DO: Write as many hypos as you can. You can only get so good at tennis by watching tennis. If you actually jump in and try playing tennis, you will have a much better idea of where you stand and what you need to work on. Same thing with hypos. If you haven’t done any yet, or if you have only done a few, what are you waiting for? Students who wait to practice writing out a commerce clause analysis or figure out their framework for homicide until they get into the exam room usually end up with a disaster on their hands. Practice your attack plans and analysis now.
DON’T: Just do the practice and skimp on the review.
DO: Focus as much if not more time on reviewing the essays and multiple choice questions you practice. I get it, it’s easy to skim through your answers and check off what you got and what you didn’t. Does this help you learn how to improve, though? Probably not. Remember, the goal of practice isn’t just to do it. The goal of practice is to learn something that you can put in the skill set bank and pull out later when it counts. The whole point is to help yourself improve. Spend time reviewing your practice answers and don’t forget to ask yourself the tough questions: Why did I miss this issue? What facts were giving me clues about it? What is the right answer? Where can I look for help figuring this out? How can I practice this again to make sure I really get it?
DON’T: Give yourself a panic attack.
DO: Practice methods for calming yourself down in one minute or less in the exam room. If you start feeling anxious as you sit there in the library staring at a fact pattern you can’t figure out, recognize this is a great opportunity to try out some calm-down tactics and salvage your exam. Take some deep breaths, focus on what the call of the question is asking you to do. Make a checklist of all the topics you’ve learned in your class and go through them by process of elimination if you have to. Come up with a strategy you can use if you start feeling panicked during the real test.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- It’s Almost Finals! Are You Getting the Most of Your Study Time?
- Five Steps for Setting Up a Final Exam Study Schedule
- Do You Know When and Where Your Exams Are?
- Can You Fake it Till You Make it With Law School Exams?
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