There are two words you will hear over and over again when you begin law school: “outlines,” and “finals.” These words strike fear into every first semester 1Ls’ hearts. At least, they did for my class. From the moment school started, I felt like I was behind on outlining. It took me until my second time taking the bar to truly understand what outlining is, and why it is so helpful.
Before I get into why it’s important to prepare for finals early, let me give a brief overview of outlining.
In school, you are given a lot of cases to read. You’ll find that it’s easiest to remember them if you break them up into case files. Outlining is the art of organizing all that law and facts into smaller nuggets that are easy to remember and regurgitate on the exam if they relate to a particular issue. Everyone will find a different way to outline that works for them. Some of my classmates could only outline with notecards, others had to type them out. My style depended on the class, the final, and the professor, and usually changed multiple times per class before I figured out what worked best for me in that moment.
So, now that you know what outlining is, let’s jump into the two biggest reasons why you should prepare for finals early.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Learning everything about the law is not only impossible, its actually negligent. Laws change all the time and part of being a lawyer is doing the due diligence to ensure your client is abiding by the exact law at the time you are working on the case. You cannot expect to cram for a law school final. It’s just not possible – I’ve tried. Learning the law well is like training for a marathon. You don’t go out and run 26.2 miles without spending at least 16 weeks doing training runs multiple times a week. It’s the same with studying for a law school final – you have to study a little bit every day so that the information becomes engrained in your brain and you can use it to answer the particular question you are asked.
I wish I had implemented this during school better. I tended to wait until finals week to actually draft an outline. I studied quite a bit during the semester but waiting until the last minute to do the outline only helped me review. I did well in school, but if I had had my outlines done ahead of time and could have spent those precious days practicing essays or multiple choice questions, I would have done even better. (I should plug in here that I did do this for the bar exam the second time, and it worked like a charm.)
Starting your final exam study schedule early means that when classes are finally out, you can spend that time practicing essay questions or multiple choice questions. Being able to practice questions ahead of time has been shown to reduce test anxiety. While you won’t ever know for certain which topics a professor will choose to cover on their exam, you will have an idea of how to approach answering different kinds of questions. And the act of practicing law school final exams will bleed into your bar exam prep where practicing essay questions and multiple-choice problems beforehand is a must.
My Miscellaneous Finals Tips
Figure Out What You Can Bring into an Exam
This one isn’t a reason why you should study early but figuring out ahead of time if your exam is closed or open book can be really helpful in easing some anxiety. It also helps you prepare better. For instance, if I had a closed book exam, I would make an outline and/or create notecards to memorize from, and I would practice essay questions without using my notes so I could get a feel for exam day. But if I had an open note exam, I would create as large an outline as allowed (some teachers have caps for how long your outlines can be) and annotate it with memory tricks or examples as I studied and practiced. Also, the professors who have open note exams usually limit that to an outline, but some go as far as to say everything is allowed except for commercial outlines (and others allow whatever you want).
Outline Your Essay Answers Before You Start Typing
Learning to outline an essay answer before putting pen to paper (or finger to keys) helps you organize your thoughts, keeps you from running off on a tangent, and shows you how many issues you are going to hit. Most of the time, I spent the first twenty minutes of the exam outlining every single essay question. It gave me the ability to see which essays had more issues and ultimately decided how long I spent writing out my answer.
Study How You Study
There’s this idea in law school that if you aren’t doing what everyone else is doing, you won’t pass. But the reality is, if you spend all that time you are spending worrying about everyone else and just study the way you study, you’ll do much better. My mantra through school and the bar was always: if I’ve done everything I can to achieve this goal, then I can’t fault myself for what happens. If you take the time to figure out how you study best, and then implement those tactics, when exam scores come out you can’t blame yourself for what happens. And more than likely, you’ll kick that exam’s butt because you’ve stayed true to yourself and done your best.
Preparing for finals early will help ease test anxiety in more ways than one. It will also encourage you to study throughout the semester, which will boost your class participation scores, encourage you to raise your hand in class, and ensure you’re learning the correct material for the exam.
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