Obviously this isn’t an ideal situation to be in, but it might be possible to avoid an exam disaster. Here are a few tips:
5 Tips for Avoiding a Law School Exam Disaster
Keep one thing in mind — you’re not aiming for an A+ in this scenario. Applied correctly, these suggestions can help you avoid disaster, but I can’t recommend them in normal circumstances, necessarily.
- Gather the right materials. This is not the time to be consulting your casebook! Get one commercial outline, one solid old outline for the class, and all the practice exams (and answers) you can find for the class. You don’t have time to look at anything else, so don’t.
- Make a two-page outline of the entire class. I suggest doing this by hand, but you can do it on the computer if you really want to. The goal is to capture most of the major topics that might show up on the exam. The easiest place to start is typically your course syllabus. Write all major topics down on the allotted two pages and fill in the basic legal rules for each topic (consulting your sources as necessary). Then, if you have space, fill in the legal rules for major subtopics. Repeat until you run out of space. Then stop.
- Read every practice exam you can find for this professor/class. The best way to predict what’s going to show up is by reviewing what showed up in the past. Read every old exam and answer, looking for patterns. As you read, make a list of the topics and subtopics that have been tested. Compare this list to your two-page outline above. Add anything important that’s missing (you can use one more page for this, but that’s it).
- Take every practice exam you have time for. The only way to figure out what you don’t know is to take practice exams and compare your answers to the sample answer. Yes, it’s painful to write an exam answer where you barely know what you’re talking about, but better to do it now before the exam. Your goal is to develop (and memorize, if you have a closed book exam) a basic framework for most of the topics that might show up.
- Keep it simple. As you write, pay careful attention to IRAC. I’m not convinced that’s always the best way to write a law school exam answer, but it’s very good in this scenario. If you identify most major issues, write down the relevant legal rules, and do a semi-decent analysis in a structured, coherent manner, you’re likely to end up in the middle of the curve (or higher!). Focus on identifying and developing attack plans for major issues, and make your answer easy to read and grade. Headers and clear writing are your friend here!
Whatever you do, don’t waste time beating yourself up over the situation. Sure, you probably could have done a better job over the course of the semester, but that’s something to reflect on later after you’ve salvaged things as much as you can!
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Have you done okay on a law school exam when you were really unprepared? Share your tips!
Taking exams? Here are some posts you might find helpful:
- How to Recover from a Bad Law School Exam Experience
- The Three Most Important Things You Can Do as Exams Approach
- You Have an Exam on Monday. What Should You Be Doing This Weekend?
- Are You in Law School Crisis Mode? Here’s How to Get Out
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