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Helpful Tips

  • The smartest thing I did while preparing for my 1L first-semester exams was ______.

    Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:

     

    After posting the thoughts on what makes a good exam from law professors around the country, the Wall Street Journal thought it prudent to post a sampling of students around the country answering the question: The smartest thing I did while preparing for my 1L first-semester exams was ______.

     

    Of course, some of these responses might strike you as obvious, others as insightful, others a combination of both.  The Wall Street Journal allowed folks to give names or submit anonymously if they so chose.

    In no particular order, here are a cross-section of responses:

    Rogan Nunn, 3L at UVA and an editor on the Virginia Law Review: By far the most useful thing I did when preparing for 1L exams was to round up a few people from the class and take old exams. Don’t just go through them, take them — pretend it’s the real thing, time limits and all. Then discuss answers. You’d be amazed how much you miss the first time. It can be time-consuming, but all the outlining in the world won’t save you if you can’t spot the issues on the fly.

    Anonymous 3L at Vanderbilt and a member of the Vanderbilt Law Review: For me, the smartest thing I did while studying for exams 1L year was to go through each entire course in successively shorter periods of time… . By successively shortening the amount of time spent thinking through the entire course, the goal was to be able to go quickly through and understand all the material in a couple of minutes — to see both the forest and the trees quickly for the entire course.

    Max Shifrin, 3L at Brooklyn and a member of Brooklyn Law Review: The most crucial thing to do as a 1L, in my opinion, is start outlining early in the semester and finish [your outlines] early enough to take as many practice exams as possible in real time… . [P]rofessors test the exact same things year in and year out. If you do enough exams, you’ll begin to see a pattern which will give you a huge advantage on exam day.

    Anonymous 2L at Columbia, member of the Columbia Law Review: The first time I saw what my Civil Procedure professor expected us to be able to do in three hours I almost had a nervous breakdown. But by taking practice exams and going over answers in a study group, I was able to get a better sense of the material that is frequently tested … . By test day I wasn’t intimidated anymore and could take comfort knowing there weren’t going to be any surprises.

    Anonymous 3L at Vanderbilt, member of the Vanderbilt Law Review: I made sure to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. The finals period is already an extremely stressful time, and it is most stressful as a 1L. There is no reason to add to this stress by staying up every night until 3 a.m. working; not only does it add to your stress level, it is not as if the extra hours “studying” are actually beneficial, given that your mind can only take so much studying per day before shutting down.

    Megan Murray, 2L at Iowa, member of the Iowa Law Review: [I wrote] out all the “rules” by hand. The act of writing slows your brain down enough to absorb the legal rules, and it gives you time to consider their implication. This is an especially helpful technique when legal rules come in the form of multi-part, or divergent tests. When you read these rules in your notes or type them out on your computer, the words come so quickly across the page that you don’t have time to really absorb and understand them. Writing them out gives your mind a chance to catch up with your keystrokes.

    Anonymous 3L at Berkeley, editor on the California Law Review: Perhaps the most important (and most difficult) advice is that you need to move on when the exam is over, either to prepping for your next exam, having a beer, or just generally getting on with your life. You might feel tempted to talk to your classmates about the exam, perhaps because you have nothing else to talk about (as your life of late was probably consumed with studying). Avoid this at all costs; at best you get affirmation in your answers (which could still be wrong), but at worst your start worrying that you missed something, which at this point is totally out of your control… . From my own experience and my friends, taking a law school exam can be defeating and leave students with the feeling that their days of studying were not properly translated to the answer they cranked out in three hours. Try your best not to dwell on those feelings.

     

    December 2, 2016 | Tags: exams 
  • What Makes a Good Law School Exam Answer? Law Profs Weigh In

    Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal Law Blog:

     

    What Makes a Good Law School Exam Answer? Law Profs Weigh In

     

    We checked in with a handful of professors around the country and asked them to complete the following sentence: “A good law exam answer is _______.”

    Of course, none of these responses will, alone, unlock the key to success. And an A exam to one might be a B plus to someone else. But taken collectively, they just might shed some light on what the Great Professoriate is looking for. So here goes.

     

    Heather Gerken, Yale: A good law exam answer is … evaluative. Too often, students walk through each answer as if all arguments are created equal. They don’t tell me which arguments are strong and which are weak, which facts matter and which don’t, which cases provide strong support for their claims and which ones are distinguishable. And they throw everything into the answer rather than think hard about what belongs and what doesn’t. Good lawyers don’t just know the substantive law; they also have good legal judgment. The mistake students make is not to exercise their own legal judgment in answering a question.

     

    Richard Friedman, Michigan: A good law exam answer … answers the question. Banal as that sounds, many students take the question as an excuse to write a canned answer on some area in which they’ve learned the black-letter law. I tell my students, “Imagine you’re riding down an elevator with a boss who knows the law and who has told you the facts but wants your help in advising the client. Don’t repeat the facts to him. Don’t tell him the law. Apply the law to the facts.”

     

    Eric Chiappinelli, Creighton: A good law exam answer … is one that does more than tells me what the law is (more or less well) and applies the law to the facts (more or less well) and then stops. The other 90 anonymous answers will do that. You should do two additional things: Tell me up front what the question really turns on – a choice between two applicable rules? Deciding what a particular word or phrase should mean? Then, at the end, give me your opinion of whether the result is good or fair or just. Cutting to the heart of a question immediately and expressing a value judgment about the result are what separate the A’s from the C’s.

     

    Paul Secunda: Marquette: A good law exam answer … gets to maybe. By that I mean that too many law students have an undergraduate mentality and seek to figure out the one “right” answer for the question. The point of the law school exam is not necessarily to test for right and wrong answers, but to see whether the student is utilizing critical reasoning skills to understand all the possible issues that the question presents. The more you arrive at a “maybe” in your law exam, the more likely you are seeing all the sides of the question in your answer and will then receive the most exam points.”

     

    Adam Winkler, UCLA: A good law exam answer … is rigorous and deep. By rigorous, I mean it references every applicable standard, test, and burden; analyzes every appropriate “branch” in the decision tree; and follows a sound logical structure. By deep, I mean it argues — not just concludes — how the legal rules apply to the facts; analogizes and distinguishes the most relevant cases; and addresses the best counterarguments. There is no “right” answer. It’s all about the argument.

    December 1, 2016 | Tags: exams 
  • 10 Stress Busters

    10 Stress Busters

     

    Tis’ the season for stress.  Consider using the following quick tips to lower stress:

    • Try not to procrastinate.  The longer you put off a task, the more onerous it becomes.  Stress builds as the guilt builds.  Stress builds as the deadline gets closer and time runs out. 
    • Do practice exams.  Your stress will be greater if you have done very few practice questions.  Practice questions ahead of the exam allow you to monitor your understanding of the content, apply the content to new fact scenarios, practice exam-taking strategies, and practice some questions under timed conditions.
    • Do your hardest or least liked task first.  That way it will not hang over you all day and increase your stress.
    • Break down any task into smaller steps.  It is less stressful to contemplate reading just one case than to approach 35 pages of reading for a course.  After the first case, contemplate just the second case, and so forth.
    • Learn just two or three rules at a time.  Memory will work better when not overloaded.  Your stress will go down as you succeed in remembering smaller amounts of material at one time.
    • Ask for help.  If you hit a wall on understanding a concept, ask a classmate or professor for assistance.  Stress increases dramatically when you stubbornly keep on struggling alone with only frustration as payoff.
    • Plan now so that you don’t oversleep for your exams.  Are you like me?  Can you hit the snooze button seven times before waking up?  Plan now to set multiple alarms.  Have a friend and a family member call you in the morning to make sure you are awake.  And finally, get 8 hours of sleep before each exam.
    • Plan now so that you don’t run out of time on the exams.  It is important to finish all questions on the exam.  Having to rush to finish increases stress.  Distribute your time wisely by making a time chart as soon as the exam begins.  Note the times that you must begin and end questions.  For each fact-pattern-essay question, divide the amount of time for that question between reading, analyzing, and organizing (1/3) and writing (2/3).  For multiple-choice questions, determine time checkpoints and the number of questions you must complete by that time (for example, 15 after 1/2 hour; 30 after 1 hour; 45 after 1 1/2 hours; 60 after 2 hours). 
    • List four things you plan to do for fun during semester break.  Read the list often.  You will be less stressed knowing you have things to look forward to once exams are over. 
    • Go to the movies.  Sitting in a dark movie theater watching an enjoyable film allows you to get completely away from the law school grind and escape into another existence.

    Manage your stress so that it does not manage you.  The sooner you implement stress busters into your regimen, the more likely you can prevent stress from getting out of hand.

    November 28, 2016 | Tags: stress 

 This page will be updated with tips and helpful suggestions for your 1L year. Please check back after orientation for updates.