Friday, April 13, 2012

Preparing for Finals

We're in the home stretch of this semester.  For One-Ls, almost all of your classes were year long.  This means there is added pressure to either improve or stay at the top of the class.  With this increasing pressure it is vital to go into exam-prep mode with an "attack plan."  You know your learning style and strengths best, but here are some tips to make a successful attack plan:

  • Test Prep:
    • Apply the "Study Cycle" to Exam Prep-just like during the normal parts of the year, you should be utilizing the law school study cycle.  The law school study cycle normally consists of: prep for class/take notes in class, review class notes, update outlines, take exams, adjust outline accordingly.  The exam version of this cycle will be slightly condensed after your reading assignments are complete:
  1. Consult Notes/Update Outline-by now your outline should be mostly updated.  Close to exams you should be fine-tuning it by going through your class notes to add any insights your professor gave during class, or add examples or tips to help you write an exam.
  2. Take Practice Exams and Assess-toward the beginning of exam prep it's okay to do practce exams with the outline in front of you.  By the week before exams you should stop using the outline to ensure you've retained the information.  Once you have completed a practice exam, review the model answer.  Take note of any rules you had wrong, any organizational structure you were off on, or where your analysis was off. 
  3. Adjust Outline-based on your self assessment, go back and change your outline.  This is as simple as hand-writing the fix on the already printed page or editing it on the computer.
  4. Go Back to Step 1-By the time you've done a few practice exams, your outline should be very comprehensive and your performance on the exams should improve!
    • Print out your outline for Professor/TA Review Sessions-Having an updated, close to complete outline when walking into a review session will make you that much more calm.  That way you can actually listen to the review and make small edits or changes to your organization.  Another tip for review sessions is to highlight or mark places on your outlines where you have questions.  That way, when the reviewer gets to that topic you will be reminded to raise your hand to get the clarification you need.

  • Test Day:
    • Be Confident-Ideally, walking into an exam you should be relaxed and ready for whatever issues the professor throws at you.  In reality you will most likely be stressed out and nervous but since it's expected it shouldn't throw you.  Combat those nerves with the knowledge that you've studied hard, taken several practice exams, and are prepared.
    • Outline before writing-several students will not listen to this advice and will immediately start writing.  Don't let this freak you out!  In your head you will believe that what they're writing is pure gold.  In reality the people writing are just as nervous as you are and are making the mistake of not organizing their thoughts before answering the question.  Take 25% of the time alotted to outline.  Put your issues in order, include the facts you plan to use, and make sure you aren't missing any issues before you begin typing!
    • If you know you're running out of time outline the rest-odds are there will be an exam you don't finish.  Certain subjects have exams that are known as "race horse" exams.  You usually are not expected to finish writing a thorough analysis on 20-30 issues in an hour and a half.  However, you ARE expected to spot all of the issues.  This means that when you realize you won't finish, at the 5 minute call, outline the rest of the issues.  If you have time throw in the rule statements and a few facts so your professor knows that you spotted the issue and that you recognized the facts that triggered the issue.
    • Avoid discussing the exam after the fact-for your own sanity please resist the urge to discuss the exam immediately after it's over.  This leads to unneeded stress.  What's done is done at that point. You can't change anything.  If you're the person that messed up then you'll feel terrible.  If you're the person telling everyone how great you did you'll come off smug.  Either role is not good, so just don't do it!

  • After your last exam:
    • Enjoy summer!-unless you plan on getting your LLM, the years you have in law school will be the last time you can enjoy "summer break."  CHERISH THIS TIME.  You never get to enjoy being young (or young at heart) with ample amounts of free time in the summer ever again. Decompress and enjoy!  Even if you're taking summer school or interning, your schedule will be much lighter than during the fall and spring semesters.