With finals on the horizon, nightmares from last semester’s exams may be haunting you. Or if this is your first round of law school exams (hello spring starters), you may be in full-out panic mode over what to expect. Breathe. You have all of the tools you need to succeed. You just have to commit yourself to preparing. Below are 8 tips for navigating law school exams with as much ease as possible.
1. Start Early & Create a Study Plan
When it comes to preparing for law school exams, the childhood tale of the tortoise and the hare provides a good lesson: slow and steady. Take your time digesting and consolidating the information that you’ve learned over the course of the semester, rather than trying to cram right before the exam. In other words, if you haven’t begun preparing, start now. One way to stay on top of your work is to create a study plan. Pull up a calendar, and schedule specific times for your various study goals. First, allocate sufficient time for your current class workload. Then slot times to focus on big-picture finals preparation for each class. A schedule will help keep you accountable and organized so you distribute your time appropriately. Once classes are complete, you can create a plan focusing solely on finals preparation.
2. Study Your Way
It’s hard not to succumb to the hype when everyone around you is buzzing with study fears and advice. But you’ve gotten this far and know what study tools work best for you, so don’t doubt yourself. For some people, outlining is their go-to study tool, but others do better with flash cards. Some work great in a large study group, while others find more success with one study partner or working solo. You may love reviewing study guides, while fellow classmates may benefit from re-reading key cases. You should customize your study plan to use whatever tools are optimal for you, regardless of what other people are doing.
3. Don’t Rely on Your Outline
If one of your chosen study aids is an outline, make sure you use it but don’t rely on it. For some classes, professors may allow you to bring your outline into the exam. It might seem like you don’t need to actually memorize the outline in this scenario, especially if you organize it well. After all, you can shuffle to the correct page during the test. But when you’re under time pressure and test nerves kick in, you don’t want to be furiously flipping through your outline searching for answers. Instead, you want to be able to formulate an answer on your own and then refer to the outline as an aid. Law school exams require thoughtful analysis, so you’ll need to develop a true understanding of the material.
4. Simulate Test Day
Don’t wait until the day of the test to answer exam questions for the first time. Most professors provide prior exams, and mock law school exam questions can be found online. Set a timer, and simulate an exam so that you can get accustomed to answering the questions as thoroughly and efficiently as possible. Even if you have already taken a law school exam, taking mock tests for each subject is important so that you can grow familiar with applying your knowledge for that specific area.
5. Prepare for Anything
In a perfect world, test day will be absolutely ordinary. You will be healthy. The room will be a perfect temperature. There won’t be any technological snafus. But anything can happen, so you should prepare for it. Wear layers in case the room is freezing, but have short sleeves on underneath in case it is hot. Bring drinks and snacks so a grumbling stomach won’t distract you. Take a practice test by hand in case your computer crashes on test day. (Bring some pens and pencils for that purpose too.) Make sure you print your outline the night before in case your printer isn’t working the next day. And pack your bag with all materials you need for the exam ahead of time, so that on test day, all you have to worry about is getting there.
6. Beware of Study Socials
Some law students swear by study groups for test prep. Bouncing ideas off each other and troubleshooting practice questions can help people think in ways they previously hadn’t. Study groups can also incentivize you to complete your outline on time or finish a round of study questions in preparation for a group meeting. But study groups can also veer off track and become a social hour—or three—instead of productive study time. Sometimes, you need that social time to blow off some stress and put the law school frenzy in perspective. But if your study group does more socializing than studying, and you feel you aren’t preparing adequately for exams, that may be a sign that you should pull back from the group and adopt a different study strategy.
7. Have a Routine
You can’t control the kinds of questions you get on a law school exam or whether you prioritized the right information when studying. But you can control yourself. On test days, you may find comfort in having a familiar routine to put yourself at ease. For example, you may do a certain workout on test days or eat a specific meal. Perhaps certain music calms your nerves, and you like to listen to it in the minutes before the exam begins. You may decide to bring a particular type of coffee or snack into the room for every test. Having an exam-day habit may help keep you grounded.
8. Forget About It
One of the hardest things to accept when the test is complete is that there is nothing you can do to change your results. But it’s true. Analyzing the questions after-the-fact and discovering how your friends responded to each question won’t make a difference. Even if you think you tanked the exam, you won’t know until you get your grade. And if you didn’t soar through it, it may just be because the exam was exceptionally difficult, and the curve will balance it out. All you can do after the test is move forward: study for the next or celebrate being done with finals with your friends.
As we meet mid-April, law students either find themselves in exam week lockdown or feverishly outlining while pretending to do their reading for their last few classes before exam week and solitary confinement officially begin. In my experience, there were three types of law students: (1) Over-prepared; (2) Do not GAF and (3) Just need one more day to study.
For many of today’s law students, firm culture, location, and practice area remain the most important factors in deciding where to apply. Recently, students have discovered that evaluating these factors — and making the right choice for their legal career — is easier when opting to apply directly to firms for summer positions.