Faculty Members Offer Exam Advice
In the spirit of the season, several faculty members offered exam tips for students.
Spend at least of third of your time for each question reading the question, jotting notes and planning your answer before beginning to write.
With the caveat that everyone is different, and no advice is right for everyone, here are two bits of great advice (on basics) that a wise person told me during my first law school exams:
Treat yourself right. Get sleep, get exercise, eat well, call your friends and family. It’s a bad idea, and usually self-defeating anyway, to do things like stay up all night, drop exercise, or wall yourself off from everyone you otherwise interact with.
For those taking fixed exams, resist the temptation to stand around with those who have all just taken the same exam and discuss how you answered questions. I violated this rule on my first law school exam. After that conversation, I felt physically ill because I convinced myself I flunked the exam because I “missed” something major. Turns out it was my best grade of the semester, but it took some (not-so-fun) weeks to learn that.
1. Spend a LOT of time outlining your answer before you start writing. As a rule, I made myself spend one-third of the exam time outlining before I would let myself start writing. The best answers are ones that read coherently from start to finish. Typing a lot of text isn’t very helpful if you figure out half-way through your answer that you’re going in the wrong direction.
2. Exams are endurance contests, not memory contests. Prepare accordingly. On a daily basis, you need your first hour of physical exercise and your eighth hour of sleep a lot more than you need your tenth hour of studying.
The exam advice I give students every year is — don't forget your audience and purpose — unlike predictive memo writing for law firms or other legal employers, you are now writing for a reader well-versed in the area of law you are discussing, and the purpose of an exam is not to inform the reader of the state of the law in a particular area, but rather, to show the professor you have processed his or her lectures.
I also tell my students to take study breaks to allow their minds to process the information they are studying and make connections and see patterns, rather than constantly "inputting" more information.
Finally, practice exams are friends.
1. Identify and discuss all relevant issues that are fairly raised by the facts, exercising judgment as to how much to discuss each issue in light of its importance and complexity.
2. Demonstrate a sound understanding and use of the laws, doctrines and principles that are relevant to analyzing the issues.
3. Engage in effective analysis, i.e., articulate in clear and precise terms the arguments and counterarguments regarding how the law should apply to the facts presented. Strong answers go beyond basic points to discuss more subtle or sophisticated arguments.