Seven Tips to Survive Law School Exams

By Anya Witmer

Because exams are quickly approaching the Commentary put together these tips to help you survive and thrive during exam week. Do what works for you and listen to what your professors tell you about their exams—they’re the author of the exam and therefore, the expert!

1: Know the format of your exams.

Are your exams open book or closed book? Multiple choice, essays, or a mix of both? How many questions? Take home or Examplify? Be prepared. Some professors have ditched closed book exams due to the pandemic; others are maintaining their usual closed-book format. Some exams combine multiple-choice questions with an essay question, some ask multiple essay questions, some are just one long fact pattern. Knowing the answers to these questions will prepare you to write your best exam.

2: Read old exams.

If you haven’t yet, look at the exam archive. Many professors have exams posted there, and often there is a sample answer that shows either what the professor was looking for on each exam or it might be the highest scoring exam from that class. These are invaluable study tools. If you didn’t look at the archive earlier, now is an excellent time to look at them and learn the organization your professor wants to see.. The archive is also a great place to take practice exams that your professor has written. The exam archive is a great tool for studying throughout the trimester!

3: Make a plan.

If you have an 8:00 a.m. exam, know what time you’ll be waking up, what you’ll have for breakfast, and so on. If your exam is at 1:00 p.m., know what your morning will entail. Plan the hour before your exam, so you are mentally in the space to sit and write or answer questions for three hours. Be at your desk before the start time so you can settle in and take a moment to get situated. Look forward to the challenge of writing a well-organized exam that shows what you have learned. The anxiety is worse than the actual exam!

4: Details matter!

Read the facts carefully! If a fact seems out of place, then more likely than not it is important! Very few, if any, facts are embedded in the exam without purpose. Don’t make the mistake of leaving out a fact because it seems too odd to fit the fact pattern. Strange facts may spark exceptions to the rule, jurisdictional differences, or other oddities you learned throughout the trimester. If it doesn’t immediately jump out at you, keep it in mind and analyze how it fits the law you learned before you begin writing

5: Read the call of the question!

Make sure you read the call of the question carefully; the professor may give you the issue right in the question–and you want to be sure you are answering what they are asking. They may give you facts about multiple actors, then only ask about one or two of them. They may provide you various scenarios and break down the organization of how they want to read it through their questions.

6: Organize, organize, organize!

After you have read the full fact pattern, make a plan! Know how to organize, including knowing what your professor likes to see. Do they want a true IRAC, an IREAC, or mini IRACs? Time is precious during exams, do yourself a favor and block out a few minutes to organize your thoughts and your exam after reading the facts. Don’t scoff at signposting (unless your professor has told you not to do it). Don’t make your professors guess where you were going when writing. Make your sections clear and easy to navigate.

7: Get plenty of sleep!!

It is tempting to study until you drop.  Ignore the temptation and GO TO BED!! At some point, you will be outstudied! Do not overwhelm yourself by cramming right before the exam. Study what you can and then step back and know that you have done enough.  Trust what got you to this point.. If you have been outlining and reviewing throughout the semester, you will be fine. If you haven’t, you won’t learn it all in one week. You will better serve yourself by taking care of your physical and mental health.

Law school is hard, and just as you imagine, so are law school exams. However, no law school exam is so hard that you cannot excel! Your professors want you to succeed, and they write the exams with that in mind. Some questions are tricky, but slow down and breathe, and you’ll be able to survive and thrive during exam week!

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