Category: Campus News

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!

Derrick Harris exonerated after seven years in prison by California Western clinical program

By Anya Witmer

On October 6, 2020, Derrick Harris was exonerated in a joint effort between the California Innocence Project and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU).[1]

In 2013, Harris was arrested and convicted for an armed robbery, for which he served seven years in prison. The victim identified Harris in a lineup, which ultimately led to his conviction – faulty eyewitness identifications are a leading cause of wrongful convictions.[2] Despite the conviction, Harris persevered in his claim of innocence throughout his time behind bars.[3] While Harris was incarcerated, his co-defendant and a third-party admitted their involvement in the robbery and exculpated Harris. Harris’s co-defendant later signed a declaration that was crucial in Harris’s exoneration.[4]

In 2019, the California Innocence Project joined Harris’s fight for justice. In 2020, Michael Semanchik, managing attorney of the California Innocence Project, brought Harris’s case to the CRU and convinced them to investigate the case further. The CRU’s investigation resulted in their losing confidence in the conviction and a determination that Harris was factually innocent. Following the findings, the Los Angeles District Attorney and the California Innocence Project filed a joint stipulation reversing Harris’s conviction and finding him factually innocent of the robbery.[5]

Harris’s exoneration is the California Innocence Project’s thirty-fourth exoneration since its formation in 1999. The California Innocence Project is a clinical program at California Western School of Law, which is committed to obtaining justice for wrongfully convicted inmates, training law students, and changing the system to mitigate issues in wrongful convictions moving forward. For more information on the California Innocence Project, visit

Students interested in the project can find volunteer information at the California Innocence Project website or follow @ca_innocence on Instagram, and can also join the XONR8 Club (@xonr8cwsl), which is committed to supporting the California Innocence Project and providing students with educational opportunities.

California Innocence Project

“Freeing the innocent. Changing the system.”

[1] Michael Semanchik, 2020. [PRESS RELEASE] Derrick Harris, Wrongfully Convicted of Armed Robbery, Exonerated.


[3] See Note 1.

[4] See Note 1.

[5] See Note 1.

SBA Monthly Article – September 2020

Hi California Western,

For many law students across the country, 2020 has been anything but smooth. From the spread of COVID-19, to the ongoing fight for racial justice, and now the passing of our beloved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we are living in challenging, uncertain times. The SBA recognizes these are trying times and is dedicated to improving your law school experience while navigating difficult circumstances. Here are a few updates. Continue reading “SBA Monthly Article – September 2020”

APALSA’s Taste of Asia

Mark Your Calendar, Barrister’s Ball is Around the Corner!

By Vincent Chiaverini

Pick out an outfit, grab a ticket, and snag a date for Barrister’s Ball! Barrister’s Ball is an annual, school-wide, formal gathering that CWSL puts on in style. With previous events at night clubs and yachts with open bars, this is an event no student should miss.

Continue reading “Mark Your Calendar, Barrister’s Ball is Around the Corner!”

First Time in a DECADE

By Professor A.W. Campbell

It’s been over a decade since my horse and I did what we did today.

Three years ago, out of frustration, I quit polo. I could no longer hit the ball straight. That resulted from three mallet-arm issues. First, my right shoulder was anchored to a healed-but-overlapped broken collar bone. Second, only tendons connected that arm to my shoulder-blade; the nerves had been severed by a near-fatal fall. Third, I’d ripped two right-arm tendons out of my skeleton.

Continue reading “First Time in a DECADE”

California’s Inmate Firefighters Explore the Challenges and Victories of being on the Front Lines of Inferno

By The Commentary and Ryan Stygar


As fires scorch across the state, Californians are once again reminded of the extreme threat posed by wildfire. News broadcasts show hundreds of firefighters working day and night to contain the blaze. While most firefighters wear yellow jackets to protect themselves from heat and embers, a substantial group wears bright orange jackets. 

Why? They are California’s front line.

California’s Inmate Firefighters

On September 28, 2019, Cal Western students heard first-hand accounts of the inmate firefighter experience! Two veterans of the inmate firefighter program, Brooke Carrasco and Brandon Smith, shared their stories as the keynote panelists. Among the many topics covered was the controversy around the program. Prisoner rights advocates have raised questions about placing inmates in harms way, especially since inmate firefighters earn only $2.00 per day, plus $1.00 per hour while fighting fire.

Continue reading “California’s Inmate Firefighters Explore the Challenges and Victories of being on the Front Lines of Inferno”