Exam Advice: A 3L’s Perspective

I’ve had good success on most of my law school exams, so while I don’t know the best study method, I can tell you what works for me.  I break my final preparation into three main segments: creating an exhaustive outline, condensing that outline as much as possible, and then doing practice problems/exams. 

In general, I think it is important to make an outline for every class.  Making an outline forces you to consider everything you’ve read and covered in class and articulate the rule of law in your own words.  Once completed, you have one document containing all you need to know for the final.  It’s always been my practice to then boil down my exhaustive outline into a condensed version.  This will force you to go over all the material again and try and capture the important black letter law from each topic, leaving behind the details that you won’t need on an exam.  On your exam, you will be tested with various fact scenarios and asked to apply the law.  The fewer words you can use to describe a concept, the better. It forces you to get the “essence” out of what you have learned, making it easier to apply in new situations.

The more sources, the better.  While you should always confine your studying to only those topics that you discussed in class and in the assigned materials, consulting outside sources can shine light on a confusing topic.  By consulting a handful of explanations, either one will ring true and give you that “Aha!” moment, or, by comparing the materials, you will be able to derive the essence of the topic.  Do remember though, the “authoritative jurisdiction” is what you went over in class, not what Law-in-a-Flash says. 

When I start crafting my outline, I head to the LRC and go straight to the reserve room.  There I will grab a treatise, Nutshell, and perhaps a commercial study aid on the class I am outlining that day.  I think the treatise/Nutshell combo is strong because the Nutshell presents the topic in a short form that you can read in a few minutes before really exploring the details through more comprehensive sources.  Please, don’t forget to check out the books in the reserve room so that all students will have access to the material. 

Good sources for outlines include other students’ and, of course, your class notes.  Good electronic resources include outlines downloaded from Lexis and from another commercial site, CALI.  For difficult topics, I can’t recommend CALI enough.  The interactive lessons and practice questions are very effective at teaching the material because every answer you get wrong is accompanied by a (hopefully) helpful explanation.

Start from a skeleton outline constructed from the course syllabus or textbook chapters and subheadings; then it is simply a matter of filling it in.  I’d begin with my class notes and textbook notes to fill out the basics.  If you feel you have a good understanding with that topic, perhaps try some practice problems or a CALI lesson just to make sure, and then move on.  For hard topics, I think it is just a matter of consulting different sources, writing down important points as you go into your outline, and then testing your knowledge with practice problems.

After you finish slogging through the initial outline, consolidate your knowledge of the course into a more condensed outline.  For this outline, I try and remove reference to any specifics, like case details (although I might leave the name), and I try and simplify the law as much as possible.  This is better than passively looking over your outline because reformulating your previous expression of the law into different words enhances your understanding of the underlying idea.

Once you have completed this process, you should have a pretty thorough understanding of the topic, and it is time to test yourself with practice problems.  For this, I recommend flashcards, CALI lessons, Examples & Explanations, and commercial outlines with practice problems.  Siegel’s is probably the best commercial aid for practice problems.   It usually contains about 100 multiple choice questions on the topic, as well as twenty or more essay questions.  All the answers in the back are very detailed.  Exams from professors are obviously crucial in figuring out what to expect on the exam; however, sometimes I find their use limited if they don’t have answer keys.

Learn from your mistakes.  The practice problems will show you what areas you need to review, so focus on those areas that you still find the most confusing.  Don’t get tripped up if you fall for a trick question or two on a topic you think you already have a firm grasp on.  Better you fall for it now than on the exam.

That pretty much sums up my exam preparation.  Of course, a large component is also keeping up with the reading and taking good notes in class, but it’s a little late in the semester to proffer that advice.  Best of luck on the exams, and have a great winter break!

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