In last year’s December issue of Motions, I wrote out a few exam study tips from the 1L perspective. Since I had never actually taken a law school exam before, I relied on Janet Madden’s excellent tips, advice from upper-level students, and our professors’ recommendations. Now that we are all battle-tested 1Ls ready for law school exams “Round Two,” I have a little bit more perspective on what worked well and what was a complete time-waster.
Helpful: Making outlines and then making outlines from those outlines. This was the first study tip I tried out and was happy to discover that there really is something to this outlining process, even if you have a closed-note exam. This method of organizing my notes and reviewing cases helped me understand the big picture and highlight the areas that the professor spent the most time on in class. Making the second outline from the first one, however, was the most beneficial. The first outline was my opportunity to organize all the information, rules, and theories from the class in one place, and the process of making the second outline was when I gained a much more solid understanding of all the concepts.
Not Helpful: Waiting until the end of my study process to use the handouts that the TAs posted on TWEN. These handouts had great questions and hypos that helped me test my knowledge, but because the TAs no longer had office hours (which end the last week of classes), I did not have the opportunity to visit them and discuss the questions on which I needed clarification.
Helpful: Using the supplements and flash cards for practice questions. I was definitely skeptical of supplements at first, but I found that they were great for practice problems, whether the exam was multiple choice or essay. Although the supplement’s answers did not discuss the issues the way our professors wanted us to, it was a great way to test my knowledge and tell me what concepts I needed to understand better.
Not Helpful: Studying in the library for the entire exam period. Where you study best is a completely personal choice, but the moment that exam time hits, the law library transforms into a pressure cooker of stress. I certainly appreciated the free coffee and hot chocolate that the LRC generously provides in the evenings, but exam time is such an anxiety-ridden process as it is that being around other stressed-out law students certainly did not give me that calm focus I needed to study effectively. This semester, I plan to mix up my study sessions between the library and home. A little extra motivation from watching your fellow students study can be good, but too much can be completely counter-productive.
Helpful: Making sure I got enough sleep every night. Although there were definitely evenings when I felt that I needed to do a few more practice problems, I knew that my brain was just not going to function at the level I needed it to without a good night’s sleep. Even though I completely failed at following this advice throughout the actual semester, I plan on scheduling in my eight hours a night starting now!
Not Helpful: Talking about the exam with your friends after it was finished. Most people I talked to who had the postmortem discussion agreed–it only stresses you out thinking about the issues you missed or the multiple choice answer you think you got wrong. Once one exam is over, take the evening to clear your brain so that you are ready to effectively focus on the next one.
Four exams this semester certainly seems like a daunting task, but at least we have a much better idea of what we have gotten ourselves into . . . right? Good luck, and congratulations to all the soon-to-be 2Ls for surviving their first year of law school!