December 6, 2017

How to Study for Law School Exams

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Christmas is right around the corner, and if you are in law school, so are exams.  For the rest of your social network, it's the most wonderful time of the year- Christmas parties, Christmas shopping, etc., but if you are a law student, it is the most dreaded time of year.  I remember law school finals all too well: the stress, anxiety and constantly feeling overwhelmed and burned out.  As someone who has gone through college and law school, I have had a lot of time to refine my study habits to ensure that I study efficiently and successfully.  I receive quite a few emails about how to study for law school finals, so today, I am sharing my tried and true tips on how to create good study habits, and do well on your law school finals.

1.  Find a study location- "Location, Location, Location"
Picking a study location where you feel the most focused and productive is key. Perhaps that is the law school library, your local public library, a coffee shop, or, even your home, go some place where you can focus.  For me, I found that I was the most productive in my law school's library.  For 1L and 2L, I sat at one of the big tables in an open area, then 3L started hiding away in one of the private study rooms (so I wouldn't get distracted and talk to all of my friends that would come in, haha).  I would recommend trying several locations, and once you find a place that works for you, make it a habit to go there regularly to study.

2. Time Management
Managing your time wisely is crucial not only for finals, but for the whole semester.  On the weekends, I would schedule my day around what assignments I had to complete and which finals were coming up.  So, I might spend two hours in the morning reading the assigned cases for Evidence, take a 15 minute break, then study for one hour for an exam in another class.  (FYI: you typically have assignments all the way up to finals.  Sometimes, professors will cut assignments off two weeks prior to finals so you have time to actually prepare without having to constantly read new cases, but this is not always the case!).  Then, I would do the same for the afternoon. Spend two-three hours reading the assignments for another class, take a break, then review for a final in a different class for about an hour or so.    

3. Stay Up to Date on Assignments
If you can stay up to date on assignments, then you are already ahead of the curve.  Read all of the cases for each class and outline as you go along so that you aren't scrambling one week before finals.  Procrastination works in college, but not in law school, and you do not want to learn that lesson the hard way!  Take a look at your syllabus for each class and put big dates in your planner.  For example, mark the dates for all of your exams, research papers, or any other big assignments.  I even put mini reminders all throughout my planner for when an assignment or exam was one month out, two weeks out, etc., so that I knew to get it in gear.  Having a cute planner like this one will help you to stay organized and motivated.
Exception: sometimes professors get a little crazy with the caseload and love to assign every prior case under the sun that explains how we adopted the current law, even though those cases have been overturned, or, are no longer good law.  I had a professor that was a constant offender of assigning overturned cases just to show theory and how we got to a certain point in the law.  I don't mind reading one or two cases like that, but it is not necessary to read ten when they are no longer the law or fair game for the bar exam.  In fact, it is not a good use of your time, so I would skip those cases altogether, or just read the case overview and move on, unless you have to brief it for the class!  Also, I maybe read two dissenting opinions in law school, only if the professor really made a big deal about it, or, if the dissenting opinion eventually became the law, otherwise, I would skip dissents and focus your time on prevailing law.

4. Outline Consistently
Outlining is something you will hear every law student talk about at some point.  It can be very overwhelming if you have never done it before, but outlining is the best way to keep your class and case materials organized. Everyone outlines differently, and there is really no one-size-fits-all method to the madness.  You have to do what works best for you and stick to it.  See if you can find some outlines for the class from 3Ls, then add your own spin to it.  Push yourself to update your outline as you go along in the semester, that way you have more time to actually review and study it instead of spending a lot of time modifying it later on.  There is no right or wrong way to do it, but I tried to organize mine by topic, then have all of the corresponding cases under each topic.  Condense the cases to where you can summarize the rule of law/holding down to one or two sentences.  I highly recommend getting case brief books for each class so that you understand what the case is about.  These case brief books are amazing, and I often would just copy the rule of law into my outline.  No need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to outlining!!
Tip: one mistake I made in 1L was spending way too much time briefing each case before class and including every single detail, perhaps out of fear of being called on.  Stick to the (relevant) issues and keep your briefs, well, brief.  I highly recommend these books to help you become better at issue spotting and studying.  Do not waste all of your precious time typing the facts of the case when you could be studying big picture.  Also, I highly recommend these E&E books to help study- they are amazing!

5. Avoid Distractions
In a world of constant connectivity, it is nearly impossible to avoid distractions.  By the end of the semester, you are a total zombie and want to do everything except study.  When you are in the zone in your study location (see #1 above), do whatever it takes to not be distracted.  Put your phone on silent and tucked away in your bag so that you cannot hear it or see the flashing light if you get a text.  Also, stay off social media.  You can briefly check everything on your break as an incentive to focus.  Also, turn off any sort of unnecessary notifications on your phone- Apple tips, Instagram notifications, Facebook messenger, etc. Otherwise, you will constantly be checking your phone and losing valuable time.
Another common distraction is noise.  I always kept a good pair of headphones handy to block out any sort of noise, whether it be construction or talking.  These headphones are perfect and so pretty!

6. Study Actual Bar Exam Materials
Barbri is your best friend.  Probably the best advice I can give to prepare for law school finals, is to study actual bar exam material.  I like to start with the end result in mind, which, for law school, is ultimately passing the bar exam.  Barbri does a great job in breaking topics down and making them more concise.  I started doing this in 2L and it was a game-changer when it came to studying.  In fact, Barbri outlines were so helpful to me that I studied from them from the beginning of the semester in 2L and did this until I graduated.  I cannot recommend this enough!
Also, find out the format for your exam.  Will it be multi-state, essay, both?  Barbri has all of the above.  Go back and read some old bar exam essays for that topic and work some multi-state questions in the Barbri books so that you will feel comfortable for the exam.  Law school multiple choice tests are nothing like multiple choice in college, and you definitely need to practice before the exam.  Not to mention, a lot of professors will refer to Barbri because they want to follow the current testing trends and ensure everyone passes the bar.
Tip: Do you have any friends that just passed the bar in your state?  See if you can borrow his/her bar exam books.  If not, your law library should have some current Barbri (or Kaplan) bar exam books, so you can study from them and not buy your own until it is time for you to take the bar.  Also, be sure to check the announcement board/break room at your law school to see if anyone is trying to get rid of their bar materials or sell them cheaply.  Trust me, worth the investment! 

7. Be Best Friends with you Law School Librarians
I'm a little biased here because I was a student law librarian at my law school for three years, but librarians can really help you if you get to know them!  I learned a ton of useful information because so many upperclass students would come up and talk to me.  I learned exam tricks, what certain professors wanted, things to avoid, etc.  I loved when under class students would come up and chat and would pass along as much info to them as possible.  Find out if they have any supplemental study aids and what they would recommend studying for each class, you may be surprised and will save yourself a ton of time!  We had old exams on file for certain classes and some awesome flash cards, case brief and Nutshell books (highly recommend for Property or any other transactional class)!
Tip: If your law school lets students work in the library, go for it!  I absolutely loved being a law librarian and met so many friends and professional connections.  I am forever grateful to my alma mater for all the opportunities that came with the job.  

8. Do Not Discuss The Exam With Classmates Post-Exam
One of the worst things you can do is discuss the exam with your classmates.  After you have turned your final exam in, head straight for the door and avoid your classmates at all costs.  There is no going back and changing your answers.  It is totally out of your control.  I learned this lesson the hard way in my first year Criminal Law class when several of my classmates were talking about how they answered the essay questions.  We had very different responses and I started to second-guess myself.  It took close to a month to get our grades back, and I stressed out the entire month convinced that I failed the exam.  I made a 98.  We all passed and were just fine. What you have to keep in mind is that there is no one right or wrong essay answer, as long as you can back up what you are saying.  If you think about it, this is why there are two sides to every lawsuit- just make your case! Also, be careful about getting on Facebook after your exams because there is always that one person that wants to start a thread about it.  You might have to hide their status updates so you don't get tempted to get sucked in.  Learn how to tune out other people talking about the exam both before and after.  It is like the blind leading the blind- don't do it!
Tip: Speaking of essays, a good way to get score points with the professor on essay questions is to get inside the professor's mind by keeping his/her professional background in mind and answer accordingly.  For example, is your Criminal Law professor a former prosecutor??  If so, defendant goes to jail.  Was she a former public defender and tend to always sympathize with the defendant??  Then always find a way to argue that the defendant's constitutional rights have been violated (5,6,8,14, you name it).  Another tip for essays when you have to talk about constitutional amendments is to string cite the U.S. Constitution with the corresponding state constitutional amendment (huge brownie points!!).  

9. Rest and Relax
Make sure that you are getting plenty of sleep leading up to the days before finals.  Exercise as often as possible, even if it just means taking your dog for a walk each day.  Be active and give your brain a break.  Make sure that you are eating healthy.  Skimp on the fast food and opt for food full of protein to get you through finals.  Also, I highly recommend eating an apple about thirty minutes before each exam.  One of my upper class fiends recommended this to me and it really works!  He graduated first in his class, so I did everything he told me.  He was all about eating apples to perform better on exams. Haha!  Finally, after you have taken finals, relax (easier said than done).  Treat yourself to a glass of wine after each final.  When you are finished with all finals, treat yourself to a spa day, or something that makes you relax and happy.
Tip: Everyone feels so lost and overwhelmed all throughout law school.  You are not alone.  As long as you do all of the reading and study hard, you will be fine.

Thanks so much for stopping by!  I hope these tips are helpful!

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