Preparing for Law School Exams One Month Out


Happy Halloween!

I am currently dressed up as Elle Woods, including carrying a stuffed Chihuahua, because I realized this is my last chance to do that as a law student and let's be honest, Elle Woods is our queen.


I registered for my final semester yesterday so this whole graduation/taking the bar thing is getting real. Also, I am feeling super rejuvenated after a weekend with good friends and because a few big projects are finally off my plate. However, I have also come to a sudden and unpleasant realization that final exams are in approximately one month. During my 1L year, it was around this time in the semester that I had yet another meltdown because I did not understand how to prepare for final exams, the word outlining terrified me and I still didn't understand how to overcome the law school curve.

Now that I am a 3L, I feel like I have established a solid plan for preparing for and succeeding at law school final exams and they stress me out a little less (emphasis on a little). I am not going to say that I am a straight A law student by any means but I have figured out a way to study smarter not harder, to get respectable grades, and to walk away from exams feeling like I did my absolute best without burning myself out.

Want to know how I do it? Well, it all starts about a month before final exams.

Make a Schedule and Deadlines
While my heavy exam prep starts a month before exams, my exam prep process begins on the first day of class because it is at that time that I determine my exam dates and then a backtrack from there to decide how much study time I need and can have for each exam. This varies every semester. Some semesters I only have a few days between exams so I have to make that work. Other semesters, my exams are more spread out so I can pace my studying a little slower. Once I know how much study time I need/have, I set an "outline due date"- this is basically just a self-imposed deadline that I want to have my outline complete by and also doubles as my start day for hardcore exam studying. I also make a deadline for having my notecards complete because my outline and my notecards are my main study tools for exams.

The reason I set this at the beginning is so that I am not stressing about it later on. It also helps me to plan and pace through the semester because I have a deadline to meet.

When I am about a month out from finals, I make a month-long study schedule. This will include everything I have to complete before exams as well as my deadlines and study plan for exams: papers to write, outlining, notecards, practice exams, practice questions, meetings with professors, etc. Here is an example for this semester:

As you can see, I have all my deadlines and study plans laid out day by day. I hang this above my desk and try very hard to stick to it.

Stick to the Schedule 
I explained why and how I set my schedule and the next step is to stick to it. I like to make checklists for my day and I try very hard to not go to bed until I have completed it for the day. Study goals are a part of that.

In working toward meeting my self-imposed deadlines, I spread the workload out and steadily work away on completing the outline and notecards. As you can see on the study schedule above, I have a specific set of things I want to complete each day and it is imperative to my process that I stick to it and do what I need to each day. For example, on November 18, I want to do some work on my Seminar paper, do some work on my Sentencing Memo for my Simulation class and spend some time outlining Civil Procedure Jurisdiction. Having everything planned out and written down helps me to stay on track and complete it.

Spread the Workload out Over Time 
By setting a study schedule a month out, I am able to spread the workload out so I am not swamped the week before finals. If I wait until a week or two before final exams to start prepping, I will be overwhelmed. Spacing out the work makes it more manageable and less stressful. Trust me, you don't want to spend your whole Thanksgiving break outlining (did that my 1L year and I do NOT suggest it).

Outline 
I have talked about outlining a lot on this blog and that's because it is super important. You need to do it in some way, shape or form. I like to do my outlines in chunks throughout the semester so that it is not a massive workload at the end of the semester. This is why I lay out outlining time in a schedule and make myself a deadline to have it complete.

More on Outlining: A Guide to Law School Outlining 

Practice Questions 
Something a lot of people (my 1L self-included) forget to leave time for is practice multiple choice and essay questions. These are SOOO important. To succeed on law school exams, you have to know the material inside and out and know how to express it in essay form and deal with it in multiple-choice form. I think this is a skill that can be improved with practice so PRACTICE it.

Many of my professors offer old exams for you to use as practice and will go over it with you. This is an invaluable step to take; to hear directly from the professor how they would like that question answered and maybe some ways to improve can be so informative and will help you tailor your studying and preparation to their specific class. Commercial study aids can help with this as well. Some of my favorites are the Examples and Explanations books and the Q&A books. I always prefer professor made practice questions though because they are most like the exam you will be taking.


        

Meet with Professors 
Going along with practice questions from professors, you need to meet with them to go over those and get feedback. I also tend to highlight places in my outline where I have a question or I am confused and I try to get that clarified by the professor long before exams so that I am studying accurate, good law.

I also like to prepare rule statements that are easy to memorize and ask my professor's opinion on them and how I could improve them. I have found that this bumps my essay scores a bit because I get more points on my rule statements.

I also love meeting with professors because they just have lots of great exam taking tips and advice. After all, they make and grade the exam so whatever advice they have is probably good to know.

Be Healthy 
Exams are stressful but you don't want to be physically run down on top of that. As I am prepping for exams academically a month out, I also try to prepare physically and mentally. I start taking a ton of vitamins to ward off sickness, I try to eat healthy-ish food, I avoid alcohol, I catch up on sleep, I drink lots of water and try to hit my treadmill a few times a week. Also, I try to limit my emotional stressors, make time for some relaxation and fun and enter exams with as fresh and calm of a mind as I can. You have to avoid burning yourself out and stay healthy to be successful on exams in my opinion.

       

Just like everything in law school, exam prep is a marathon, not a sprint. That is why I start a month out from exams. Spread out your workload, set some deadlines, get some help from professors and try not to burn yourself out. 

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