Dean’s Listers’ Exam Advice for 1Ls

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It’s nearing that time of year again! Yep. It’s true. It’s time to start forming study groups and making CANs and working on practice exams. A trip to the 4th floor to see a professor might even be in order.

In this segment, some of our Faculty’s best and brightest offer their study tips and strategies. (As always, everyone learns differently. So treat this advice as just that: advice, and not words to live by.) And without further ado, let’s hear what our contributors have to say!

I prepared for law school exams the same way I prepared for exams during my Molecular Biology degree. If you have a strategy that worked for you, don’t change it too much based on what people tell you about studying for a law exam. I’ve never looked at any other CANs; I just condense my own notes starting in mid-November. I prepare and print my own CANs by the last day of classes. I make sure that I’m not confused by any concepts by this point, so that I can use the remaining time just to memorize. -Courtney Davidson (2L)

The one substantive piece of advice I can offer is to keep up with coursework and readings, and to not fall behind if possible. This will allow you to immediately begin reviewing material at the beginning of December, rather than scrambling to learn it for the first time the night before the exam. During the exam period itself, I used the same study routine that I relied on in my earlier studies. Everyone learns in different ways: use the study techniques that brought you success in your previous studies, and you’ll do just fine. -Michael Swanberg (2L)

It might seem like a catch-22 to say this in the context of an advice column, but here it goes: don’t go too crazy drastically changing your study habits, and trying to follow everyone’s advice. Law exams are hard and the earlier you can start reviewing and CAN-ing the better, but remember that you got into law school; you must have been doing something right!

And if you want something concrete advice-wise, I found sample exam questions from years past incredibly helpful, especially working through them with a friend or in a group. Anything that familiarizes you with an exam’s format is helpful, because every second counts when you write the actual exam. -Beth Cochrane (2L)

There are two components to doing well on law exams – knowing the material and knowing how to write the exam. I almost always prepare my own CANS for courses. I find this process helps me gain familiarity with the material, while also identifying problem areas. Once problem areas are identified, make sure to speak to your professor to gain clarification. Study groups are another great exam preparation tool. Talking problems out with other students can really help to solidify knowledge.

Not all law exams are the same. Find out what kind of exam the professor uses for the course and prepare by doing as many practice exams as you can. During the exam, plan your time accordingly by allotting a set number of minutes to each question based on the number of marks available. Be sure to stick to these timelines. Otherwise you risk running out of time, leaving valuable marks on the table. -Lindsay Burgess (3L)

Every minute in the exam is precious, and even the best of you will fall victim to the clock. Nothing feels worse than failing to complete an exam you worked so hard to prepare for. Make sure you know how the marks are broken down for every question, and try to restrict yourself to the time allocated.

This seems like a no-brainer, but it is very easy to get caught up writing a thorough answer to 3(a) only to realize that there is a 3(b) on the next page. For big fact pattern questions, take the time to make a quick outline first. Not only will this outline help you remember your key points, it can also serve as a guide to make sure you are not spending too much time on a small part of a very big question.  

The best resources you have for perfecting your time management skills are the past exams. Many of you have already heard what I have to say about CANs, but I cannot emphasize enough how valuable it can be to sit down with your CANs printed out and work through a practice exam like it is the real thing. -Graham Sanson (3L)