I’ll be honest and tell you that I do not envy law school students this time of year. Ok, I rarely envy law school students lol BUT this time of year is especially harrowing. There are so many deadlines and pressures looming over you. It feels impossible, even though it’s not. For those about to start to pressure-cooker that is law school finals, know that it’ll be ok and you’ll get past it–all you have to do is focus on exams. “No duh,” you say. But here’s the thing, often we are so overwhelmed (or confused) that we fail to study in a productive way.
I remember going into my first finals round and knowing that I was supposed to use old exams to prepare. So I did. I read them, answered them, and had no flipping clue whether I was doing it right or not (I barely was doing it right FYI). It is frustrating to go into finals not knowing how you’re doing; if you’re really understanding the concepts; or if you even know what information your professor is seeking. I spent a lot of time studying, but that time wasn’t productive because I wasn’t doing it right. And I was doing it wrong because it took me too long to understand the purpose of the exams.
It may seem that the professor wants to know whether you understand the black letter law (and that is important), but the real meat of the test is to see your ability to analyze facts and apply the law to those facts. Can you look at facts and make a viable argument. Not an argument that is absolute in its correctness, but an argument that makes sense based on precedent.
This is by no means easy to do. Not only do you have to show that you can analyze, but you also have to be at least a little correct (so you do need to know the black letter law) and you need to present it in an organized way. How will you do all of that?
One. Practice. If there was a time to over prepare, it’s now. Better to have studied too much then to freak out during the test because you have no idea what the prompt is asking you to do. But it’s not enough to practice answering old exams (like I did). You have to practice answering in the correct format. When you start, write out your answers in the IRAC formula with no pressure of time. Get into the flow of being able to write out answers in the order. Then, move on to a more realistic practice.
Two. Practice under timed conditions. One of the big pitfalls in law school exams is running out of time. Going in, you have no idea whether the professor is going to ask you one question or 50. But whatever they give you, the idea is that they’re expecting enough information from you that will fill up the time allowed during that test. So, you need to practice being able to spot issues, organize your answers, and write them out all within the allotted time. If you find yourself running out of time then you know you need to either work on recalling information or on being more concise in your answer. If you have plenty of time left over, you should consider reviewing your answers to see if it’s missing critical alternatives or if your missing bigger issues.
Three. Prioritize yourself. During finals, here is what matters: 1) your grades; 2) finding a summer job (which you hopefully already have); and 3) everything else. Harsh? Maybe. But remind yourself how much you’re paying in tuition and perhaps it won’t seem that harsh after all. Remind yourself (and family) that this crunch time isn’t forever, but that you need them to cut you some slack for the next few weeks. Ease up on responsibilities that aren’t urgent and focus on your exams. Everyone can survive without you for the next few weeks, as difficult as it may feel.
It can feel out of character to ask others to NOT depend on you, but you need to let go of guilt and outside pressure. Ensuring you get good grades now puts you in surer footing for the future. And tbh, we have a way of self-sabotaging during these times. We may take some emergency and use it as an excuse to not study as a way to soften the blow because we have this horrible voice inside us saying that we won’t succeed. Don’t listen to that doubt! Make yourself a priority and practice like hell. You owe it to yourself to give this 100%.