Law School

Final Exam: It’s the Little Things That Make the Difference

It’s almost here—final exam season! Yikes I know so many of you are busy prepping outlines, studying, and figuring out your final exams. Over the weekend, I helped review some mock essays and want to offer the same bits of advice here.

I’ve gone over (in video) mastering IRAC and how to handle emotions during the actual exam, but today I want to discuss the little things that trip you up and how to manage them. So, here are three things to remember while you take your exams:

One. Pay attention to the detail. Good hypos have key important information that leads you to the answer. Read it carefully, notice any adjectives or facts that may not seem relevant and analyze it to figure out whether or not it impacts your answer. For example, my contracts final had a ton of information about a breaking of a lease that involved a lot of people and it was easy to overlook a simple phrase that indicated that one of the parties involved hadn’t yet turned 18. Um, that changes everything. Thankfully, I noticed and knew that was a prompt to answer what happens when minors enter contracts, but it was easy to overlook (esp when you’re nervous and there’s so many issues to spot). So, read the fact pattern carefully so you can find those flags. Ages, descriptions, dates, location, repetition of information are all possible clues that when you see them should make you pause and assess.

Two. Don’t convince yourself. The biggest hurdle in essay finals is mastering IRAC. It’s hard to just present answers in concise ways, but that is what IRAC demands. One misstep that happens when you’re grappling with this format is that push to try to add persuasive commentary to your answer. But you need to work against your instinct to argue because that is not the point. And that is why these finals are difficult because you’re not saying yes or no. Rather, you’re giving your best answer based on how the facts apply to the legal doctrine. A problem many first-years have is a desire to prove that they’re right. They’ll start making arguments by assuming things from the facts. And maybe you’re arguments are legit, but that’s not the point of the exam. The point is to show how the facts found in the hypo apply to the law.  Plus, more importantly, you’re taking up precious time by adding commentary and asides that no one asked for. If you’re writing your answer and find yourself adding statements that are argumentative and call for conclusions (outside of your conclusion sentence), back up and edit.

Three. Read and Outline. Finally, two little things: One, read the questions first. It’s better to go into the hypo knowing what issues you should be looking for, rather than reading the hypo, then reading the questions, then going back to the hypo… It’s a small tip, but it will save you time. Second, outline your answer first. Many students struggle with finishing their answers on time (time flies by!). You’ll want to outline your answer for yourself. But before you beginning writing your response, I suggest you also include a basic outline so that if you run out of time the professor can see that you were able to identify an issue/doctrine. It’s always better to finish completely, but if they can see you were going to hit every issue that could help your grade.

Finals are hard—especially your first round. It’s normal to be nervous and worried. But you’ve been working all semester on this—you’re reading the cases, following along with the analysis and what you  need to focus on now is format and retaining information (i.e. knowing the elements, tests, and rules) so that you can easily structure your answers. No biggie, right? Lol You may have a few freak-outs here  because finals are tough. But you are tougher. So now is the time for you to push past the fear and focus on the work.