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Final Exam Tips

From Getting to Maybe: How to Excel on Law School Exams, by Richard Michael Fischl and Jeremy Paul (Carolina Academic Press 1999). 

Tip #1: Exam preparation takes all semester

  • Regular class attendance is crucial to exam performance
  • The better your preparation for class, the more you’ll get out of class

Tip #2: Focus your exam study on your class notes

  • Most professors test what they teach
  • Your class notes can help you predict questions likely to appear on the exam

Tip #3: Prepare your own outline of the course

  • Law exams test rule application, not memorization
  • Commercial outlines are a poor substitute
  • Outlines prepared by other students are only marginally better

Tip #4: Review the professor's old exams

  • Go over old exams with a study group as often as possible
  • Simulate the exam experience at least once

Tip #5: Consider what questions you would ask

  • Identify the major issues covered in class, and the main points the professor made about them
  • Look for important cases pointing in opposite directions
  • Identify underlying conflicts, trends, and limits

Tip #6: Carefully read the exam instructions and follow them to the letter

  • If you have a question about the instructions, ask

Tip #7: Read each question carefully, and answer the question asked

  • Read each question at least twice
  • Avoid the "information dump" and don't B.S.

Tip #8: Organize and outline before writing your answer

  • Outlining keeps you focused on the main ideas
  • Outlining helps you think sequentially

Tip #9: Provide the reader with a brief roadmap

  • Create a strong first impression
  • Organize your own thoughts at the beginning and the end

Tip #10: Explain your reasoning

  • Explain the facts underlying your assumptions and conclusions
  • Explain to show what you're thinking
  • Explain to help your analysis

Tip #11: Draw conclusions when they're called for

  • Explain why you chose the result you did, and also why you rejected alternatives

Tip #12: Argue both sides

  • Consider each person's perspective
  • Seize on contradictory facts and tensions in the law

Tip #13: Stick to the facts and circumstances presented

  • Don't create new facts
  • Don't write treatises about the law

Tip #14: Remember who your "judge" is

  • Follow your professor's advice
  • Look for course themes

Tip #15: Watch time/credit allocations

  • When you're out of time on a question, force yourself to move on
  • When you must, provide an outline in lieu of a complete answer

Tip #16: Don't regurgitate legal rules and principles unless your professor wants you to

  • You get credit for applying hte law, not regurgitating it
  • An ounce of analysis is worth a pound of law

Tip #17: Don't repeat the facts

  • Use the facts to support your points
  • You get credit for analysing the facts, not for copying them

Tip #18: Don't be conclusory

  • Be wary of conclusory terms like "it is obvious that" or "clearly"
  • Don't say what, say why
  • Always anticipate counter arguments

Tip #19: Avois disquisitions on topics outside the course

  • Know your topics well, and use your syllabus as a guide
  • You can't afford to waste time

Tip #20: Don't leave your common sense at the door

  • If rote application of a rule would lead to an absurd result, question the application
  • Distinguish what the law "is" from what the law "ought to be"