Fall Semester 1L, I studied my ass off for Crim and Torts and blew off Contracts and Con Law because the material was boring and I just couldn't get motivated until a week before the exam. Naturally I got B's in Crim and Torts and an A in Contracts and A- in Con Law. I went to my K's professor after I got the grades to go over the exam. After about 10 minutes I told him I didn't take one note for the last half of the semester and just learned it out of the supplements (in particular the BarBri prep book). Surprisingly, he laughed and said he wouldn't recommend it, but "everyone has different ways of learning" and he encouraged me to do what was comfortable. So I carried it over to Spring Semester and had similar results in Civ Pro and Property (fuck property).
Say what you want about luck or whatever, but the proof is there. 8+ years of higher level education (undergrad, MBA, and now second semester 2L) and I'm all in on cramming. I'm a firm believer that people learn in different ways so here's a thread to support anyone else who's better under pressure...
Negatives: Obviously spending about 10 days memorizing what you learn in 4 months is absolutely brutal and physically and mentally exhausting. It's expensive because a lot of the studying is done with commercial outlines, E&E's, and other supplements. Stress made me smoke a pack a day, and I think I lost 10 - 12 pounds a semester only to put it back on with a week of binge drinking (also $$)
Positives: Exams, particularly 1L exams are B R O A D. People told me "make sure you know every single rule" and then you get 3 hours to talk about "every single rule"? I don't think so. You have to be able to look at the big picture first, and then break stuff down from there. Getting hyped over the little things only takes away from your ability to assess an entire fact pattern. You also have the luxury of the material being FRESH in your head. Finally, you don't spend 3 weeks putting your own outline together. Every "How to Succeed in 1L" article says its important to create your own outline. FALSE. It's more of a "I did it so you should too" thing than anything else.
So here's what I did, and recommend for anyone who does it like me. (Note: I did take notes and actively participate in class, so when you see a sentence in Chapter 2 of a Civ Pro supplement saying "assume for the present hypo that subject matter jxn is satisfied through complete diversity, and defendant has received adequate notice persuant to F.R.C.P. §§ 3 and 4" you aren't flipping through glossaries saying "What the fuck?!")
1) Concise Hornbook cover to cover. These things are about $40 in your book store, but you can get them cheaper at amazon. They're only about 250-300 pages (with large font and lots of citations so it's really only about 175 pages). Get the big picture. Highlight only VERY important information and hand write it in a notebook.
2) Take an old outline from someone who had the class last semester (preferably someone who got an A- or an A), and read the absolute SHIT out of it. Skim the Concise Hornbook before each section to refresh your memory. Re-read anything in the CH that is vague/ambiguous in the outline.
3) BarBri/Commercial Outline. Type out the outline, each section, in your own words. Putting the law into your own words is a great way to get a firm grasp on it. Anyone can retype Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code, but actually reading it, thinking about it, and summarizing it is a fantastic way to understand it on your own terms, which is obviously the key to learning. Also, commercial outlines are great when you have older professors who are more about teaching the black letter law. Young professors tend to put little twists on things because... well they can. If you couldn't tell by now, there's a lot of ego hungry professors out there who go by the "right way, wrong way, or my way" mantra. (If you have a younger professor, I suggest using class notes at this point too.)
4) Combine #2 and #3. Take the old outline, what you typed out from the BarBri outline and combine the two. Hopefully the outline you have is already legit, but like I said, there are probably some vague/ambiguous parts that don't jump off the page at first glance. For example, the property outline I used had this definition for a fee simple absolute: "Goes forever". Wow. That tells me a lot. Thanks. Now you have the luxury of an outline based on the syllabus, class notes, readings, case briefs, and anything else, except you didn't work on it all fall/spring, and now its got your thought process.
5) E&E problems. The E&E books are substantively okay, but they don't hit a lot of key topics. For example, the Civ Pro one barely mentions (Quasi) In Rem Jxn, but that may be something you spend a whole class talking about. I would not outline these books. However, they do serve the same purpose as the CH's in that it gives you a big picture, but the CH's usually involve more black letter law. The E&E's are primers, so they usually have the rules written in layman's terms. If you didn't read them at the start of the year, don't bother now. Just go to the back of each chapter and work through the problems. Actually write out the answers though. Don't just read them because you won't retain the information. After you write out an answer, look at the solution and compare. See what issues you did or (more importantly) didn't spot, and see the progression of the answer. You might be working on a Statute of Frauds question, and immediately jump into that analysis without considering whether there was offer or acceptance. Basically, you get to see (especially as the book unfolds) how everything works together. Also, the E&E solutions are fantastic at showing you what language to use. For example, applying the constitutional limitations to personal jurisdiction can be overwhelming at first because you're looking at long arm statutes, then minimum contacts, then purposeful availment then blah blah blah. The solutions show you how all the elements and sub elements and sub sub elements work together to give a solid answer. In a separate document, write down anything that really jumps out at you and says "You should remember this when answering a question!!!"
6) Take the outline you "created" in step #4 and the stuff you just wrote down from the E&E examples, and pre-write general answers. For example, you get a question about battery, you have this written down "X has a cause of action for battery in the present case. The elements for battery are.... where a person who intentionally commits a wrongful act is liable for damages arising from the act regardless of actual intent at time of act (Vosburg v. Putney)." You would then include any other important twists or distinctions about the elements. Then your pre written issue/rule and apply the in the issue to it.
7) Practice Tests. There are loads of practice exams out there. Some threads on here have tons of links to old exams and their solutions. Try and get at least 3 done. The first one should definitely be un-timed. Start with spotting issues, then check the issues, then write your answer out and check your analysis. Personally, I like to read the bios on the law school's websites to see if my professor's research and background matches. My property teacher was this old conservative white guy who LOVED water usage law. LOVED IT. So I made sure that the exams I practiced off of (because he was a crusty old bastard and didn't post his own) came from other environmental concentrated professors. Little things like that are definitely helpful.
8 ) Spark sheet it. The only things you should be going into your final with are your pre-written answers and a spark sheet outline. The spark sheet just basically lists everything you've covered. Only put down words and phrases that trigger what you should already know. For example, my K's spark sheet would have something like this - "Statute of Frauds - UCC §2-201 - Goods - $500 - Writing - Broad Interpretation"... If you are going into the exam with anything more than 10 pages of an outline or notes, you're in bad shape. The key is to spot the issues first, then let the analysis flow from the practice and reps you got in over the last couple days. To quote my property professor "Don't tell me what the law is. I know it. I teach it. I've taught it for 40 years. Don't waste my time. I want the issues, and I want your understanding of the issues." The points are in the issues. I can't repeat that enough. Just look at a two page grading rubric for a torts exam. You can write about negligence till the cows come home, but there's probably a battery, assault, IIED and product liability cause of action worth mentioning too. On that subject, it's helpful to have a pen and piece of paper handy to just start writing everything issue down. Start with the parties.. "X v. Y" and then underneath write "Assault, battery, IIED, negligence" etc. and then rank what is obvious and what may be a stretch. More on writing the exam next.
9) Write the exam for your audience. My property exam was by far the shortest in class. Same with Civ Pro and K's. I wrote very informally because (a) they were older professors and (b) grading is monotonous. Anytime you can catch their attention with a well placed witty analogy, use it. Don't give history lessons. Just get right to point. "There's an issue here with offer and acceptance. This may be an offer if this... It may not because of this... If it's an offer, this is the result... If it's not, this is the result." These people spent their entire professional lives writing articles and doing research. They don't want your long winded take on the development of offer and acceptance in common law. Get to the facts AS SOON AS POSSIBLE and immediately concede any obvious element. "X expressly said 'I offer you my car for $300 cash' and Y accepted by delivering the cash and taking the car. Offer and acceptance is satisfied. Statute of frauds is an issue because...." An average test taker figures O&A isn'te worth mentioning and is flipping through his outline to the statute of frauds part while you just picked up 2 points for getting the basics out of the way. Also, professors love it when you address the facts, then take it one step further with your own little twist. For example, "Here, it is unlikely a court would find a cause of action for assault because X did not imminently fear the contact. HOWEVER (this is where you add your own twist), if X actually saw or heard the paint bucket/basketball/baby being thrown at him, or had a reasonable belief that the contacts was in fact imminent, then there would likely be a cause of action for assault. That is not the case and thus there is likely no cause of action." When you distinguish what makes the conclusion the conclusion, expect more points.
Ideally you'd have 10 days to get this done. The CH should be knocked out the first 2 or 3 days. Get through the old outline as fast as possible and start looking at the commercial outline. That will take about 15-20 hours to get through and do it right. If you have a good grasp of the material, combining the barbri and the old outline should take no more than a couple hours. After that, the problems are the best. Actually getting down to business and doing the work is a lot better than going over the material and I actually found that stimulating. Get the material out of the way so you have at least 4 days to work on problems and tests. That's by far the most important part of exam prep that people neglect because they're worried about all the nitty gritty rules. Part of cramming is ignoring the minutia and working towards the big picture. It certainly is a time crunch, but it sure as hell beats weekend study groups throughout the semester and re-reading your casebook (yuck).
(there are some very good students who prepared all semester and learn the the minutia and are capable of dominating the exam. let them. you don't have that luxury. instead, you need to nail ever issue. it's the cross we bear as crammers, but a cross worth bearing indeed if you can do it. your goal should be to outperform the average law student: nervous, overwhelmed, not confident. do it right and you can land yourself in the A- group
That's my take on cramming. I know the culture of TLS is strongly opposed to this as is just about any academic, but like I said, people learn in their own ways. I tried to follow the pack at the beginning and do it every step of the way, and got burned for it because I didn't play to my strengths. Luckily, I just kind of fell into it last year and it has worked out tremendously for me.
For any 1L's who prefer this method, and are looking for some guidance on how to get ready in the next two weeks, enjoy!
Finally, I'd like some other contributions to this thread. I was extremely nervous going into my second semester last year while taking this approach, and found absolutely ZERO help from classmates and online threads. "You're an idiot"..."You'll fail out"... "The professor will sniff it out a mile away"... etc. Don't be discouraged. It's a taboo approach to exams people are not willing to accept because they put in countless hours briefing cases and asking questions in class. Don't let them bring you down. If this is how you learn and succeed, just go with it. Play to your strengths!
(Ignore any typos... I don't have time to proofread haha)
Last edited by MSckcl43 on Thu Apr 28, 2011 9:53 pm, edited 2 times in total.