Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

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TFALAWL
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Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TFALAWL » Sat Nov 22, 2014 1:38 am

I know much has been said on this topic, so rather than writing a treatise, I'm just going to list a few things that I felt were helpful.

1. Imagine law school courses as a two-step process: 1. learn the law 2. apply it by means of effective argumentation. This is what makes law school exams different from college - in college, you just had to learn the material and vomit it on paper. Note: the reason a lot of 1Ls work 80hr. weeks yet underperform is b/c they spend too much time on step 1 at the expense of step 2. By contrast, the reason many 2L/3L's do relatively well despite Lawling 20hr weeks is b/c they've figured out step two. Effective argumentation (i.e. thinking like a lawyer) will feel natural to you next year --- but right now, it's a skill you need to develop.

2. The exam itself: Yes, I know every prof. is different. However, I disagree with the oft-quoted statement that good exam taking is "sophisticated application of basic doctrine." Or Perhaps, I just have a different idea of sophisticated --- to me, it invokes a really strong/clever argument. However, one of the reasons I underperformed on my 1L exams was that I spent too much time on the "clever" arguments, and neglected to mention the "cheesier" ones. In hindsight, those "cheesy" arguments would probably have netted me some cheap points. Bottom Line: THROW THE KITCHEN SINK. But do it in an organized way: do not write in "stream of consciousness". Instead, make each argument one paragraph (or if you prefer - sub heading), and machine-gun your way through.

Anyways, The reason I'm writing this is b/c I think most 1L's (at least I did this) tend to overthink the whole process: very little abstract thought is required --- law school is not nearly as "intellectual" as your profs would like to make it seem.

Therefore: 1. study your outline well-enough to be comfortable, but don't be a perfectionist. 2. Then, ASAP, take practice problems. Start with the E&E's and Lexis Q&A's, then move on to the practice exams. Lastly, 3. don't freak out on exam day when you encounter a curve-ball: the prof just wants you to think on your feet --- take a deep breathe, relax, and just keep pushing forward!

Good Luck 1L's (And remember to take care of your mental health - I personally love mindfulness meditation).

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TFALAWL
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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TFALAWL » Sat Nov 29, 2014 3:33 am

Btw, Here's some additional advice regarding policy essays. Most 1L's freak out at the prospect of policy questions b/c they view it as a black box, that will be graded "holistically" and therefore, frequently don't prep for them. This is a mistake.

1. ALL policy essays, regardless of which course your in, or how it is worded, are asking fundamentally the same question: "Which principle(s) best undergird the legal jurisprudence in this given field. Oftentimes the professor will ask the question in the form of a quote from a legal scholar, and ask whether you agree or disagree.
2. There are basic policy debates that encompass every area in common-law courses. One great example is "fairness vs. efficiency." Once you've taken your first policy essay, you'll notice that every subsequent policy essay has the same recurrent themes.
3. How to answer: Ahead of time, pick a side that you like. Then, on the exam right a qualified approval regarding why your side is the desirable policy. You do this by 1. Cases x,y,z illustrate the desirable results when this policy is implemented. 2. cases a,b,c, produced undesirable results b/c they didn't use the reasoning underlining this policy. 3. acknowledge cases d,e,f where your policy would produce undesirable results. 4. Weigh the pros with the cons and conclude by saying that the pros of your policy outweigh it's cons.

This is your policy essay. You're welcome

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TFALAWL
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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TFALAWL » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:11 am

I noticed that this thread has had a lot of hits but no responses. To 2L's and 3L's, I would appreciate any constructive criticisms, or additions you may have -- as it's entirely possible that my approach is less than optimal. To any 1L's, feel free to ask any questions on this thread and I will try my best during my free time to answer them. I say this because the approach that I sketched is mostly a road-map, so if you want more tailored advice, ask away. Lastly, I would like to throw a little disclaimer. I think this approach is probably best suited towards students like me who were intellectually-average compared to their peers, but strove to do a little above-median (say top 1/3).

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby iliketurtles123 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:26 am

TFALAWL wrote:I noticed that this thread has had a lot of hits but no responses. To 2L's and 3L's, I would appreciate any constructive criticisms, or additions you may have -- as it's entirely possible that my approach is less than optimal. To any 1L's, feel free to ask any questions on this thread and I will try my best during my free time to answer them. I say this because the approach that I sketched is mostly a road-map, so if you want more tailored advice, ask away. Lastly, I would like to throw a little disclaimer. I think this approach is probably best suited towards students like me who were intellectually-average compared to their peers, but strove to do a little above-median (say top 1/3).


Seems like a good guide

I worked a ton during 1L year. I made the mistake that OP mentioned in his/her post. I didn't apply the law effectively. I knew about IRAAAAC and the importance of "application" but still did not do well. The reason was because I was so rigid in my exam answers. I followed IRAAAC too much. This might be good for certain professors (I did get two A/A-'s) but ended up getting mostly B/B+'s in my other classes.

Your professor will tell you exactly how they grade the exam. Some professors have a point system in which IRAAAC works well. Other professors have no point system. They want to read your exam, see if it makes sense, and if it's backed by good legal reasoning. In those, don't be so rigid in IRAC. Don't try to regurgitate the black letter law. Write the exam as if you are a lawyer and addressing a colleague who knows the law already. This type of exam is one where you are graded slightly more on whether your exam makes good sense, and this type of exam answer has less structure.
I do agree with OP though in that little abstract thought is required. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying don't make sense. What I mean is don't start making tangential arguments. Don't start stating EVERY little black letter law you know (regardless of if it's relevant), then applying it. It might make sense in those little tid bits, but you also have to make sure it makes sense in the BIG PICTURE. Basically, I think I'm saying the same thing as OP as in be organized, don't write in stream of consciousness, make sure your argument makes sense, etc. Also, go for the low hanging fruit. Stop going for that clever argument. I tried so hard to get an A+ that I missed some of the easier issues.

At least that's what I learned from 1L year. But hey I didn't do that well (median at a T14) so what do I know

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby banjo » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:29 am

Sometimes fewer replies is a good thing. I think this is solid advice and it was a good refresher for me as a 2L.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby sublime » Thu Dec 04, 2014 4:33 am

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pancakes3
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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby pancakes3 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 7:20 am

iliketurtles123 wrote:This might be good for certain professors (I did get two A/A-'s) but ended up getting mostly B/B+'s in my other classes.
...
At least that's what I learned from 1L year. But hey I didn't do that well (median at a T14) so what do I know


Sorry, and I don't mean to call out but this stresses me out. A, A-, B+, and a smattering of B's only nets you median?

Jchance
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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby Jchance » Thu Dec 04, 2014 11:38 am

3L here. I want to echo what OP said, good advices overall, and here's something I'd like to add if you want to be extra prepared:
Practice typing out the Rules (black-letter laws) multiple times, it's one thing to know the Rules but it's another thing to construct complete sentences with the Rules you know. If you practice beforehand, you skip the step of how to construct the Rules in your head into complete sentences, and save more time on exams for analysis to come up with more arguments/counterarguments.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby AreJay711 » Thu Dec 04, 2014 12:00 pm

I agree wholeheartedly. You will get a few points / tie-breakers for clever arguments, but the prof. in 1L classes is looking for basic shit. My best 1L grades were in the subjects I knew the least about and so just threw everything I could think of at.

And, just to cut off the inevitable pissy "lawl skool exams are soooooo unfair" sentiment, that grading has some basis in reality. The typing test character of the exams is bullshit, but rewarding superficial reasoning is preparing you for work as an attorney. A judge might be impressed at your clever analysis and weaving of authority, but that that isn't going to make him or her decide the case your way. If you want to put deep thought into something, take a class with a final paper -- 2/3 of the class will just phone it in.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby sublime » Thu Dec 04, 2014 3:11 pm

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TheNextAmendment
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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TheNextAmendment » Fri Dec 05, 2014 5:27 pm

TFALAWL wrote:I noticed that this thread has had a lot of hits but no responses. To 2L's and 3L's, I would appreciate any constructive criticisms, or additions you may have -- as it's entirely possible that my approach is less than optimal. To any 1L's, feel free to ask any questions on this thread and I will try my best during my free time to answer them. I say this because the approach that I sketched is mostly a road-map, so if you want more tailored advice, ask away. Lastly, I would like to throw a little disclaimer. I think this approach is probably best suited towards students like me who were intellectually-average compared to their peers, but strove to do a little above-median (say top 1/3).


Not bad advice, I echo most of it. For those who want to be at the top of their class I think more work is required.
My advice for those kinds of students:

-throw the casebook out the window and outline the e&e
-then put the cases you went over in class into the outline where appropriate
-ask a few people to take practice exams with you- it will calm your nerves about how "smart everyone else is" and you'll learn a lot from your peers
-don't relax; stressing makes you overwork and over-prepare and you need this right now
-take a step back on the exam and ask yourself every minute- "how would the professor answer this" and "why did the professor use these facts"
-*edit- and stop thinking everyone else is brighter or more studious. IMO- only 20-30% of your class is aiming as high as you.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby GunnerBingo » Fri Dec 05, 2014 8:06 pm

If I could chime in with a few specific pieces of specific advice for exam-taking (I was in the top 10%):

(1) Use at least 1/4-1/6 of an exam question's allotted time (e.g. 10-15 min. for a 1 hour question) for reading the fact pattern, identifying all/the most relevant legal issues, and doing a very brief organizational outline that lays out the order in which you are going to address the issues and lists the few important or nuanced sub-issue you need to address within each issue. You will hear people start typing in your exam quickly, but don't let this worry you.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the longer you spend on a question/fact-pattern, the less time it will take to write a great response. Essentially, if you are more familiar with the fact pattern and you know what your structure is, you will be able to type faster, more coherently, and hit all the issues. Your pears who just start writing out issues as they see them on the fact-pattern will ultimately lose time going back and forth between the exam and the law in their head or on their cheat sheet. As an analogy, think back to the LSAT. On reading comp., the most efficient way to complete the section was to read the essay very thoroughly one time in order to minimize going back and forth between the text except for very specific points you need to reference. The case is no different here. Become a more efficient law school test taker by becoming good at forcing yourself to thoroughly dissect a fact-pattern before you begin typing.

(2) Besides good/great legal analysis, the two most important aspects of substantive test-taking, for me are (a) issue spotting and (b) recognizing the point-worthy sub-issues within each issue.

(a) Working on issue-spotting is crucial because you can't get points for issues you don't address. When you are studying for exams, you need to be memorizing your rules and looking at your cases with an eye as to how the rules apply to factual issues. Cases where a rule is applied and past-professor exams are great places to look to get an understanding of what scenarios present what issues. You should train your brain to see a fact and then immediately associate it with a rule. You should approach the fact-pattern on the exam as a fishing expedition for issues based on the rules you know (e.g. on a torts exam that when you read about someone touching someone else, you need to immidiately think battery.).

(b) Once you have spotted all/the most important issues, the way to differentiate yourself among your peers is to target the main sub-issue(s) within an issue, and allocate the majority of your time to those elements. Almost every issue is framed on exams the same way, where most of the elements will be straightforward and then there will be one element or exception that is ripe for argument (e.g. the touching element of a battery claim might be the important sub-issue if A touched B's purse rather than B's actual body). In order to do well on an exam, you need to be able to write short efficient statements that knock out the easy sub-issues/elements quickly, but without being conclusory. Then, you need to spend the majority of your time attacking the arguments on both sides of the most relevant/debatable issues. So when you learn a black letter law, you need to think about the exceptions/alternatives to that law or the factual instances where the application of the law will be up for argument - this is where the points are.

Everyone will tell you that you need to argue both sides of every issue. I am here to say that this is not entirely true. You do not need to argue both-sidse on every sub-issue/element within each issue. Most of the small elements of an issue will only be worth 1 point, and the professor only wants to see that you can identify the fact that satisfies the element without making a conclusory statement. You won't get any extra points by throwing in hypothetical opposing arguments toward obviously satisfied sub-issues. Where you should argue both sides is for the multi-point sub-issues that may involve different factual uncertainties or may involve the application of alternative laws. The better you can allocate your exam resources to the critical sub-issues the higher you will score.

Hope some of this helps!

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby Glasseyes » Sun Dec 07, 2014 1:26 am

Chiming in as a current 1L in the throes of the reading period. I came into exams having read Getting to Maybe, thinking: everything is ambiguous, must argue both sides, the center is not the center, yadda yadda. Took a few practice tests and felt all right... until our profs went over what they were looking for, and called a lot of us out for overwritten answers. It's possible they're lying to us outright, but each said specifically not to argue both sides. They hammered home that they don't want regurgitation of rules or rote, repetitious arguments just for the sake of hitting imaginary "points". The key takeaways from our review sessions were: "use your best judgment" and "do not bullshit." YMMV.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TFALAWL » Sun Dec 07, 2014 4:18 pm

Glasseyes wrote:Chiming in as a current 1L in the throes of the reading period. I came into exams having read Getting to Maybe, thinking: everything is ambiguous, must argue both sides, the center is not the center, yadda yadda. Took a few practice tests and felt all right... until our profs went over what they were looking for, and called a lot of us out for overwritten answers. It's possible they're lying to us outright, but each said specifically not to argue both sides. They hammered home that they don't want regurgitation of rules or rote, repetitious arguments just for the sake of hitting imaginary "points". The key takeaways from our review sessions were: "use your best judgment" and "do not bullshit." YMMV.


I think there's three good rules of thumb that you may want to consider here. 1. I once asked a professor "what's the lowest-level (intellectually) argument that I could make and still score points -- her reply was "whatever won't get you laughed at in court" -- having worked in a court this summer, trust me, the threshold is LOW. 2. With each fact pattern the professors want you to make a bigger deal out of some issues than others -- this is where you use your judgment. Example for contracts: say you spent half of one class on the statute of frauds, but an entire month on the Parol Evidence Rule, then, if both show up on your fact pattern you should devote pages to analyzing the parol evidence rule, and only devote a minimal amount of time to the fraud question. 3. The reason teachers tell you to "use your best judgment" is because they hate having to read 30 page exams where students threw the kitchen sink at them -- yet, this approach, if done in an organized way, will not lose you points -- if in doubt, put in the argument.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby Glasseyes » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:05 am

TFALAWL wrote:
Glasseyes wrote:Chiming in as a current 1L in the throes of the reading period. I came into exams having read Getting to Maybe, thinking: everything is ambiguous, must argue both sides, the center is not the center, yadda yadda. Took a few practice tests and felt all right... until our profs went over what they were looking for, and called a lot of us out for overwritten answers. It's possible they're lying to us outright, but each said specifically not to argue both sides. They hammered home that they don't want regurgitation of rules or rote, repetitious arguments just for the sake of hitting imaginary "points". The key takeaways from our review sessions were: "use your best judgment" and "do not bullshit." YMMV.


I think there's three good rules of thumb that you may want to consider here. 1. I once asked a professor "what's the lowest-level (intellectually) argument that I could make and still score points -- her reply was "whatever won't get you laughed at in court" -- having worked in a court this summer, trust me, the threshold is LOW. 2. With each fact pattern the professors want you to make a bigger deal out of some issues than others -- this is where you use your judgment. Example for contracts: say you spent half of one class on the statute of frauds, but an entire month on the Parol Evidence Rule, then, if both show up on your fact pattern you should devote pages to analyzing the parol evidence rule, and only devote a minimal amount of time to the fraud question. 3. The reason teachers tell you to "use your best judgment" is because they hate having to read 30 page exams where students threw the kitchen sink at them -- yet, this approach, if done in an organized way, will not lose you points -- if in doubt, put in the argument.


Sound advice. A couple of our profs mentioned the "laugh test" as well. I took their general "don't bullshit" advice to mean make any reasonable argument you can that will serve your position, don't be afraid to get creative, but don't throw in arguments that will obviously fail. The trick seems to lie in figuring out where your professor thinks an argument fails.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby TFALAWL » Thu Dec 11, 2014 3:44 am

I just took my first exam for this semester and realized that there's another pearl I wanted to shed. As some people who have read my other posts may have noted -- I'm an avid learner of sports psychology. Anyways, when you walk into an exam -- let's say it's a race-horse issue spotter -- there's this tendency to want to act quickly: type right away, think quickly, don't take any breaks, etc. While counter-intuitive, the best approach (according to psychologists at least), is to approach an exam slowly. Keep your heart-rate nice and slow, and for the first two hours at least, don't worry about time -- pretend that time isn't an issue. This way, you can enter the ZONE ... if you can do that you will perform up to 15% better than you would on a normal day. There are various ways to get into the ZONE, and I'm not going to write a treatise (just yet) (though if the mods would like, I would love to write a "mental toughness" guide that could be stickied on the main "advice" thread.) Bottom line, if you feel rushed, you won't be able to enter that optimal ZONE, because your muscles will tighten. Ironically, by "taking it slow" you will actual be able to process info and type far more quickly. Once again, feel free to PM me for any advice --- I'm not the most intelligent law student, but I will say that I have some expertise in Mindfulness/Mental Toughness. Cheers!

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby mvp99 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:13 am

I think I generally followed OP's advice and ended up with As and A-. I only studied the last few weeks of the semester and barely did any thorough reading during the semester. it might seem obvious to some but youll be surprise how many people e.g. outline the shit out of the class w/o actually mastering the basics.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby pancakes3 » Thu Dec 11, 2014 8:54 am

mvp99 wrote:I think I generally followed OP's advice and ended up with As and A-. I only studied the last few weeks of the semester and barely did any thorough reading during the semester. it might seem obvious to some but youll be surprise how many people e.g. outline the shit out of the class w/o actually mastering the basics.


I couldn't come up with a 75 page outline for half a semester's worth of [no PJ} CivPro even if I wanted to. It's open rulebook, open notes and I've got 5 sheets worth of handwritten outline and I feel like I'm overprepared.

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Re: Dear 1Ls: My .02 cents on doing well on exams

Postby Mhens » Sat Dec 13, 2014 4:42 pm

GunnerBingo wrote:(1) Use at least 1/4-1/6 of an exam question's allotted time (e.g. 10-15 min. for a 1 hour question) for reading the fact pattern, identifying all/the most relevant legal issues, and doing a very brief organizational outline that lays out the order in which you are going to address the issues and lists the few important or nuanced sub-issue you need to address within each issue. You will hear people start typing in your exam quickly, but don't let this worry you.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but the longer you spend on a question/fact-pattern, the less time it will take to write a great response. Essentially, if you are more familiar with the fact pattern and you know what your structure is, you will be able to type faster, more coherently, and hit all the issues. Your pears who just start writing out issues as they see them on the fact-pattern will ultimately lose time going back and forth between the exam and the law in their head or on their cheat sheet. Become a more efficient law school test taker by becoming good at forcing yourself to thoroughly dissect a fact-pattern before you begin typing.


This whole post is great advice and using most of the advice OP gave, I ended up just outside the top 5% of my class 1L year. But, I really wanted to emphasis the outlining part. It is honestly one of the most important parts of exam taking. Way too many people just jump right in and start typing instead of planning out their answers. It is tempting to just start typing when year everyone else begin, but hold off and make sure you at least have a basic outline of what you want to hit in your answer. Outlining your answer is also a huge help when it comes down to time pressure and you're trying to pack in as many issues as possible. As much as you try to time out your test as best you can, the time still flies by. If you have outlined you can at least put the issue and a few sentences rather than trying to still trying to spot more issues. This helped me on so many exams, where some of my peers that didn't outline weren't able to finish the exam.

Also, I know someone else mentioned make sure you spot the easy issues or "low hanging fruit." Even if you have great arguments and spot complex issues, if you miss the easy points you will not do as well since everyone else will get those points. Sometimes the easy points makes the difference between getting an A/A- and B+/B on an exam. This happened to one of my friends on Civ Pro last year. She got all the complex issues, but missed the easy ones and ended up with a B+, when she could probably have gotten an A.

I also wanted to add, as tempting as it is, don't discuss your exam with other people in your class. You will just end up beating yourself up for things you missed and start second guessing your answers. I did this with my Torts exam last year and after talking to people, I convinced myself I did awful and had anxiety attacks throughout break until we got our grades back. I ended up getting an A and worrying about for nothing.




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