Top 5% at a T14 here. If there's one thing that I learned during 1L, it's that there are many different paths to success, just as there are many different paths to mediocrity. I had friends that spent tons of time reading supplements during the early weeks of the semester and outlined from day 1. I had friends who briefed all the cases in the course with four different colors of highlighter. I had friends who lived in the library on the weekdays and weekends. Then I had friends who (like me) went out drinking two or three times a week and played tons of video games. Neither of these approaches were directly correlated with success. Unfortunately, all I can tell you is what worked for me.
1.) I did all the class readings, spoke up in class a lot, and took thorough notes in every class.
2.) I NEVER briefed a SINGLE case during all of 1L. It works for some people, but it is by no means necessary. I know plenty of people who briefed every case and tanked 1L.
3.) I made a lot of time for myself and thoroughly enjoyed being a student for the first 12 weeks or so of the semester. I went to Happy Hours, played my favorite video games, and just generally chilled out when I wasn't doing the reading. All in, for those first 12 weeks, I spent maybe 5 hours a day TOTAL between class and reading. This excludes Saturday. I generally did nothing on Saturday until crunch time.
4.) I kept an active social life for the first ten weeks and kept in touch with family and friends from before law school.
5.) I kept two part-time jobs that enabled me to pay my room and board. I found it very relaxing to be able to step into another role unrelated to law. Between the two of them I worked roughly 20 hours a week. It also helped stave off the inevitable feeling of sinking precipitously into debt.
6.) When crunch time came, I studied my ass off. I re-read every case, outlined all the material thoroughly, made flash cards for cases with the important points of law on the back. I never used a supplement, E&E or other outside materials unless specifically required by the instructor. The UCC in Contracts is an example of this. During the finals phase (the last 2-3 weeks of the semester), I spent roughly 10 hours a day studying in addition to class. On Saturday, I studied for roughly 5-6 hours.
7.) By the last day of class I was completely done outlining and I began taking practice tests. I made sure to know the entire course front-to-back and rotated between the courses to keep myself fresh on the material.
8.) 2 days before each test, I focused completely on the material for that specific course. I took 2-3 practice tests a day (although not under exam conditions). Unlike most people, I don't think the value of a PT is in writing the entire thing out. It is in spotting the issues. I always took the PTs with one other person. That way we could compare issues that we spotted and between the two of us we were able to sketch a rough idea of all the issues covered in the PT.
9.) On test day I woke up early (barely slept at all before any of my exams), ate a solid breakfast, took a walk before the exam, and showed up to the exam room at least an hour before the test. I cleared my mind and assured myself that I knew the material, I joked around with friends as they came into the room and tried to keep the mood light. Then, it was go time.
10.) During the test, I READ THE QUESTIONS SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY. I had some friends who worried so much about time that they zoomed through the exam prompt and missed crucial issues. That is, in my opinion, the single dumbest thing you can do. You have 3-5 hours for the test. It's not crazy to think you should spent 30ish minutes of that time reading the prompt(s) slowly and carefully.
11.) Don't go down rabbit holes on the test. If you know the material and are in-tune with what your prof wants, you will let that be your guide. Address the issues succinctly, state the rule applicable to the facts (with almost every prof), and always argue BOTH SIDES.
My Civ Pro professor (who has been grading exams since the Stone Age) put it this way: "If taking a law school exam were like exiting a room, you would be graded on your acrobatics on the way to exiting the room rather than the fact that you made it through the door. Almost everyone will make it through the door. What matters are how many back flips, somersaults, and cartwheels you do on the way out of the room." In short, it's all about the analysis. Start with the understanding that the professor assumes you are an idiot when they first pick up your exam. Explain everything, painstakingly from the ground-up, and, time permitting, leave no stone unturned. This will inevitably involve a judgment call, but then again so does being a good lawyer. BUDGET YOUR TIME WISELY.
12.) I shouldn't have to say this, but more kids fuck this up than you'd think. If your prof every drops you a not-so-subtle hint about the exam during the semester (I had a contracts prof, for instance, who would always talk about the poor souls from previous years that argued that the UCC only applies to merchants) write it down and, God help you, do not make that same mistake on the exam. Professors HAVE TO give out bad grades to some students. Don't give them an excuse to do it to you by falling prey to such an obvious pitfall.
13.) Finally (and I suppose this has nothing to do with getting good grades) do not talk about the exams with your friends (I know it's hard) after the exams are over. Chances are you'll be waiting a month (or longer) to get your grades. Once the test is over, it is over, don't dwell on it. Move on to the next thing. I had a friend who knew he messed up on the first exam, and he let his feelings of disappointment taint the rest of his study routine for the remaining finals. You can imagine how that ended.
I hope this helps, but overall, you should just relax. A lot of law school is just natural ability. Some people are better test-takers than others. Even if you don't crush 1L, you can still be a fantastic lawyer. You'll be fine.