rising 2L here who did well. i'll share a few tips.(1) analysis gets you points.
generally, it's analysis that gets you points on exams. don't waste too much time (if any, see #2 below) restating the law. you may have heard of "IRAC" (issue-rule-application-conclusion). it should look more like IRAAAAAAAAAC.
also, while we're talking about analysis, you will hear this over and over again, but i'll say it anyway: argue both sides
. when you do this, don't just make conclusory statements for each side, but actually support your conclusions through application of the law to the facts in the fact pattern
, which means saying how various facts in the fact pattern do and do not support the legal conclusion. if your argument looks one-sided or just states legal conclusions with minimal reference to the facts in the fact pattern, you are doing it wrong.
there may also be different legal rules (or example, in torts, the "zone of danger" approach to emotional damages v. the "impact" approach to emotional damages), and you should discuss how the outcome would be different under each legal rule, if different rules might apply.
anyway, i don't want to get too deep into legal reasoning. there's this great book called getting to maybe
that will explain this better. see #8 below.(2) every prof is different.
for example, some profs don't want you to write the rules at all, but rather prefer that you jump straight into the analysis. say the rule is a three-part balancing test, where application of the law involves balancing three factors. in civ pro, for instance, one of the tests you will likely encounter is the mathews v. eldridge
balancing test, where you balance (i) the interest of the individual whose life/liberty/property was deprived; (ii) the interest of the government; and (iii) the risk of error and probable value, if any, of additional procedural safeguards. instead of listing those factors and explaining mathews
, you might just say:
"there being deprivation of johnny's liberty by a state actor (it was a cop who threw johnny in jail), the court will use the mathews v. eldridge balancing test for procedural due process to determine whether the state violated johnny's constitutional rights under the due process clause. first, johnny's interest---liberty itself---is high, weighing in his favor on the first prong. because the state forbid johnny from communicating with counsel or anyone else outside of jail during his first 30 days in jail, the state not only deprived johnny of his liberty, but also of his ability to ability to ensure that his affairs were tended to while he was in jail. second, the government's interest was also high, b/c...." blah blah blah.
however, some profs may want you to list the factors as well. point being, know your prof and what she wants.(3) prewriting? ish...
you definitely want to prewrite the rules, so you don't have to think about how to phrase them. i pretty much organize my outlines by the rules and copy them into my essays as needed. in some classes, you may be able to to prewrite parts of essay questions you know or believe will come up (although this really only works for some classes with pointed types of questions---itwould not work for a class with a massive issue spotter like my torts class had). for example, most civpro exams have a personal jurisdiction issue spotter. there are only so many different types of PJ questions, and you can basically prewrite essays for each with stuff like [*INSERT FACTS/ANALYSIS HERE*] in various parts. for example, this is part of one i wrote for one type of PJ question:
Among SCOTUS’s tests for determining whether purposeful availment is satisfied, World-Wide’s “seek to serve” test is probably most appropriate, considering that D is a [*retailer / distributor*].
[*ARGUMENT BASED ON SEEK TO SERVE*]
• Target the forum state?
o Marketing aimed at forum state?
o Attracted out-of-state customers in some special way?
• Might overcome the unilateral 3rd party issue
o Awareness/foreseeability not enough
• Direction of 3rd party?
This is a close call, but on balance, the facts seem to satisfy purposeful availment.
prewriting is also useful if you know there's a policy question coming up (usually the prof will tell you the format of the exam) and you can identify a few possibilities for what your prof might ask you. for example, you might have a pretty good idea that your torts prof will ask a policy question about either strict liability, damages caps, liability for emotional harm, or the "race to the bottom" in products liability. you might then prewrite policy questions about each of those four topics, which you can copy substantially during the exam, if not word-for-word. this will not only make you sound way more eloquent and coherent, but it will also save you tons of time so you can focus on the issue spotter or whatever other parts of the exam there may be.(4) briefing.
i briefed one or two days' worth of classes and thought it was useful b/c it taught me how to read cases and separate holdings from issues from reasoning. after that, i just wrote "issue," "holding," etc. in the margins of the casebook; anything else was a waste of time. but that's just me, and what works for you may be different.(4)E&Es.
for the subjects that have good E&Es (torts and civpro for sure [glannon is a god], maybe property, maybe contracts, definitely NOT crim or conlaw though, IMO), i found writing out answers to each of the examples as if i was writing an exam question and then comparing my answers to the questions to be very instructive. when i had time, i did this for every class at the conclusion of any given section in the course. for example, when we finished negligence for torts, i wrote out all the answers to the examples in the neglience chapter of the torts E&E and compared my answers to the explanations. when we finished proximate cause, i did the same for the proximate cause chapter. this is useful to do early on b/c you can target specific areas you just went over and get some practice on exam-taking without having to take a whole exam (which would be useless at the beginning of the semester, IMO, since you would know only a small part of the law).(5) outlining.
i started doing this a little over one month into the semester, after the natural completion of any given part of a course (for example, when we finished "negligence" in torts or "personal jurisdiction" in civpro). most people do this much later, but i think it's helpful to start early and continue to outline after the completion of each section. that way, once you're about 3 weeks away from exams, you can start taking practice tests (or parts of practice tests at least---depends on the course) while everyone else is still outlining. for most classes, i also did attack outlines at the end, which served as a good review of everything (since i sometimes forgot earlier parts of the course---that's the disadvantage of outlining early) and provided a usable tool for the exams (you'll find that in most courses, a 50 pg outline is too unwieldly to be of much use during the actual exam...i think i looked at my big torts outline maybe three times during the 4 hour exam, whereas i glanced at my two-page attack outline probably a dozen times).(6) practice tests.
for me, practice tests were the most valuable thing. if you professor releases a bunch of her past exams, take all of them if possible (or at least 5 or so if they have more than that) sometime starting about 2-3 weeks before classes end and ACTUALLY WRITE OUT YOUR ANSWERS. if she releases model answers, studiously compare your answers to hers and figure out how to improve yours. rewrite answers to be as good as hers if necessary. if she doesn't release model answers, get together with other like-minded students, compare your answers to one another, and solicit honest feedback. if the prof doesn't release past exams at all, she probably sucks. if that's the case, try to find out what her exams will be like from 2Ls or 3Ls and take practice exams that will be similar. this may be hard for some profs with a unique exam format. not much i can tell you in that case, but you still gotta figure out some way to practice.(7) headings.
see how my headings in this post make everything easy to read and follow? yeah, professors like that too, especially when they have 100 exams to grade. use headings and even subheadings, where appropriate.(8) getting to maybe.
it's a book, and a good one. get it and read it. ideally once before law school starts and another time as exams approach.