What distinguishes A students from B students? Forum

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Allegro3935

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What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by Allegro3935 » Mon Jul 04, 2022 6:40 pm

One year into law school, I still don't understand how to play the game. I don't know what professors want on their final exams, with all their twisted hypos and open-ended questions. 2nd semester, I followed a solid CREAC structure instead of a "train of thought" word vomit. No dice: same grades as 1st semester. I ended 1L with all Bs except for a lone B+ , which put me in the lowest quartile. Most of my friends/classmates have B+ averages with some A-s and As. Frankly I feel stupid.

Here's what I still don't understand: whether to spend time reading 20th century cases from Iowa, how to prepare for a final, when to prepare, and how to write the exam better than my classmates. I met my profs to no avail. They just criticized my papers without offering any general advice on how to be a better student. Even if the criticism was "you didn't see the issues I was thinking about," I have no idea how to improve on that.

So I want to stop the self-pity and start improving instead. What can mediocre students like me do to improve their grades in their 2L and 3L years? What do A-students do that B-students don't? Do they spend more time at the library? Do they memorize the cases better and cite them more? Or if it's all just a matter of spotting an x-number of issues, how do you improve?

talons2250

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by talons2250 » Mon Jul 04, 2022 11:41 pm

Allegro3935 wrote:
Mon Jul 04, 2022 6:40 pm
One year into law school, I still don't understand how to play the game. I don't know what professors want on their final exams, with all their twisted hypos and open-ended questions. 2nd semester, I followed a solid CREAC structure instead of a "train of thought" word vomit. No dice: same grades as 1st semester. I ended 1L with all Bs except for a lone B+ , which put me in the lowest quartile. Most of my friends/classmates have B+ averages with some A-s and As. Frankly I feel stupid.

Here's what I still don't understand: whether to spend time reading 20th century cases from Iowa, how to prepare for a final, when to prepare, and how to write the exam better than my classmates. I met my profs to no avail. They just criticized my papers without offering any general advice on how to be a better student. Even if the criticism was "you didn't see the issues I was thinking about," I have no idea how to improve on that.

So I want to stop the self-pity and start improving instead. What can mediocre students like me do to improve their grades in their 2L and 3L years? What do A-students do that B-students don't? Do they spend more time at the library? Do they memorize the cases better and cite them more? Or if it's all just a matter of spotting an x-number of issues, how do you improve?
Many professors provide model exam answers. If you read those, you will literally see what they expect on their exams. Other than that, you can 1) do all the reading on time, 2) brief all the cases and take notes on the reading, 3) create outlines from scratch, 4) take practice tests, and 5) discuss the answers to those practice tests with your fellow classmates in study groups. You might also read "getting to maybe" and other books about law school exam taking, but I've never found those to be quite illuminating (others have though). There's no magic answer here, for better or worse.

charlesives95

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by charlesives95 » Tue Jul 05, 2022 10:26 am

Seconding the above advice. While making my own outlines was very helpful (because it forced me to organize my notes and case briefs into a distilled, condensed form that made sense to me), the most helpful thing I did was taking old exams and comparing my answers to high-scoring answers. A few of my professors provided model answers, but my school also has a bank of crowdsourced past exam answers, which was extremely useful.

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VirginiaFan

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by VirginiaFan » Tue Jul 05, 2022 12:20 pm

Read the book "Getting to Maybe." Explains all of this in detail.

nixy

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by nixy » Tue Jul 05, 2022 12:49 pm

I think taking as many practice exams as possible can help a lot. Either take them on your own if you have model answers to compare with, or take with other students because collectively you’ll manage to catch most of what will make a good answer. They’re just a different kind of genre than most other tests you’ve had before now so getting as much practice in handling them is important.

Some people find it helpful to make checklists for various central concepts so that during an exam you can make sure that you’ve addressed everything related to a particular issue (dumb example, but if the exam involves someone falling down icy stairs at the town library, make sure you address each of duty, breach, causation, and damages, that kind of thing).

There are usually two kinds of exam questions: issue spotters and policy questions. Issue spotters throw facts at you and that’s where checklists can be helpful. You also want to basically consider the legal significance of every fact (was the library open or closed when the person fell on the steps? How long had the storm been going on? Was the storm so bad that no one could drive on the streets? Was the person who fell wearing boots or high heels? Were there any signs warning that the stairs get icy?). Basically, if a professor puts a fact into an exam, it almost certainly has some kind of legal significance, so you want to make sure to think about if there’s anything you need to say about it.

It can also help to look at your overall outline for the class and identify the main issues you talked about during the semester and make sure there’s something in your answer that addresses it. Like if the class is Admin law, there will probably be a question addressing Chevron deference, so if you’ve got through your questions without addressing it, check if there’s somewhere it should be addressed.

The big thing that’s different here is that you can’t just regurgitate what the law is (“negligence requires a duty of care, breach of the duty, and the breach causing damages”). You need to show how that law applies to the facts in front of you in the question.

(Short version: read Getting to Maybe.)

Policy questions ask you something like “Congress is considering passing a law that says X. You are an advisor to a legislator. Explain why they should or should not support this law.” Best way to succeed with these is to have gone to class and know what your prof thinks is important:

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haldren2198

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by haldren2198 » Fri Jul 08, 2022 4:52 pm

Allegro3935 wrote:
Mon Jul 04, 2022 6:40 pm
One year into law school, I still don't understand how to play the game. I don't know what professors want on their final exams, with all their twisted hypos and open-ended questions. 2nd semester, I followed a solid CREAC structure instead of a "train of thought" word vomit. No dice: same grades as 1st semester. I ended 1L with all Bs except for a lone B+ , which put me in the lowest quartile. Most of my friends/classmates have B+ averages with some A-s and As. Frankly I feel stupid.

Here's what I still don't understand: whether to spend time reading 20th century cases from Iowa, how to prepare for a final, when to prepare, and how to write the exam better than my classmates. I met my profs to no avail. They just criticized my papers without offering any general advice on how to be a better student. Even if the criticism was "you didn't see the issues I was thinking about," I have no idea how to improve on that.

So I want to stop the self-pity and start improving instead. What can mediocre students like me do to improve their grades in their 2L and 3L years? What do A-students do that B-students don't? Do they spend more time at the library? Do they memorize the cases better and cite them more? Or if it's all just a matter of spotting an x-number of issues, how do you improve?
I finished 1L with top grades at a T14 and I think the biggest thing is doing as much in advance as possible so you can spend all your exam time on actual analysis. I'll give you some quick bullet points about what I did that I think let me do very well.

- Read every single case all semester and take detailed notes so you understand it front to back. Paraphrase the facts, figure out what the analysis is doing and put it in your own words. Then pay attention in class to figure out what your professor's takeaway is from those cases, write that down. Compile all your reading and class notes into a big document (or a folder of documents) that you can refer back to closer to finals

- Find high quality outlines from top students. You shouldn't reinvent the wheel. Odds are that someone made a better outline than you can make. If you get an outline and don't know who made it, go into the metadata on Word and see who created the document. Find them on Linkedin, see if they graduated with honors and what kind of job they got out of law school. First semester I got a Civ Pro outline from a friend who didn't know the source. I found the name of the creator, saw that he was at Sullivan & Cromwell, and trusted it well enough.

- Edit that outline to fit your own needs and anything that's changed. Go through it with a fine-toothed comb. If it's con law, for example, the anti-commandeering doctrine changed a few years ago. You need to edit that. Also, professors sometimes change what they emphasize from year to year. And sometimes good students just get things wrong. I had to change a few things in that Civ Pro outline and edit it to suit my needs (and fix a few things that the student either worded badly or just got wrong), but the overall framework of it was really high quality and it let me avoid the time sink of creating one from scratch.

- Once you get close to finals, go through the syllabus and make a list of every possible concept that the professor might test on. This is when the real work comes in. You need to pre write a high quality, detailed rule explanation for every single concept. And once you finish doing that, take every practice exam the professor offers and edit your pre writes so they suit the kind of answer your professor is looking for. It's great if you get model answers. My con law professor gave us six prior exams with two model answers each and I was able to pre write rule explanations for everything that was quite similar to the model answers since there was so much breadth (though of course in my own words).

- Get as fast as you possibly can at typing. When you start the exam, go through the fact pattern and spot every issue. Retype your relevant prewrites into the exam software as quickly as you can, then you can spend significantly more time on analyzing the facts and applying the law than if you had to come up with the rule explanation during the exam.

davidjfeder

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by davidjfeder » Sun Aug 21, 2022 4:25 pm

Allegro3935 wrote:
Mon Jul 04, 2022 6:40 pm
One year into law school, I still don't understand how to play the game. I don't know what professors want on their final exams, with all their twisted hypos and open-ended questions. 2nd semester, I followed a solid CREAC structure instead of a "train of thought" word vomit. No dice: same grades as 1st semester. I ended 1L with all Bs except for a lone B+ , which put me in the lowest quartile. Most of my friends/classmates have B+ averages with some A-s and As. Frankly I feel stupid.

Here's what I still don't understand: whether to spend time reading 20th century cases from Iowa, how to prepare for a final, when to prepare, and how to write the exam better than my classmates. I met my profs to no avail. They just criticized my papers without offering any general advice on how to be a better student. Even if the criticism was "you didn't see the issues I was thinking about," I have no idea how to improve on that.

So I want to stop the self-pity and start improving instead. What can mediocre students like me do to improve their grades in their 2L and 3L years? What do A-students do that B-students don't? Do they spend more time at the library? Do they memorize the cases better and cite them more? Or if it's all just a matter of spotting an x-number of issues, how do you improve?
Check out this post from Orin Kerr, who talks about the differences between A, B, C, etc. exams with concrete examples: https://volokh.com/posts/1168382003.html

johndhi

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by johndhi » Wed Sep 21, 2022 2:06 pm

It has been a few years, but I was an A student in law school. A few thoughts to add to what's in this thread:

-people talk about "IRAC" as a way to structure legal analysis of facts. State the factual issue, state the legal rule, apply the rule to the facts, and provide a conclusion. What I learned was that: bad exams just do the I, R, and the C. Decent exams do I, R, A, and C, treating all with similar importance. Great exams spend almost all of their time on the A. The analysis. Most of the class, when it hears that a guy slip and fell will tell you there could be a claim for negligence against the property owner, the elements of a negligence claim, and that they feel the defendant will likely succeed. The real value you add is by going deep on the analysis. You want a bunch of sentences like this in your answer: "Case X is potentially applicable on its face, because there a guy fell and the defendant was liable. However, in this case, defense can argue that the way he slipped was distinguishable, since the sidewalk wasn't tilted. Plaintiffs will say that doesn't matter; they'll point to the quality of ice and the length of time since it had been swept. It was apparently significant in Case X that the neighbors had slipped before; it would be worth asking to speak with the neighbors in this case to get their testimony." etc.

-People are right about getting to maybe. It tells you to do what I just did: tell both sides of things, not only at face value, but to go really deep with it. So deep that you cover all of the standard possibilities, then make up a few wild ones so you seem creative. E.g.: "While Case Y wasn't a slip and fall case, it's potentially relevant here in that it shows there can be a wide range of ways the 'causation' prong of a negligence claim is interpreted by courts." Or focus on some very subtle detail in the facts: "the plaintiff stated that he slipped and then fell, but at another point simply stated that he fell. if in fact he didn't slip, defense could undermine the negligence element of (z) by showing (y)."


-my other big takeaway was that you can't do everything. ppl in this thread tell you to read and understand every case -- but what if you get tired, or have other cases to read? IMO, the *absolute key* is to do a lot of practice exams. Build the actual skill of answering exam questions. Reading cases and writing outlines doesn't prepare you to write exam answers. Writing exam answers -- over and over, under time pressure -- does.

Good luck.

jdoeman1234567

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by jdoeman1234567 » Thu Sep 22, 2022 11:31 pm

Allegro3935 wrote:
Mon Jul 04, 2022 6:40 pm
One year into law school, I still don't understand how to play the game. I don't know what professors want on their final exams, with all their twisted hypos and open-ended questions. 2nd semester, I followed a solid CREAC structure instead of a "train of thought" word vomit. No dice: same grades as 1st semester. I ended 1L with all Bs except for a lone B+ , which put me in the lowest quartile. Most of my friends/classmates have B+ averages with some A-s and As. Frankly I feel stupid.

Here's what I still don't understand: whether to spend time reading 20th century cases from Iowa, how to prepare for a final, when to prepare, and how to write the exam better than my classmates. I met my profs to no avail. They just criticized my papers without offering any general advice on how to be a better student. Even if the criticism was "you didn't see the issues I was thinking about," I have no idea how to improve on that.

So I want to stop the self-pity and start improving instead. What can mediocre students like me do to improve their grades in their 2L and 3L years? What do A-students do that B-students don't? Do they spend more time at the library? Do they memorize the cases better and cite them more? Or if it's all just a matter of spotting an x-number of issues, how do you improve?
A large part of grades is just playing the game. Here’s my two cents.

#1 Get a recent outline from a good student who already took the class and if possible ask former students for specific information about the Professor. The outline should be your bible. Add to it as necessary and review throughout the semester.

#2 Basically transcribe the entire class and then organize these notes a bit so they are coherent and review occasionally throughout the semester. This is important to make sure you have your professors nuance on the cases your read. You want to use that in the analysis on the exam. And it’s huge for bullshit policy questions. I’ve literally “written” the model answer for policy questions by copying and pasting verbatim quotes from my professor in class. Many professors are egomaniacs. It’s very easy to pander towards them. Just make sure you raise the obvious counter arguments and then explain why those are wrong by regurgitating whatever your professor’s views are.

#3 Read all assigned cases but don’t get caught up on unnecessary facts. Get the key holding. Write the actual holding down with the name of the case and keep these in a running word doc. Review throughout the semester.

#4 Review all practice exams and model answers. If you know the test will be a time crunch, then also take practice tests.

ukjobsonwetton

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Re: What distinguishes A students from B students?

Post by ukjobsonwetton » Mon Sep 26, 2022 7:58 am

Read model answers from old bar exams.

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