Preparing for Law School Final Exams

December 6, 2013

So you’re about to face your first set of law school final exams. There’s no need to panic, at least not yet.

You still have enough time to become thoroughly prepared, so long as you plan ahead. Law school exams are probably unlike anything you experienced as an undergraduate. In law school, exam preparation really is a semester-long endeavor. Therefore you need to start your outlining early, since doing it well takes time and diligence.

Outline shells for common first-year topics are available on lawschool.westlaw.com, and they are a good way to start.

Populate the outline shells with your own notes, notes from your classmates, or excerpts from outlines written by students who took the class before you. Many schools establish outline banks that allow students to share outlines with each other.

While it’s fine to incorporate outside material into your outlines, don’t make the mistake of relying exclusively on outlines written by others. You will remember the information much better if you write your own outlines. It’s the process of creating the outline that’s important, not necessarily the end result. (Nevertheless, you should save copies of your outlines to use when preparing for the bar exam since much of it covers first-year topics.) Whether your outline is entirely your own creation or incorporates outside sources, the best gauge of its success is how familiar you are with it, not just how thorough it is.

Many students also join study groups as a way to prepare for final exams.

Does that mean you should too? The answer depends entirely on your own learning style. If you work better in groups, then form or join a study group. (Your school can help you with study group formation.) If you work better on your own, then don’t apologize for studying by yourself. Some students need others to stay on task while other students need solitude to concentrate. The key is to know yourself and know how you learn.

You should also talk with upper division students, because those that have taken classes from your professors can tell you about the way those exams were structured.

Better yet, go to your school’s library and check out past exams from your professors’ previous classes. You can see for yourself what types of questions were asked. Since it is important to get comfortable with writing, you may even want to write some practice answers. You will get a feel for taking a timed exam, plus you can ask your professors to critique the practice exam you’ve written in order to get feedback in advance of the real event.

(this post originally appeared in 2011, but with a few minor updates still contains very useful advice)