Tips for law school exams

academics study skills

Law school exams usually consist of long fact-patterns. Students are expected to analyze as many issues as they can spot. Studying for the exam can feel daunting because the structure of the exam is usually unfamiliar.

Here are three study tips that can make the study process more approachable:

Take practice exams early and often. 

A big trap law students fall into is waiting to take practice exams until after they’ve reviewed all the class material. I recommend taking practice exams early on in your study process to reveals gaps in your knowledge.  Using practice exams in this way can help focus your study-time to addressing weak subject areas.

Outline 

I recommend making your own outlines. Model outlines are certainly helpful, and you can use them to enhance your own outline. For instance, you can borrow their structure or use them to fill in missing information from lectures you missed or cases you never read. But they shouldn’t be a crutch. Writing an outline is the most valuable thing you can do to study. You will not retain information from passively reading another person’s outline. 

I always had two outlines. The first was a massive document that collected all lecture and reading notes. I never used this outline on exam day because it was too sprawling and unwieldy. I used the document mostly to organize my notes and review all the class material. The second outline was short, condensed, and purposively organized. It was about half the length of the first. This final product should be as short as possible. A good rule of thumb is that each case should only have a few bullet-points with the holding and a few relevant facts. The longer and more sprawling a certain section of your outline is, the more likely you’re confused about a certain area of law. 

Read Hornbooks

I wouldn’t start your studying by reading a hornbook. But hornbooks can be a good way to review. So, after you’ve outlined most of the class and have a few practice tests under your belt, I suggest reading a hornbook to solidify and clarify your understanding of the law. Hornbooks highlight major themes you might have missed.

Adela earned her BA in Ethics, Politics and Economics from Yale College and her JD from Yale Law School. She is currently clerking on the Ninth Circuit.

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