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Most law school students receive law school grades that do not reflect their knowledge of the subject matter. Failure to obtain a good grade often has little to do with a student’s intellectual ability or mastery of the course. Rather, poor test taking skills and stress are the main reasons most students don’t perform to their potential on law school exams. Please consider the following suggestions prior to taking the exam. WHAT TO DO BEFORE THE EXAM � Preparation Preparation is crucial. There is simply no substitute and no avoiding preparing thoroughly for the final. If you don’t know the legal principles of the subject matter before the exam, you have severely reduced your chances of success. � The Night Before Whether the final exam is a two-, three-, or four-hour marathon or a take-home examination, what you do the night before you take the exam is critical. You should think of the exam as equivalent to an athletic event that tests physical endurance, like a marathon. Exams are marathons that test your mental endurance. The best thing to do the night before an exam is to get a good night’s sleep. Think about this: If you are barely coherent at 8 a.m. after getting enough sleep during the regular semester, imagine what sleep deprivation will do to your alertness and mental abilities. � The Morning of the Exam Use more than one alarm. Remember Murphy’s law. If your alarm will fail at any time during the semester, it will likely fail the morning of an 8 a.m. exam. Arriving late for a law school exam is not only embarrassing but you will have less time to finish, which will add to your exam-taking stress. Set the alarms early enough so you can eat a healthy breakfast. You will need the nourishment for the mental marathon and eating during an exam, even if allowed, will be a time-consuming distraction. WHAT TO DO DURING THE EXAM � Read the Instructions — Carefully The instructions tell you exactly what the professor wants in the answer. Many final exam mistakes are due to not following instructions. This is a foolish way to loose points. � Read the Facts — Carefully Make sure you know who are the players in a case scenario. Another common mistake involves making the right argument on behalf of the wrong party. Also a foolish way to loose points. � Understand the Question Being Asked For the same reasons you read the instructions, you should be clear regarding what exactly you are asked to resolve. � Throw the Pizza at the Wall (But Don’t Go Off the Wall) You are likely to spot many more issues within a set of facts than the professor is looking for. Some of the issues will be clearly important, some will be less important, some will be so peripheral to the main question that they won’t be important at all. Although you want to make sure you spot all the important issues, you don’t want to spend much time resolving irrelevant, trivial, or peripheral issues. Outlining your answer will help prioritize the issues by their importance. � Write Legibly Most professors do not grade by the pound. It is more important to write less information — readable information — than to fill many blue books with hieroglyphics that professors cannot decipher. If the professor can’t read it, it is not there. If it is not there, you won’t get credit. It is frustrating to not get credit for something you knew but didn’t clearly communicate. � Write Clearly A clearly written answer increases the likelihood the professor will find (and give you credit for) all the fine arguments you made. � Outline Your Answers to Essay Questions Perhaps the most common problem with essay answers is their lack of organization. Just as outlining the course material helps organize it, outlining the answer to a final exam question helps organize the arguments being made. WHAT NOT TO DO DURING THE EXAM � Do Not Abandon Your Common Sense Keep in mind what areas of law you have covered thoroughly in class and which were only superficially touched upon. Don’t spend an inordinate amount of time on tenuous causes of action or issues, leaving less time for more in-depth analysis of significant issues. � Do Not Stop at Issue Spotting A common mistake is to spot the issue but not include much analysis. This problem occurs often when the student has spent most of her or his time dealing with tenuous causes of action or issues. � Avoid the Unjustified Conclusion A related mistake is to spot the issue, perform the analysis in your head, and write down only a conclusion. In most law school exams, the most important part of the answer is the analysis rather than the conclusion. � Do Not Regurgitate Facts or Statutes Particularly in open book exams. For example, it is a waste of time to write verbatim facts from the exam question or statutory provisions from the exam, the book, or notes. Include these only as part of your analysis of the issues. � Do Not Invent Facts Although you may often make some reasonable factual inferences from the exam question, be careful not to go overboard. Even if these make your answer more credible, facts that are not in the exam question should be mentioned only when there is ambiguity in the exam that requires alternative analysis depending on different facts. For example, if the facts describe the P and D being in a bar all night but doesn’t mention their sobriety, you can state that it is reasonable to assume they had a few drinks and discuss whether that affects the D’s intent. You should also, however, discuss the outcome if D had not consumed any alcohol. But you should not answer the question assuming the parties had drunk several bottles of tequila and D was allergic to tequila. That is going too far. � Avoid Wordiness Again, professors do not grade by the pound. As a matter of fact, when you consider that professors often have more than a hundred exams to grade each semester, it is easy to understand why they appreciate answers that are clear, succinct and to the point. The opposite is also true; when the professor has been grading all day, her or his reaction to a four-blue-book answer is likely not going to be positive. HOW TO AVOID STRESS It can’t be done — but you can learn to work through it. To a great extent, stress is part of the law school experience, particularly during the first year. Students are presented with new (and sometimes obscure) fields of study, each with its own unique language. Additionally, law school is so labor intensive that it leaves little time for other important pursuits, like relationships and hobbies. And, to top it all off, how well you do in a classe is often based on well you do in a single, several-hours-long, closed-book examination. Although it is hard to completely avoid stress, following the above guidelines will alleviate some of the stress. A sense of humor is also helpful. �1999 Professor Rogelio Lasso. Reprinted with permission from Professor Lasso’s helpful Web page , “The Process to Law School Success,”on the Washburn University School of Law site.

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