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It’s been said a million times but it’s as true as ever. Law school exams are unlike any other experience in academics. Only in law school would an instructor give you one hour to: � confront a fact pattern the length of a New Yorker article and the complexity of instructions for setting the VCR timer; � identify between five and 50 issues presented therein; � remember the legal rule for each issue, including each and every one of its requisite elements; � provide an analysis of the relationship of the facts to the rule for each issue from at least two competing litigation perspectives and possibly one policy overview; � draw a supportable conclusion for each issue that will propel you into a discussion of the next issue, where you are immediately required to … � do it all over again! Your classes are not likely to provide much in the way of training or experience in such a Herculean task, but there are ways that you can pull yourself up to speed when it comes to successful exam writing. Try the following 1-2-3 approach in order to be at the top of your game: 1) LEARN THE MATERIAL Course Content. One of the major complaints from professors is that students just don’t know the applicable law. You have to learn the entire legal principle (the rule, variations, exceptions and defenses). The opinions in your case book are likely to illustrate only one aspect of any given legal principle, so be sure you understand how the decision fits into the big picture. The course syllabus will help you understand how the course materials fit together, and the table of contents of the case book can also help. While I would not recommend spending precious preparation time rereading every opinion in your case book, the explanatory material can be helpful. Review your case briefs, lecture notes and notes from any tutorials. If a case brief seems confusing, pull up the decision on Westlaw or Lexis and see if the head notes provide clarification. Some enterprising law students also offer course notes for sale. Fill in Gaps in Your Knowledge with Commercial Outlines. West’s Nutshells provide a good overview of the law for almost every course, but they tend to be rather general. A commercial outline that goes into more detail is likely to be more helpful in pulling everything together. Don’t overdo it with the commercial materials — they can be overwhelming, especially for first-year courses. Use your judgment. Review with a Study Buddy. You may think you know the law, but working with classmates is almost always more productive. You will be surprised at how much more you can learn by working with two or three other people, provided that you get down to work and don’t just schmooze. I like to designate one person to lead each study group section, which means presenting the material and finding sample questions or hypotheticals for that day. Study effectively by working collectively! 2) WORK WITH THE MATERIAL Outline. Composing a course outline is a good way to organize the rules from the cases you have read, but the process of outlining is really just an excuse for active review of the materials in class. Outlining is time-consuming, but I still think you learn more if you write your own outline for each course rather than trying to use other people’s work. Use the course syllabus or a commercial outline with a compatible organization to structure your outline. Do Practice Exams. This, of course, is the key to success on the final exam. Work through the old course exams your professor has placed on reserve or online. These are most effective when you take the time to check the model answers. Use commercial hypotheticals and online exam questions as well. Old bar exam questions are great because they always include helpful model answers. (Note: the bar examiners post old questions online but do not provide sample answers — for that, you will have to consult commercial guides.) Watch out — essay questions from other sources may include areas of law you did not cover in class, so don’t get uptight if a question is not an exact fit with the issues your professor taught. It will still be useful. Do Multiple-Choice Questions. Multiple-choice questions and answers are published commercially, and they are the most efficient way I know to confront lots of different fact patterns and lots of different issues in a relatively short time. 3) BE GOOD TO YOURSELF Chill. Anxiety is the major obstacle to doing a first-rate job on an exam. Being well prepared is the best technique, but it isn’t always a sure thing. Everyone has their own way of dealing with this problem: Some students isolate themselves a bit, some find it reassuring to keep in touch with others, some students reward themselves with a break, some — like me — prefer to study until the last minute and pack their short-term memories to capacity. Control the Things You Can. Don’t try to cram until 4:00 a.m. right before the exam. Get a decent night’s sleep and set the alarm to avoid a last-minute rush, especially if transportation is unreliable or parking is tight around the law school. High-techies should be sure the computer is all set to go. Low-techies should purchase blue books well in advance. If it makes you crazy to discuss the exam after it ends, leave right away in order to avoid getting involved in the inevitable “debriefing” in the corridor or locker room. Take a few hours to pull yourself together, and then get back to work for your next exam. Keep Your Focus. Take the first 15 or 20 minutes to outline each answer, no matter how tempting it is to just plunge in and write freestyle. Follow instructions carefully and respond to the call of the questions. Use the IRAC structure for each issue you spot. Use the elements of the rule to order your analysis. Don’t strain to make a point — if it doesn’t seem logical, it’s probably off-base. Write plainly, no matter how esoteric your professor seemed in class. The truth is that professors favor analyses that demonstrate the logic of your analysis by presenting the basics. Don’t be creative or controversial. Discuss law before policy unless you are told otherwise. Don’t worry that you are missing something — everyone is in the same boat! It’s as easy as 1 � 2 � 3! Good luck, and have a great summer break! Lois Schwartz, a frequent contributor to law.com, is Research and Writing Specialist in Residence, Hastings College of the Law.

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