10 Law School Exam Do’s and Don’ts for 1Ls

Law School Exam Study Tips

The moment of truth – exam time – is upon us, and many first-year law students (1Ls) are gearing up for a study marathon.  Before you spend all of your waking hours in the law school library, use these ten tips to guide your exam prep.

1 – Do Understand What Your Professor Wants

Most first-year law school exams are pure tests of black letter law.  By that, I mean they focus on your ability, under time pressure, to:

  • Identify the issue being tested.
  • State the legal rule(s) that are relevant in examining the issue.
  • Divide the facts provided on the exam into two categories – helpful and irrelevant.
  • Connect or apply the helpful facts with the element(s) or the principle(s) of the rules, taking care to discuss any competing points of view.
  • Take a position and conclude which point of view is accurate.

Many legal research and writing professors rely on the IRAC method discussed in our 9 Tips to Write Like a Lawyer in order to encourage law students to adhere to this method.  While the IRAC method can be helpful, feel free to use another writing style that works for you. 

2 – Don’t Pay Attention To Others 

It’s easy to get stressed by how much folks claim they are studying.  But, don’t give into the temptation to judge your progress by anyone else’s metric.  First, law students tend to lie about  exaggerate how much and often they study.  Second, what works for others, even those that are law review bound, may not work for you.  Everyone studies differently; so don’t get thrown off course by others’ supposed Herculean study efforts. 

3 – Do Develop a System That Helps You Understand the Material 

While most law students rely on outlines, it is important to keep in mind the type of learner you are – visual, auditory, read/write or kinesthetic – and use study tools that suit your learning type.  Visual learners, for instance, will benefit best from written outlines and our free 1L exam outlines can get you started.  Auditory learners, on the other hand, may wish to record their outlines for handy playback or create flashcards to help them remember a rule’s elements.   No matter your learning style, find a system that helps you learn the legal rules and stick with it. 

4 – Don’t Forget to Take Practice Exams

Some law students are so focused on learning the material that they forget the most important part of the exam – writing.  So, put the flash cards and outlines away and practice writing out your responses.  Start first with untimed practice to see how long it takes to write out a coherent response and move to timed practice (e.g., giving yourself the same amount of time you’d likely have during the exam).  It’s best to take practice exams authored by your professor.  However, when none are available or you need issue specific practice, I highly recommend the Seigel’s exam series.

5 – Do Review Your Practice Exam with Your Professor

Most professors are perfectly willing to discuss their practice exams with you.  Believe me, they have little interest in reading poorly crafted exams.  Whether you want to check your understanding of the law or confirm that you have the correct approach on a question, time in your professor’s office hours is usually time well spent.

6 – Don’t Pull All Night Study Sessions

Some law students view all-nighters as a badge of honor.  Frankly, it’s just stupid. Staying up late is incredibly inefficient; your brain works harder to get through less material.  The limited sleep unfortunately makes you delusional enough to believe you’re being super productive.  However, we integrate knowledge into long-term memory while we sleep, and the relaxing can help you work through complex problems.  So, do yourself a favor and go to sleep 

7 – Do Get a Study Schedule

Poor planning leads to exam panic every time.  Law students tend to frontload their exam prep.  This means you’re over-prepared for the first exam, but forced to cram for all other exams.  To avoid this predicament, map out your study time and aim to give equal study time to all subjects.  As you create your study calendar, keep these general rules of thumb in mind: (1) study during the time(s) you’re most productive; (2) study for no more than 1 uninterrupted hour before taking a 5-10 break; (3) treat your study time like a workday and cap it at 8-10 hours; and (4) split your study day between subjects in order to keep yourself engaged.

8 – Don’t Arrive Late or Forget About Comfort 

This is obvious. But without fail, there were law students who walked in after the exam had begun.  Don’t let that be you.  Failing to arrive early can cost you a premium seat.  If you don’t want people in your line of sight when you take the exam, the front corners of a classroom are excellent. If you plan to get water (or take breaks), the back aisle seats are best.  On, a related note, most law school exams are multi-hour sessions. So plan accordingly (e.g., dressin layers, bring a snack, tote aspirin or Kleenex, etc.) for any comfort calamity that arise during the exam.

9 – Do Use Time Management on The Exam

Those long hours spent on exam prep become worthless if you fail to finish the exam.    Before you attempt the first question, flip through your exam and determine how much time you’ll devote to each question, remembering to give yourself 10-15 minutes at the end for a sanity check.  Your time allocation should correlate to the points available.  After you roadmap your exam progress, be ruthless.  For each question, ensure that your thinking, writing and reviewing are all accomplished within the allotted time. 

10 – Do Let Go of a Completed Exam 

Last, have tunnel vision with respect to each exam.  A common source of worry for law students is the exam recently taken.  Once your exam is in the can, avoid dissecting it either on your own or with others.   You’ll waste energy on an exam you can no longer impact and folks are rarely candid about their exam answers.  Instead, turn to your attention to the exam whose outcome is still in your hands. 

Want feedback on your practice exam? Submit the question and your answer using the Ask for Advice function.

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Melinda Hightower

Melinda Hightower

Founder and Chair at Blueprint JD
Melinda Hightower is passionate about legal diversity, literature and community activism. When she’s not busy earning her keep as an attorney, she operates Blueprint JD, Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to building diversity in the legal profession.

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