Student Question 5
“I have a mid-term exam next week and I am a bit worried. I feel that if I were to take the test right now with no further preparation, I would do ok, but I am shooting for a lot higher. I have a very thorough outline that I am constantly updating and revising. My question is, where should I go from here? Should I simply read it over and review in that fashion? I am wondering if you can lend a format for review (besides the outline process) that you have found to be successful.”
I am glad to hear that you have been so thorough in your outlining, but as you have correctly observed, a complete and accurate outline is only half of the battle. If you are to achieve the highest level of success on your exams, you also need to develop additional skills, including the ability: 1) to accurately identify legal issues; 2) to recall the relevant law with speed; and 3) to identify the arguments that both sides will make in support of their respective positions.
The proper approach for developing these skills differs, depending on the substantive area of law in question and whether your exam is open-book or closed-book. Although your e-mail did not state the substantive area you are preparing for or the type of exam you’ll be taking, I have provided some general tips that should cover your concerns regardless of the situation.
Accurately Identify Legal Issues — Dispute Spotting.
On most of your exams, you will be given complex, hypothetical fact patterns. From the facts you are given, you must identify the particular legal issues that need to be addressed. This is a difficult skill to perfect and can only be developed through practice. The best way to develop issue-spotting skills is by looking at practice hypothetical fact patterns.
By now, you should have collected all of the available exams that were given by your professor in the past. If this was your final exam I would encourage you to take all of the exams you collected under simulated exam conditions — find an open classroom; get some blue books; time yourself; and answer the questions with friends so that you can review them afterwards. It also helps to practice any legal problems that you were given during the semester. However, since you indicated that this is just a mid-term exam you would be wise not to waste the exams you collected. The exams that your professors put on reserve are the best indicator of what may appear on the actual test they give to you at the end of the semester. Since the exams you collected are old final exams, they will test on information taught during the entire semester — you don’t want to practice on these exams until the end of the semester so you can be sure that you’ve covered all the information contained therein.
I strongly recommend that you get your hands on the flashcards and BARBRI AMP modules for the subjects you are studying for and review the topics that will be covered on the mid-term. If you’ve already looked at the flashcards and BARBRI AMP modules that were provided to you for free by as a Law Preview student, you have seen that these study aids are a great way to practice identifying/analyzing legal issues in complicated hypothetical fact patterns.
Recall The Law With Speed.
On all of your exams, you will be given a series of legal problems, and for each problem, you will be required to provide the relevant substantive law and apply it to the facts. In most classes, you will be under time constraints to answer all of the problems adequately. As a result, your ability to recall the law with speed is critical. The faster you recall the law, the more problems you will complete and the more time you will have to spend on your analysis of the facts.
For courses with closed-book exams, this means straight memorization or the use of memory recall devices, such as mnemonics. Do not be passive about learning the law — repeatedly reviewing your outline is not enough. You must actively learn the law by studying definitions and reviewing flashcards. When you have become exceedingly familiar with your flashcards, rewrite them so as to test your memory in different words. This is particularly critical for courses such as Torts and Criminal Law where you must learn a series of definitions with multiple elements.
For courses with open-book exams, this means developing an index for your outline that will enable you to locate the relevant law quickly. Create a cover page for your outline that lists the page number for each substantive sub-topic. You can also place “tabs” on the side of your outline that identify all the major topics and sub-topics. These steps will help you get to the parts of your outline without any undue delay.
Identify The Factual, Legal and Policy Arguments That BOTH Sides Will Make.
The final skill you need to develop is the ability to apply the law to the facts efficiently. On your exams, once you have correctly identified the relevant issue and stated the relevant law, you must engage in a discussion of how the law applies to the facts that have been given. The ability to engage in such a discussion is best developed by — again — practicing with hypothetical fact patterns. When you are practicing this skill, you should focus on efficiency. Try to focus on the essential factual, legal and policy arguments that both sides will make in support of (or against) the use of the relevant law.
I would recommend that, at this point, you stop working on your outline. It is important to have a thorough and accurate outline, but at some point you will experience diminishing returns from your efforts. You should spend all of your remaining time honing your ability to spot issues, to recall the law, and to apply the law to the facts.