After a full semester of classes, taking copious notes and reading and briefing countless cases, the single determination of your success in a law school class will boil down to a few hours on final exams.
Are you prepared to fully identify and frame disputes in need of resolution? Will you clearly answer the question asked on the exam? Can you craft arguments that your professors will truly appreciate?
Here are a few tips to get you started:
1) Understand professor preferences
When it comes to law school exams, the key to succeeding is knowing who’s grading them. Your goal in writing them should be to make the reader’s life easier. So be neat, write your answer on every other page of your answer book for better readability and answer the question using outline form. It’s okay to use shorthand, but always remember to include a key.
2) Identify and frame disputes
Successful students deconstruct the fact pattern and break down the exam hypothetical into individual disputes to analyze. To do this, first identify the opposing goals of each party and then identify the legal theory (or theories) each party might assert to accomplish its goals. Finally, frame the dispute and address any issues.
3) Argue both sides of legal issues you spot
Simply put, an issue is the weak spot in a plaintiff’s claim or in a defendant’s defense. Once a dispute has been formulated and the legal theory has been asserted, it is easier to identify problems surrounding the theory’s application as well as to detect the arguments that each side can make.
4) Answer the question being asked
Although you could receive some credit for ancillary information in your answer, you will only receive maximum credit if you answer the actual question that is presented. Therefore, it’s important that you determine what role the professor is asking you to assume before you answer. Are you representing the defendant or the plaintiff? Are you a judge trying to resolve the dispute? This can make a huge difference in how you answer the question.
5) Read the facts carefully
Applying the law to the facts presented is critical. Slightly changing the facts could result in a completely different result. For this reason, after you have analyzed the question being asked and determined your role, read the hypothetical fact pattern in its entirety. Then go back and re-read the question in order to identify the parties who may be in dispute.
6) Be aware of timing
With so much to do in a short amount of time, effective time management is imperative on law school exams. Effective time management requires that you first determine how much time you have for the entire exam (macro time management) and then determine how much time will be needed for each section (micro time management). If the professor provides recommended times for the individual parts, add up the minutes and compare it to the total time allotted for the exam. Or total the points for all sections and then divide that number into the total minutes you have for the test.
7) Be precise
Lawyers are generally paid to be concise and precise. You should try not to include unrelated material in your answer as this could backfire if your professor believes you aren’t capable of ruling out irrelevant information.
8) Remember public policy concerns
After applying the legal rules to the issues presented in your fact pattern, if time allows, include a sentence or two regarding the policy implications of your conclusions.
9) Just do your best
If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of either not understanding the issues presented or not remembering the rules related to such issues, just do your best to write the best possible answer. You may not receive top credit, but it will be better than the alternative. Good luck! Click here for more law school final exam tips.