GUEST BLOG Makenzie Way, 2L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School
How are you surviving finals? We’ve been here before, we faced these same exams in 1L, so we don’t need to stress … right? Likely not. Even though 1L grades are the most important for job security purposes (tack on first-semester 2L grades if you were aiming for a post-graduation clerkship) the nature of most law student personalities makes us aim for perfection.
The curve may be less harsh, or not in play at all, but we all still want to do the best we can. There’s also the added stress that 2L exams often differ from the stereotypical issue spotter exams introduced in 1L. For instance, in 2L you’re likely to have a combination of in-class issue spotter exams, lengthy multi-part take-home exams, papers, presentations, and/or group projects.
Considering the variety of exam options, how can we as 2L’s best prepare to ace these classes? This list isn’t exhaustive, and I’d love to hear what works best for you, but here are some ideas to help you towards finals success!
In-Class Issue Spotter Exam
Prepare like you’re a 1L! Find or create an outline that covers all the important parts of the course. If your exam is open book, transform that outline into an attack sheet for maximum efficiency. Make use of flashcards for memorization. And most importantly, take practice exams to familiarize yourself with the exam style and to refamiliarize yourself with spotting issues quickly and accurately.
Lengthy Multi-Part Take Home Exam
Just because it’s a take-home exam doesn’t mean you can slack on studying. It just means you study in a different way. Again, find and print a good outline and attack sheet. For take-home purposes, I also recommend that you add a table of contents to your outline so you can easily navigate it electronically. Tab your books and/or organization and label your electronic readings so you can get maximum use out of them during the exam. Finally, consider where you want to take the exam. If it’s outside of your house, try to reserve a spot to ensure there are no last minute hiccups.
Organize your research within folders so you can easily find the article you’re looking for when you come to that part of the paper. When conducting your research create a working “thoughts” sheet where you include the source name, key facts, synopsis of the article, and how you plan to use the article. If the paper is lengthy, set a daily word or page count and stick to it … 30 pages seem less daunting when it’s broken up into 5 pages daily. Finally, try to finish your paper early so you can submit it for review either to your professor or to a trusted advisor if permitted.
If public speaking isn’t your strong suit then practice, practice, practice! Even if you are comfortable speaking publicly, you should still practice. For example, run through your presentation with someone else, and/or time yourself. Avoid the urge to actually script out what you want to say because you’ll end up reading directly from the page; if you do script out your speech, make sure to memorize it to best avoid the reading phenomenon. If required or allowed, make a professional looking presentation with Prezi or PowerPoint, for bonus points, print the slides and provided them to your professor. Finally, create a one-page points list for yourself that you can quickly reference during your presentation to remind yourself of key points and to keep yourself on track.
Likely the most dreaded form of final, after all, it requires you to trust someone other than yourself with your final grade. If you get to pick your group, avoid the urge to simply pick your friends. Instead pick your group members based on (a) trust, (b) participation in class, and (c) personality and work style. Distribute duties early on so there is no confusion over who is doing what. Set timelines for people to finish their portions. Make sure you leave a grace period between when group members will finish their portion, and when the project is due to ensure you have time to review and edit. On the note of editing, make sure one person is assigned to edit the entire piece, this will help ensure that the project appears cohesive instead of like 4 different parts. Finally, create a shared folder or Google doc so everyone can share their research/contributions with the group.
No matter what exam you have, remember to take a moment to breathe. As exam period approaches it’s easy to begin to feel overwhelmed and burnt out. Try your best to schedule breaks, even if that break is just one episode on Netflix. Remember that a healthy diet and adequate hydration is key to efficient brain capacity. So, don’t slack on the meal front. Likewise, a comfortable atmosphere will help you remain motivated and reduce stress. If you haven’t already, find your ideal study spot or exam taking spot! Finally, have something to look forward to post-exam period so you don’t get lost in the exam time stress.