Reviewing your law school exams and learning from them

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By Stephanie Baldwin, University of Arizona

Congratulations on surviving another semester of law school. No matter how you did, reviewing your exam is a great idea. It is especially important to review your exam if you did not perform well or get the grade you thought you were going to. This is especially critical for 1Ls, as you head into your second semester. But it’s also important to 2Ls and 3Ls, especially if it’s a bar-related exam topic. Reviewing your exam is an important step because even though you cannot change your grade, you can use what you learn to excel on future law school exams.

At my school, I have yet to meet a professor that is not willing to sit down with you to review your test, which is fantastic, but through talking to my friends last year at other schools, this isn’t always the case. Even if your professor does not sit down with you, you can still learn valuable information to help you with future exams. Here are my three tips for reviewing your exam successfully.

First, Self-reflect on your performance

Before going to check out your exam for review, self-reflect on your performance. For me, my first semester, I knew that I had messed up badly on one of my exams while I was taking the test, so it was easy to diagnose where I went wrong. I knew I had not answered a long essay question properly. Before I went to go look at my exam, I outlined what my answer should have been, from what I could remember of the prompt.

This was a great exercise because it let me see if I went wrong because of my approach to the question or if there was actually a blind spot in my understanding. If it was a multiple-choice test, and you feel like you missed one topic over and over, brush up on that before going in to see if you can answer those questions correctly. For me, this was an important step, because in some cases, I did very well on areas of the test I thought I had done poorly, and I missed areas I thought I had mastered.

Once you have finished this, be sure to take this with you to review the exam. In future semesters, write your self-reflection soon after the exam is over, so that way it is fresh in your mind.

Next, review your exam privately

You should review your exam privately before sitting down with your professor. At our school, there is a special room you can go to, and you can check your test out at any point in time. When you check your test out, in addition to your test, you will often find that the professor has provided model answers.  To review your test properly, set aside at least a half an hour. Use the self-reflection notes to help guide your review. I like to review and critique my own work first to see where I could have improved before looking at the model answers. Some professors will write detailed notes; others may just assign points. If the grading scale for the curve is not provided, be sure to ask about this when you meet with your professor.

Again, take notes about what you could have done better, and what you did well. Pay attention to both negative and positive notes that the professor wrote. You might begin to see a trend with your exams. I know I did, and it is a big reason my grades improved.

Once you have reviewed your test privately, you should make an appointment with your professor to go over your test.

Reviewing exam with professor

Finally, review your test with your professor

Be sure to go to the meeting with an open mind. Your goal here is not to change your grade, but to learn how to write a more effective law school exam from their perspective. You also want to make sure you understand any concepts that gave you issues on the final exam.  Think of this meeting as a way to understand exam writing and use this information to improve this semester on new exams.

Sure, it won’t be the same topic, but law school exams, for the most part, are the same, from teacher to teacher. Use your notes to help guide the conversation and ask for feedback about how you can improve on future exams. It has been my experience that professors are always willing to help you, and I saw positive results from reviewing my exams.

For more information on preparing for your law school final exams, check this out. 

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