1L tips for tackling different law school exam types

Student taking exam

By Stephanie Baldwin, University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law

I just took my 6th law school exam and my second one for this semester, and so far all of them have been slightly different. Here is an explanation of the different types and some tips to help you prepare.

Closed book with open code book

Essay 3-4 hours

For this type of exam, you should still create an outline and be sure to memorize as much of it as you can. You might get to use your code book so integrate that into your outline. Also, tabs are your best friend. You don’t want to waste time flipping through a code book when you just could have tabbed it. Check with your professor about what notes, if any, you can have in the code book. The key here is to take a lot of practice exams. If your professor doesn’t provide them, go online to find some. I encourage you to check out BARBRI 1L Mastery, too.

Open book, open notes

Essay 3-4 hours

You can use your book but it’s unlikely you will ever use it – unlike the closed book with open code book exam type. Your notes and outlines are the most useful things here. If your school allows it, try to prewrite the rules like you might on the exam and have them in your outline. Double check with your professor if this is okay to do. All of mine were fine with this. Just no copy-and-paste of material into Exam4, our test-taking software. Make sure you have gone through your outline a lot. As a general note, you want all of your outlines done a few weeks before finals, and if you update them weekly, you can get there. Doing this will also help you create an attack outline for quick reference of those things you want to find fast during the exam.

Open universe

Essay and/or multiple choice 3-4 hours

These types of tests can be dangerous. I say this because of their “open nature.” First, because its “open,” professors usually require a more developed answer since you have a variety of tools available, including the Internet. It’s also a dangerous exam type as it can easily provide a false sense of security. You may feel that if you’re not 100% on something, you can just look it up. That’s true but let me tell (warn) you this is a trap. Sure, looking something up can be helpful, but it can also be a time suck. Beware and prepare like you would for a typical open book/note exam. Anything out in the universe is just a bonus.

Open universe, take home

8 hours within a 24 hour period

Wow … I liked this exam type. I felt like I did well because of the time given and my level of preparation. Oddly, because I had so much information available, I seemed to have reviewed everything more carefully while preparing. During the exam, I actually had time to look at my full outline and confirm questions or ambiguities in my notes with the textbook. It was a luxury that 2Ls seem to know well and then I realized … if I feel this way, so must everyone else. Oh no, who knows where I will land on the curve because of this?!

My tips for taking this type of exam? Think of all of the resources you have like one big, very comprehensive outline and figure out the best way for you to use them to create the most well-developed answer properly. Plus practice using everything together. If you don’t have a good plan, you might get overwhelmed and distracted during the test. Then those eight hours just became four. Also, think about when it’s the best time for you to take the exam. Some people think better in the morning, others in the evening. Consider when you’ll want food and any breaks. After all, eight hours is a long time to be hungry.

In addition to my experiences and advice regarding these different exam types, you may also want to check out BARBRI.com for some really good high-level final exam taking tips. Then you’ll be really good to go when the time comes.

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