Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Short Guide to Taking Finals

In lieu of actually studying for finals, I decide to write up some guidelines on how I take exams. I don't care whether it helps anyone or not, I just do not feel like outlining.

Go To Class

By now it may be to late to reconcile this, but for future reference, the best thing you can do is to go to class, and rather than playing some stupid flash game online, actually take notes and pay attention to what the professor says.

In class I do not take notes so much as take dictation. I do this because when I go through my notes to prepare my outline, I have the Profs terms and phraseology, which can then be replicated on the exam.


Different methods work for different people. One thing I do is when I am incorporating a rule from a case into my outline, I include a brief description of the pertinent facts because it gives the rule context. Then, when writing the essay it is easier to understand how the rule relates to given facts. Of course, this blows up my outline, as they generally end up being forty pages or so.

I also do not outline per se, since I do not use the standard outline format. I incorporate the headings from the book, but write everything in sentence format rather than shorthand. It makes the process of outlining a bitch, but at least for me it pays off.

Taking The Exam

Despite what people tell you, there is a silver bullet for an answering an essay question. Simply apply the facts in the question to the law.

I am amazed that some people (during an open book exam) will write out an answer to a question, and when something in the facts relates to what they wrote, they copy the stock answer. This I do not understand in the slightest. You have to approach the exam in such a way that everyone knows the law. Once you pass the bar, each lawyer is entrusted with knowing the law. Profs write exams the same way. Everyone should be on equal footing from the standpoint of knowing what the law is. A final exam is not a treatise on the law. It is taking the law (which all fifty kids in your class know) and applying it to the facts. Hence, the exam is all about the facts. I spend much more time writing about what facts are important, and why they are important than just regurgitating the law.

Obviously, the law is important, but the facts are just as important.

My second point in taking an exam is that, despite what the Profs may say, length is important. Explaining a little bit about why something isn't applicable may just get you a slightly higher grade. Granted, you can't just write for the sake of writing, it has to be correct and relevant, but if you have extra time, it never hurts to show off how much you know by adding something that does not really add value to your answer, but distinguishes you slightly from everyone else.

In terms of length, I usually shoot for 1,000 words per hour. Sure, 16 words per minute is not that much, but when you factor in the time to read the question, it bumps up to about 25 wpm. I am not sure if this is a lot, a little or whatnot. For me, it is just how things generally turn out (though I generally end up writing more than that, and on occasion less. And I know this because I take my exams on the computer. For you with the bluebooks, you are fucked).

I also recommend taking a few minutes after reading the question to map out in your head or on paper, the general structure of your essay. What point you will address first, the law, etc. I am sure that no one just jumps in and starts writing, but closing your eyes for a minute, and just thinking about the question cannot hurt.

Also, read the question and the facts twice. It is never good to miss a key fact.

Additionally, when you first get the exam, make sure you know how many questions there are. I took an exam last semester that, for whatever reason, I thought had only 3 questions, and when I was halfway through the third question, with about 30 minutes left to take the test, discovered that there was a fourth. I still got a decent grade, but I do not think I ever typed so fast in my life. I am sure that typos abound.

Some people suggest rereading your answer when you are finished. I don't. Have faith, you probably got everything the first time. By rereading you are just wasting time.

Unless you have time to reread, but I still do not recommend it. You look much cooler leaving the exam 30 minutes early. Plus, there is the inevitable second guessing yourself. You will do enough of that after the exam, no need to do it during the exam. Be a Romantic, its more fun that way.

As far as multiple guess exams go, I cannot help you. I think multiple guess should be banned in law school, and I have no interest in taking such exams. I usually do not do so well on those. However, I do recommend that you bring in a Magic 8-Ball to help you on the ones you are not too sure about.

I think is all that I have. These have just been my opinion, I disclaim all the standard warranties that are guaranteed by anonymous blogs. Any questions, let me know.

(Also, I have never taken one of those, "How To Do Well On Exams" seminars. I came up with all this, on my own, right now, while flipping between Hockey and the Cubs, so the advice above is not likely to be all that good anyway)

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