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NOVEMBER: EXAM TIPS AND STRATEGIES

The clock is ticking. It is already November, sixteen weeks flew right by. Two thirds of the semester is almost
over and finals are creeping around the corner. Every semester is a race to the finish line. The evenings
spent at the library get longer, the sleepless nights become more frequent, and the happy hours are sparser.
The piles of paper covering almost every inch of your bedroom are a constant reminder of all the things you
have yet to accomplish. The anxiety and the stress build with the feeling that there is simply never enough
time. Sixteen weeks of reading long and dense cases comes down to one exam often graded on a curve. The
infamous curve will leave many students feeling unsatisfied with their final grade. You try to suppress the
angst by making a commitment to working harder, naturally expecting that good grades will follow. But that
is not always the case. The goal of these exam tips is to help you rethink your study strategies and to help you
focus on working not only harder, but smarter.

#1 MAKE YOUR OWN OUTLINE

It is tempting to rely on outlines prepared by others particularly when time is short. As explained
further below, outlines prepared by others can be an invaluable study tool. However, the process of
writing your own outline is the best way to learn the legal concepts that will be tested on your exam.
The course syllabus gives you a big picture of all the general concepts you are required to know.
Each class syllabus should serve as the roadmap for organizing your outlines. Start your outlines
by making a list of all the general concepts listed on the syllabus. But don’t stop there. Exam fact
patterns usually raise issues that will require you to apply not only the general concepts but also
subtler subrules. Knowing the general concepts is usually enough to get you a passing grade.
Knowing the subrules and the gray areas of the law is where you can really set yourself apart from
other students. Under each concept you should have a short statement of the black letter law
stating “The general rule is...” or “the majority of jurisdictions follow...or there is also a minority
view.” If there is a split in court authority then also include a sentence explaining the divergence.
Law professors love mining these divergences and subrules for exam questions.

Resist the temptation to “information dump” on your outline; by that I mean do not include every
argument or case detail. Do not include all the cases from your reading in your outline. Do not
make your outline a reproduction of your IRAC notes. The daily reading of cases and the taking of
notes in IRAC format are important. IRAC is a mental exercise that is intended to teach you how to
deconstruct the different arguments that are presented in a particular case. In a sense, the daily
reading of cases is a preview of the analysis you will be required to do on the final exam. When it
comes to your outlines, however, the concepts are much more important than the actual cases and
their details. In fact, unless your professor has indicated otherwise, you will not be expected to cite
specific cases in your exam answers.

Founded in 2010. Two recent U.C. Hastings graduates envisioned a project that would provide applicants, law students,
and graduates with modern strategies to maximize their opportunities. The Law School Project is a one stop hub for
“hustlin'” that includes insider tips, tools, and references for all things law school.
As crunch time approaches you will quickly realize your brain has a limited memory capacity. The
problem with the sixty-page outline that will result if you add every case is that when you sit down
to review you will have added the extra task of separating the important from the extraneous and
irrelevant. An outline is also a good place to highlight the concepts you recall experiencing
difficulty understanding so that later when you are preparing your study schedule you can allocate
more time to those concepts.

Short and concise statements are key to remembering and reciting legal concepts correctly. The
straightforward task of stating the law correctly, before you even begin your analysis, can give you
about a third of the points available on your exam so make sure your outline reflects that.

a. Calendar it
Time is a limited and valuable resource especially during exam study periods. The best way to
ensure the best use of your time during exam crunch time is to make a study schedule, put it in a
calendar and stick to that calendar. A complete study schedule lists the topics that you will review
each day throughout your study period. Be as detailed and realistic as possible when making your
study schedule. This will help you to not only stay on schedule but to resist the temptation of
spending all day on one topic or issue. Allocate more time for your weakest areas so that you can
spend more time understanding that material. Getting the upper hand on the areas where you are
weakest will ease your anxiety and make your time reviewing less troublesome concepts more
productive. Allocate a specific amount of time each day to a particular course and build in facebook
time, lunch breaks, email checks, and other distractions into your schedule.

b. Getting Outlines
Nothing beats making your own outline. However, getting an outline written for your specific
course and instructor is crucial because it gives you something to refer to as you write your own
outline. The easiest way to get a professor specific outline is to network and ask around. There are
no written rules about how to go about obtaining an outline but common sense tells you not to
randomly stake out classmates and ask them for their outlines or to engage in illegal activity.
Instead, use your network of friends, facebook, and other social networks to get the word out about
your need for an outline for a specific professor and class. Clubs, such as APALSA or LA RAZA,
often have their own database collection of outlines they make available for members. If you are a
1L you’ll find that 2Ls and 3Ls are often more than happy to share their outlines especially if you
are already a friend.

Do not blindly trust any outline. I have seen errors of law in even the best of outlines. Use such
outlines wisely to complement your own outline, not as a substitute. The source of the outline is an
indicator of its reliability, but even if someone “swears by it,” you should not skip writing your
outline and gamble on your grade.

#2 PAST EXAMS

A law school exam usually lasts three or four hours and consists of a multiple choice section and/or
fact patterns. The fact patterns are short stories that will test your ability to spot issues, state the
law, analyze it, and reach a conclusion. The amount of time you will spend preparing should be the
same whether the exam is closed or open book. In fact, open book exams might as well be closed
book because knowing you can bring all your notes and textbook creates a false sense of security.
The reality is that under an exam’s limited time constraints you will have little time to look up
anything. If you are scavenging through your materials looking for answers then you will likely be
wasting precious exam points.
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a. Exam Banks
Go to the exam bank at your school. Professors are creatures of habit and past exams are evidence
of their style and testing preferences. Generally, the exam bank is located on the school website
under the library or other resources tab. Some exam banks catalogue past exams by professor or by
the course name. Print out all the sample exams available on the website for your particular
course. If there are no exams available for your professor reach out to the worldwide web and
Google your professor. Hopefully your professor has taught at another law school where you may
be able to access old exams. If you cannot locate any exams written by your professor then printing
out exams written by other faculty teaching the same course will at least give you an idea of what to
expect.

Familiarize yourself with the topics your professors have tested over and over and how they frame
the call of their questions. Most of the time there is at least one exam with a sample answer. The
sample answer is selected by the professor to be a model of what he or she considers a good answer.
Carefully examine the length of the fact patterns tested. Were they long and fact intensive or were
they short paragraphs that raised many issues? A good exam taker pays attention to details and
reads the instructions slowly until they truly understand what they are being asked to do or not to
do. Reviewing past exams will help you to focus on answering the question being asked, not the
one you would like to answer.

#3 UNDERSTAND IRAC : Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion

IRAC is the most widely used writing formula in law school. IRAC stands for issue, rule or relevant
law, analysis or application of the law, and conclusion. The majority of law school professors prefer
that their students answer exam questions in IRAC form. IRAC is not simply an archaic teaching
method. IRAC can help you write a better exam answer. The format reduces errors in reasoning by
providing you with a simple and accepted way of organizing your legal analysis. Every issue you
discuss must be in the accepted IRAC format; your exam may even include multiple subrules that
each need to be discussed in their own separate IRAC format. Take a look at the sample further
below. The sample may not be perfect but it is intended to show you how to IRAC when you may
need to provide introductory material.

a. Headings
A well-organized answer has headings in bold, underline, italics, or all caps to flag issues or parties.
For instance, when you are applying the same concept to multiple parties on an exam it is often
best to discuss each party under a separate heading. Below, I’ll provide a sample answer for a
criminal procedure exam testing the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth amendments. In such an exam you
will need a short paragraph to introduce the general law before you can IRAC the specific issues
raised by the exam scenario.

Save time on exams by abbreviating concepts and names. Remember to introduce the entire name
before you abbreviate it. Don’t assume the reader will know A stands for Albert or SOF is short for
the statute of frauds. Write out the entire name or word the first time you introduce it followed by
(“__”) to tell the reader that is the designated abbreviation.

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SAMPLE ANSWER:
4th Amendment: Reasonable Expectation of Privacy
The Supreme Court has held the 4th amendment (“amend”) right to be protected against unreasonable
searches and seizures by the government is based on the right to privacy. A search is a government intrusion into an
area where a person has a reasonable and justifiable expectation of privacy. The court (“ct”) has defined the right to
privacy as based on a reasonable expectation of privacy. In Katz, the ct held that wiretapping Defendant’s (“D”) phone
conversations, even though they occurred in a public phone booth, constituted an unreasonable intrusion under the 4th
amend because the D had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his phone conversations. In order for the police to
intrude upon people’s expectation of privacy they must first obtain a search warrant based upon probable cause.
(Note: generally cases do not need to be referenced but here Katz was a key case in establishing the Fourth
Amendment precedent discussed).

Issue #1: Search Warrant (IRAC it!)


ISSUE: The facts suggest there was a defect with the warrant because... (apply the facts). The
warrant requirement is intended to balance the interests of people’s reasonable expectation of privacy to be free from
unreasonable government intrusion and the governments need and interest in conducting their jobs.
RULE: The warrant requirement is constitutionally mandated and has 3 requirements. First, the
officers must have articuable facts that amount to probable cause. Second, a neutral judge must make an independent
evaluation based solely on the facts presented before him (usually in the form of affidavits) that evidence amounts to
probable cause that there is criminal activity or evidence of a crime in the place to be seized. Third, the warrant
requirement is that the warrant must state with particularity the evidence to be seized and the place to be searched. The
warrant requirement is intended to define and limit the scope of police intrusion and abuse.
EXCEPTION TO THE RULE: In spite of the strong preference for a warrant, warrantless searches and seizures are
permissible if there is 1) consent 2) evidence is in plain view or 3) exigent circumstances.
APPLY THE FACTS:
CONCLUSION: there is no right or wrong answer.

a. Grading
Imagine the exam is worth 100 points. You are not even given points for concluding one way or the
other. The points are based on whether you spotted the issue (20 pts), concisely stated the rule of
law (20 pts), and the most important part of your exam answer, your logical analysis of the
problem (60 pts). The difference between an “A” and “B” answer depends on your reasoning and
application of the law. Applying the law to the facts is not simply stating, “Here, the situation is
X...” but also presenting both sides of the argument. For instance you would need to say “A would
argue that the search warrant is valid because based on the evidence there was reliable
information...On the other hand, B would argue that the evidence was obtained illegally... apply the
facts.” Try to use all the facts in your fact pattern. The facts and details are not there to fill up
space on the exam paper; they are there for your use in formulating your arguments.

#4 MAKE (OR MEMORIZE) TEMPLATES

When you hear the exam proctor say “Begin” and you break the seal, flip open the exam and read
the first fact pattern, you want to be able to type the heading for the issues as you spot them; this
saves you time. If the exam is open book, another way to save time is to bring in pre-written
templates (short paragraphs) that outline general concepts of law. The process of extracting the
law from your outline for the purpose of preparing templates can also serve as crucial practice in
preparing for the exam.

If the exam is closed book, memorizing short paragraphs of general legal concepts will allow you to
spend more time thinking about the analysis of the problem. Three or four hours fly by very
quickly when you have several essays or short answers in front of you. The goal is to know exactly
how you want to regurgitate the general law back to the professor so that you can spend more time
developing the analysis section.

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#5 PRACTICE TAKING EXAMS

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Practice under timed conditions. Build time for practice exams
into your study schedule. Start by taking practice exams using your outline. Each time you use
your outline you will realize its strengths and weaknesses. Be smart; incorporate into your outline
the law as stated in model answers or someone else’s outline. Your outline will continuously evolve
as you take more practice exams. Make a checklist of all the big topics you will be tested because it
is a good way to make sure you have spotted every major issue on an exam

Practice even if you have a limited number of exams or have already read through the model
answers. Sitting down and taking an exam under timed conditions is good practice because the
process of answering the exam in your own words is the best way to assess what you need to work
on. Try to recreate the same testing conditions you will face during the actual exam. If possible
find an exam partner who will sit down and take the same exam and after you have finished
compare your answers.

...be prepared