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Law School Exams, Fog and Water Colors

How does the majority of One Ls end up in the big middle? Exam preparation. Most people do just enough exam prep to get an outline done, or to find an outline somewhere and read it. They may even read their outlines a few times. That is the balance of what they do to prepare for the exam.

When these poor souls walk into an exam, do you know what happens? The exam fact pattern arrives and the twists and turns in it start to swirl all the concepts that they remember around in every impossible direction in their head. Or, they remember that the professor mentioned the key exam words that really confusing day in class two months ago and they struggle to place the concepts. And then another word comes, another idea.

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The First Big Step Away from the Pack

Remember what I keep saying? Exam performance is the only thing that matters. A key question, then, is how exactly are you going to separate your exam answer from the masses of answers that others will give to the same question?

Consider what is going to happen after exams are completed. The professor in the ordinary law school class is going to get about 150 answers to grade in a One L class, or 80 to grade in others. In the largest class, then, 30 exams are going to end up in the bottom 10-20%, ranging from bad to terrible. The remaining 120 exams are going to be the top 80% of the class. For our purposes, the only remaining distinction is whether you end up in the big middle—in this case, 84 of these—or in the top 30%, the highest 36 students in the class.

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Outlining Myth #1: Outline as You Go Along

Most books you read and most advice you will hear is that you should outline each of your classes everyday as you move along in the class. The theory is that waiting to outline until late in the semester is dangerous, because you might just end up with way too much work to do at the end of the semester and you may not be able to get it done. Instead, the theory goes, you should do a little every day so as to not fall behind.

I strongly disagree with this advice. It never works in real life this way, and in fact, there is a much better way to outline. Instead of outlining every day, I wrote my whole outline for each class in one sitting, toward the end of the semester.

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