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The Law School Exam Miracle Drug

And now for the grand finale of exam prep. The tactic I am about to suggest is the most powerful exam preparation tool that I discovered as a law student, and it is the most powerful thing I have ever heard of for exam preparation.  I did this with every law exam I took, and it never failed me.

By now you know that you must read the material. You must outline your classes. Everyone in the class that is not a total slacker is going to be doing this. The way you have separated yourself from these masses, though, is a few-fold. First, your outlines are tight explanations of the material, and you have memorized them for total immediate recall. Very few of your classmates will do this. I would guess, in fact, that less than 20% do this.

Next, you have discovered the wonder of the old exams. You have studied them carefully, and interacted with your outline to get very familiar with how the professor designs questions for the law in each section of your outline. It is moving day, and you are on the move. Only 10% of your classmates will do what you have done with old exams.

And, you have added a stock answer format to your memory. You already know the basic format of your answers to exams. It may seem crazy, but almost no one in your class will have memorized a stock answer format for his or her exams.  Loads of people have the format for briefing cases down pat. They are experts at that. But the format for answering exams? They will design their answers the first time they sit for an exam, on the fly, as the clock is running. It’s just one more example of One L confusion about what is important.

So now: the final master stroke. If getting totally comfortable with a professor and how he examines the particular topics in your class is the miracle, the next step is the miracle drug of exam preparation. Sit down and take notice. The Miracle Drug is the most powerful tool for exam preparation you can possibly do short of cheating. Here is a suggestion: Do it.

Take your old exams. Stack them up. Now, spend a full day– eight hours—doing nothing but one thing: outlining answers to the professor’s old exams. Outline everyone. Yes. Everyone.

As I discuss in the book, you will need to spend about 25–33% of the time allotted for your exam deliberately and carefully outlining your answers. Do it in the stock format that I have provide in the book.  It takes some time, but that is OK. If you spend and hour of the four hours you have for an exam, that is about right. If it is a three hour exam, you will spend about 45 minutes of that time outlining your answers.

So, here, in your exam prep, you are just going to go through the same process, but with two differences: (1) you don’t have the “this is for real” pressure of the actual exam; and (2) you are going to do it over and over again. Keep the time constraints in place, and start outlining exams, one by one. Work through the exam answers, with no materials at hand, and just start designing an outline for every answer. In between answers, take a break, get some food, and debrief how you did outlining your last practice answer.

NINJAS. LISTEN TO ME HERE. If you do this, if you take the drug, what you are going to experience is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

What you are going to find out is that this process itself will transform you. Remember the story I told in Chapter One  about how I went through the process of training myself to sit still for eight hours, and something about me—both physically and mentally–changed by going through this experience? Before, I couldn’t sit still for five minutes. A day or two of boot camp later, my whole mind and body was retooled to become an expert at sitting still and reading. It will be like that for the exam taking process as well. And the payoffs for you will be staggering.

Outlining answer after answer of a particular professor’s exams does something to you. At first, it will be a little cumbersome. Although your exam prep is going to be so superior to your classmates that it will come more easily for you than others, it won’t come terribly easy right away. The first couple fact patterns are going to take you a bit to get in the outlining groove.

But after a question or two you are going to start feeling a change going on deep in your bones. You will begin to find that you are starting to read and immediately comprehend the questions more easily. Your issue spotting will become much more clear and eventually, accelerate. Your ability to organize answers intelligently will start to improve. You will start sensing your outline downloading into your mind in the IRAC format as you see the issues in the facts of the exam story. And all along the way you will feel your mind and body adjusting to this task, and becoming much better at it.

The power of this tool cannot be overstated. You do this for five, six, or ten answers for your professor’s old exams, and you are going to find out that you are no longer a law student hoping to flip the exam over and not get too flustered, and praying that you can eventually sort things out and answer the question. That is where most everyone you see on exam morning will be.

You? You will be a machine.

I am telling you from personal experience, and the reports of my students who have done this. I was not exaggerating: this technique is a miracle drug, and it works.

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