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Game Day: How NOT to Use the Time Given In an Exam

By now you know what I think about excelling in law school. It all comes down to getting an advantage in how you perform during that four hour period at that end of your semester that converts all your work in a class into a number you can never erase. That’s it. When it comes down to it: the only thing that matters is the exam.

As a result, I have given you a lot of advice about how to prepare for the exam. Smart outlining is one piece. Prior tests are a second important piece. Outlining prior test answers is the miracle drug. And if you implement all these exam preparation tactics I have given you, you will have a signifi cant advantage over the “huge middle” in your preparation for exams.

But what about game day itself? Are there things you need to think about with regard to the exam itself?

Absolutely. There are a number of things—large and small— that you should consider about Game Day that can help you optimize your performance on the exam. Big, really important things like: How should I use the time given to take the exam? What should I do between exams? Or small, detail things like: Should I type or write my exam? What do I do if I totally freak out in an exam?

The Most Important Thing

As far as Game Day goes, how you manage the time you are allotted to answer an exam is probably the most important matter to consider for optimizing success on the exam.

It never fails. You sit down for an exam. Lets say it is One L criminal law. The proctor tells everyone to begin and you flip over the exam and start reading the fact pattern. It’s two pages long. By the time you are about to finish page one, there is some agitation bustling around you. Your neighbor is already furiously writing, as fast he possibly can. His head is darting back and forth from the exam and the paper, and he is occasionally making some strange guttural sounds from his ear, nose and throat.

You think to yourself: “How can he possibly be done reading the facts?”

Later in the week, after seeing this goof do this in three or four exams, you realize it’s true: this guy starts writing his answers to the exam before he has finished reading it.

Now, listen here: this guy is not alone. It seems like about 50% of One Ls do this. They actually start writing the answer for their exam before they know what the question actually is. You think I am kidding? Go watch any One L exam.

What is going on here? I am not sure. This impulse never occurred to me when I was taking any exam, let alone an exam that I have four hours to complete. I suppose it may come from just plain old jumpiness. Nerves get the better of people. The “exam fog” takes over, you see the furious starts of others, you are doubting yourself, you see something you think you know about and you begin writing. At some point along the way when you finish reading, you hope that your answer is still in good shape, but who knows? “At least I am getting started,” you are tempted to think.

What happens if this person continues reading at some point and the answer needs to change? Well, you are going to see people scratch out large portions of their answers they have already written, or someone drawing complicated arrows all over their blue book, creating a flow chart more complicated than the Social Security Administration org chart, hoping that the professor is going to have the grace and patience to try to sort it out when the grading time comes.

If you are using laptops, it’s no better. Imagine getting started on an exam, knocking out two pages and then figuring out that the lingering confusion you have about whether your answer is valid is because, well, you’re answer isn’t valid because you haven’t read the whole problem. Or you have been bouncing around the fact pattern, so you have haphazardly  missed a critical fact that turns everything you have done upside down.

Well, what does a person in that situation have to do? Delete it all. That’s right. Actually, it’s worse than that, because the person will need to first, read the whole problem start to finish to make sure it is safe to delete all that typing. And then the deletion comes.

This sounds ridiculous, I know. But exam stress in law school makes people absolutely stupid. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen one of my classmates do something like this.

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