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Law Schools During Exams: Cuckoo’s Nest

Let me make a general statement about the environment of a law school during exam season. In a word? MADNESS. What do I mean? People become absolutely crazy during exam season. You’re a One L and you think you know what I mean by that because you have been through finals in college, right? You have no idea. People you know and love go absolutely bonkers during exam season in law school. Ever see that zombie movie 28 Days Later? It’s like that.

So, my first piece of advice? Stay away from the zombies. Don’t go to the law school to study for exams. During exam season, there is only one reason to go to law school: to take your exam and get the heck out of Dodge. Going to the law school library to study for exams is like going to a casino to start a personal savings plan.

What happens at law school during exam season? The library fills with One Ls that are jumpier than clowns in the Cirque du Soleil®. The fact that most One Ls don’t bathe during exam season is one issue. You have noticed that no one can sit down and study during the school year when there is no stress? Now, mix in the anxiety that comes from not being prepared with open taps at Starbucks®, or vending machines full of Red Bull®.

Worse is the unceasing nervous chatter. All at once everyone has the strongest opinions about what is going to be tested on an exam, and at the same time everyone is questioning everything that is being said. Heads bob about left and right, people bound from table to table like a ping pong ball. It’s insane. Rubber room nuts.

The worst thing is the debriefing that inevitably takes place after an exam. Wild rumors fly about the test, and everyone has a theory about what the professor “was really testing.”  “That long paragraph about parking lot egress, that was a red herring.” “Right?” “Don’t you think so?” “Huh?” “I will bet half the class missed the importance of that.” “I can’t believe she included that section about strict liability. When was that covered in class?” “Did you notice that the man in the fact pattern of the property exam was left-handed?”

Nothing good ever comes from these discussions. Plenty of bad surely does. You make the effort prepping for an exam like we have discussed in my book, and you are going to be so prepared for the test that you ought to have a very healthy confidence during exam season. But I don’t know how many times I have been confident about my performance on an exam, only to come out into the hallway and start doubting myself as soon as I started listening to some “big middle” person spouting off nervously about what he saw in an exam.

Well, I take that back. I do know how many times I entertained such doubts. It was about twice. It was not very many exams before I slapped myself and said: “Ok, so exactly why do I think he has a better understanding of the exam than I did?” I decided early on that exam season was precisely the time I did not need some bottom dweller in the class making me doubt myself.

What did I do after exams? I found the nearest exit and went home.


  1. d
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I just got your book today in the mail. I wish i had it sooner. its too late to implent your outline skill but what if i memorized preexam answers. in the irac style u have in your book do u think that would help?

  2. Gary Young
    Posted December 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely. A key part of your toolbox is a stock answer format. Don’t decide how to write an exam the first time you sit down. That is what all the backfillers will be doing.

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