Exam Prep in a Nutshell

CalendarThe time has changed, the days are getting shorter. What’s that sound? Ah, yes, the sound of panicking law students!

Sorry, everyone. Exam time is on the horizon.

Before you start hyperventilating, take a deep breath. It’s time to establish an Exam Action Plan.

(It’s much more effective if you imagine saying “EXAM ACTION PLAN” in a booming super hero voice.)

Elements of a Good EXAM ACTION PLAN

Unless your school’s on a weird schedule and your exams start before Thanksgiving, it’s too early to start panicking about everything you have to learn right now. That will come later.

For now, your goal is to make sure all the pieces are in place to enable you to learn what you need to learn, when the time comes.

What Do You Need to Worry About?

Everyone will have a slightly different list, depending on your exact life circumstances, but here are some things you probably want to include in your plan:

  • Sleep: It’s impossible to overemphasize how important sleep is when you’re studying for and taking exams. Sleep and memory are directly related, so you literally have to sleep to learn anything. Unfortunately, for a lot of law students, it’s not sufficient simply to block out sufficient time for sleep — you may find you have trouble falling asleep when your head is spinning with all of the things you’re studying. I had huge problems falling asleep during 1L exams, and it made me completely crazy after a few weeks. (Trust me, it wasn’t pretty.) If you think there’s any chance you’re going to have trouble sleeping, decide today what to do about it. If you want a prescription sleep aid, get it now, and test it out before the night of a big test!
  • Food: Food is energy for your brain. Feed your brain well, and it will be happy. Feed it junk, or nothing, and you’re not going to have the focused energy you need to study. It’s tough when you’re feeling pressed for time to think about healthy eating, so think about it now. Can you make large batches of healthy meals and freeze them for later? Can you get groceries delivered for a couple of weeks to ensure you’ve got good food on hand? Maybe you just need to collect some new takeout menus? Whatever approach you decide to take, implement it well in advance. Studying hungry is no fun!
  • Exercise: Law school exams are stressful, and studying for them can be very boring. Including exercise in your exam plan helps with both of these problems. Take some time now to think about your best options for exercise. Are there particular classes at a gym you want to go ahead and put on your schedule? Do you want to sign up for a 10-card pass at that nearby yoga studio you like? Would you prefer to block out time for a walk every afternoon? Whatever it is, put it on the calendar. If you don’t, it’s too easy to overlook in the heat of the moment.
  • Treats: This one’s fun! Think up a couple of special treats for yourself, and make plans to implement them. Maybe you want a good friend to eat dinner with you the night before your first exam? (I did this, and it was fantastic. I forgot 90% of what I knew then about Tort law, but I still remember what I ate.) Perhaps you want to take a break from your “healthy” eating and have some special junk food on hand? (My roommates and I would order four boxes of See’s chocolate for exams — one for each person in the house, and one for guests. Yes, it was excessive, but it was awesome.) The point here is to give yourself a little something that will make you feel better when things start to really suck, as they will. Having something to look forward to, or to look back upon fondly, can really help.
  • Other People: If you’re a young, single law student, this might not apply to you. But if you’ve got other people who rely on you, it’s important to make a plan for how they’ll be taken care of, and to get them on board to the extent possible. The last thing you want to be worrying about in the middle of a cram session is whether someone’s picking your child up from karate practice. Exam time will be stressful for everyone else in your life, too, but planning ahead can cut down on the residual stress levels and keep things on a more even keel.
  • Study Plan: You might think it’s weird that your study plan is last thing on the list, but it really is the least important at this point. You’ve taken exams before, and you know how to study. The key now is to: one, figure out what you need to know; and, two, get the materials you need. The easiest way to do this is to get out your course syllabus and look over the main topic areas. This is what you need to know. Make some sort of chart or drawing or list or whatever makes sense to you, trying to capture only the very high-level concepts and the relationships between them. The second thing to do is to figure out what materials are available to you. Does your professor have old exams on file? Get copies. Do you have access to a good hornbook or commercial outline? If not, get one. Your goal here isn’t to learn much of anything, it’s just to get organized.
What Next?

Once you’ve thought about what your EXAM ACTION PLAN should include, print out a blank calendar for the next two months. You want the super basic kind with blank blocks for each day, so that you can write on it. Put in anything you’ve going to commit to — include breaks, exercise, food shopping, doctor’s appointments, whatever. Add each exam, so you can see at a glance how they’re scheduled.

Hang this on the wall.

Now go take a walk. We’ll discuss the nitty-gritty details later!

You Want More?

Why are you still here? You’re supposed to be taking a break!

Fine, check out these exam-related posts if you must:

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  1. This is great advice!

    You can also find a good list of recommended study aids here- http://lawbooklist.com

    Or, specific recommendations for preparing for law school here- http://lawbooklist.com/0L-books-to-get-before-law-school.php

    And for your 1L year here- http://lawbooklist.com/1L-books-to-get-for-your-first-year-of-law-school.php


  1. GET READY TO WALK INTO FINALS - Amicus Tutoring LLC says:

    […] When you are going to take breaks, exercise, etc.  Contrary to popular belief you shouldn’t only study during finals.  (And I am not the only person who feels this way; see The Girl’s Guide To Law School.) […]

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