Your Frequently Asked Questions, Answered – Exam Season

This week we welcome back guest writer Shirlene Armstrong to answer all of those burning questions about exams.

You spend all semester reading cases, attending lectures, and trying to learn the law. Countless hours spent trying to master your different classes and applying the law to real factual situations. And now it is time to show your professors what you’ve got! It’s final exam season yet again, one of the most daunting parts of law school. Final exams are a major cause of stress and anxiety for many law students. After all, most classes base their grades solely on the final exam! So what are finals like? How should you prepare for finals? And when will I ever get my grade? Fret not my friend! I have successfully maneuvered through 6 rounds of final exams and am here to spread my wisdom to help you be successful yourself.

In order to help you through one of the worst parts of law school, I have come up with some questions that I had about the final exam period and provided answers based on my experience. My goal is to help clear up some misconceptions about finals and help ease some of the concerns you may have!

How should I Prepare for an Exam?

Your preparation for your final exams is as important as going and preparing for class. Everyone has their own way of preparing for finals, just like everyone has their own way of preparing for class! Most people prepare an outline or an attack plan to help them review. Others will make flashcards. Others will create a routine to help them get in the right mindset for the exam. Ultimately, you should not reinvent the wheel – what worked for you in undergrad will likely work for you in law school!

What should I Expect on Exam Day?

Each law school is different in how they administer final exams. Many schools dedicate a few weeks to exams and only hold a few exams each day. Most law school exams are 2-4 hours long (however I have seen longer ones too!) You will likely be in a lecture hall with the rest of your class and test administrators (usually your professor is not at the test). You will want to arrive early so you can get situated and in the right mindset before you begin your exam. Your exam proctors will give you instructions on the exam like if you can consult your notes, how long you will have for the exam, and any test protocols. Then everyone will be given the exam, and it is go time. Many schools allow students to leave if they finish early (but if you finish within the last 15 minutes of the test, you have to stay in your seat and wait it out.) 

What do Law School Finals look like?

Your favorite answer – it depends. One thing to keep in mind is all law school finals are not created equally. Each professor has their own way of testing their students and creating exams. Some professors like to put a combination of different kinds of questions on their exam (e.g. 10 true/false, 25 multiple choice, 2 fact patterns). Some professors prefer to give a long fact pattern and ask you to write a memo or essay that addresses the facts and applying the law. There are also professors who make exams that are purely multiple choice and have little fact patterns in each question. Ultimately, you will want to check with your professor to determine what kind of exam you should expect on test day.

How are Exams Graded?

Again, it depends. Ultimately it depends on the professor and the type of exam. Some professors like info dumps and will give you points for each correct statement of law. Other professors want you have an organized, well-thought-out answer to a long hypothetical. Ultimately, most classes rely on the final exam for your grade for the course. And if you are a 1L, your exams are graded on a mandatory curve (check your law school disclosures for more information about the specific curve at your school).

When will I get my Exam Score Back?

Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither are your exams graded. Honestly, it’s kind of a toss-up if I am being honest. The time between the final exam and when you get your grades back may seem like an eternity. Law school exams take awhile to grade for several reasons – they take awhile for you to take, they involve applying law to facts, the analysis process is very involved, and there are many exams to grade. After your professor grades your exam, the law school may need to apply a mandatory curve (which changes people’s grades). Then some professors give you a boost for participation or extra credit. Each law school has their own timing and grading process, so it can alter when you receive your actual grade. Personally, I have received grades a few weeks after an exam, and I have also received grades months after my last exam was completed.

Will I Survive?

ABSOLUTELY! I know how stressful and overwhelming law school can be. Law school finals can heighten your anxiety and make you question why you wanted to be in law school in the first place. As someone on the other side of law school (#graduated), I promise you that this difficult time in your life will pass. I remember how I felt during law school and preparing for exams. It is not fun spending a ton of time trying to remember everything you learned throughout a semester. However, finals do not have to be that stressful, especially if you properly prepare and feel confident. Also, after each round of final exams, you are checking another semester off and moving closer to your goals. You will make it through this round of exams (and the next, and so on) and you will graduate! Now, buckle down and study hard for your upcoming finals. Best of luck.


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About Shirlene Armstrong

Shirlene Armstrong is a first-generation student in her last year at Wayne State University Law School in Detroit, Michigan. At Wayne, Shirlene has been involved with numerous organizations and clubs, including mock trial, LexisNexis, the Women's Law Caucus, and the Journal of Law and Society. Shirlene enjoys mentoring others and sharing what she has learned on her legal journey and continues to work hard in accomplishing her dreams.

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