Law School Finals: Taking Your First Exams

The first semester of law school is a unique, challenging, and hopefully fun experience. Law school finals, however, are heavy on the challenge and light on the fun.

There is plenty of time to create a plan for finals, put it to action, and get ready to dominate those exams.

Have a Plan and Try and Stick to It

One of the ways I tried to reduce the stress of finals was making an overall studying outline. For example: CivPro in the morning, Torts in the afternoon, then review CivPro again in the evening. You can obviously design a much more detailed outline if you wish, but you get the idea.

For me, having the outline forced me to allocate my time between all of my law school classes. Lots of students get obsessed with one class and then the night before another exam realize that they have not spent enough time prepping for that exam. News flash: you get grades for all your classes.

Creating an overall study plan will force you to maximize your time and productivity. Otherwise, you will find yourself cramming for each exam the night before, which is generally not considered the best way to study.

2Ls and 3Ls Are Your Best Friends

You are not the first group of law students to take Professor X’s dreaded torts exam, or Professor Smith’s twenty-four hour take home property exam. Last year’s class took the exam and I guarantee that almost of them survived. Most law students are willing to pass on their wisdom—and how to survive the exam.

Ask them if you can take a look at their outlines, and don’t be shy about it. Use that outline as your starting point and then modify it based on your class notes.

They can also give insight as to what the exam will consist of and how they suggest that you prepare for it. If they didn’t do well in the class, they can likely tell you someone else who did. Most students are happy to share what they do.

Old Exams Are Usually on Reserve at the Library

Most professors put at least one previous exam on reserve at the library. If the professor tends to give the same type of exam, this can be a goldmine of information. Previous exams will not tell you what to study, but it can help you prepare for what kinds of things you need to know. While some professors will tell you what the exam might look like, actually seeing a sample exam is extremely helpful.

For example, some professors ask one giant essay question with multiple subparts. Many times there are a couple substantive law questions and a policy question at then. Knowing that is very helpful, and will force you to spend some time on knowing big policy points.

Clear Your Calendar of Distractions

I put the pedal to the metal during finals. Other than eating, sleeping, and going to the gym, I cleared my calendar of everything for two weeks. Although, I think I did celebrate my birthday every year.

Most things can be put off for another couple of weeks and you will have plenty of time to do all those things after finals are over. Frankly, you will probably be bored during break, so leaving yourself things to do might be a good thing.

The other advantage to this “all-in” method is that you will know that you gave it your best shot. There is nothing worse than spending winter break wondering if you spent enough time studying for finals.

Adapt Your Study Plan to Fit Your Personality

Disclaimer: everyone is different and these tips will not work for everyone. If entering the witness protection program for two weeks is your worst nightmare, then do not do it. If you study all day and need to unwind every night, then do it. Everybody processes information and learns in their own way. Hopefully, you can use these tips and adapt them to your own needs.

Some law students get caught up trying to mimic the study habits of gunners in their class. One, people who appear to be gunners do not always get the best grades. Two, you have to study the way that works for you. In other words, don’t buy the hype and follow your own plan.

Study hard, and best of luck!

Originally published 2011-11-21. Republished 2016-12-04.

Featured image: “young stressed nervous long haired blond woman student ” from Shutterstock.


  1. Avatar Michael Doby says:

    I think these are some great suggestions. I am heading into my last round of law school exams and I think what has helped me the most was practicing old exams. There are only so many different ways to ask a question, so seeing how a professor asked it before was really useful to me. For example, I would not have known that my Con Law prof wanted a brief history of the commerce clause in your answer regardless of the call of the question.

    Issue spotting and getting a sense of a prof’s style are good, but actually writing answers to old exams is what really worked for me. Some profs were willing to look at answers that students had written for old exams, which can really be a goldmine. At least at my school there were several old exams for every class available in the library or on the school’s web portal. Many of these had model answers but for those that didn’t the Student Bar Association bought bluebooks from people who got A’s and sold copies the next term. So if a prof didn’t want to look at practice work there was always something to compare it to.

  2. Avatar Susan Gainen says:

    Remember, there will be no Physics on a law school exam.

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