Before answering an essay question, you must outline and organize your response. When the exam begins, too many students read the first paragraph in an essay exam question, recognize an issue, and are so overjoyed at finding an issue that they spend the next 20 minutes responding to it. The problem with this approach is that the fact pattern was probably over a page long, and the writer just spent more time than was necessary in responding to a relatively straightforward issue.
While different students outline differently, students who perform well on law school exams take the time to read through the entire essay question, create a list of the various issues contained therein, and then take a few more minutes to separate out the major issues from the minor ones. This approach will give you a better sense of how much time you have to complete your entire answer. (Adapted from Succeeding in Law School by Herbert N. Ramy.)
Decide how you need to balance your play and study time over the holiday. What family commitments do you have? Are your outlines complete? Where are you in your review for exams? Here are some tips to consider:
- Be realistic about your ability to study over the holiday. Do not expect to accomplish six weeks of work in 5 days. Enjoy Thanksgiving Day with family or friends. Block out times when you can realistically study during the remainder of the vacation.
- Make a priority list of tasks. Work on tasks in the order of priority.
- Break tasks into smaller steps. It is easier to motivate yourself to outline one topic or rewrite one section of a paper. You will not be motivated by too large of a task.
- Consider productive ways that you can use travel time: listen to Sum and Substance CDs or a homemade tape of your outline while driving back and forth; review an outline sitting in the airport; quiz yourself with flashcards instead of watching an in-flight movie; if traveling with a classmate, consider answering practice questions together during the trip.
- Consider whether you can include your family or friends in helping you study: quizzing you from flashcards or quizzing you on your outlines, for example. You get to study, and they get to participate.
- And, most importantly, have safe and healthy traveling and holiday celebrations.
Use study groups judiciously as you prepare for finals.
- Do not skimp on your personal review time by joining too many group activities.
- Schedule group time when you have reviewed the material enough to gain the most from discussions.
- Alternate who explains concepts or answers questions so everyone has to “work” and get practice.
- Have individual practice question time as well – your group cannot help you during the exam.
- If study group sessions become too frustrating, consider gracefully bowing out to study by yourself or with just one other person.
It's that time in the semester when stress begins to escalate to new levels of intensity. However, now is also the time when you need to use your best stress resilience skills. Stress that is out of control can lead to illness, anxiety, lessened concentration, lack of sleep, and many other problems. Below are a few tips on managing your stress for the remainder of the semester.
- Put grades in perspective. Grades are not equal to who you are as a person. You have knowledge of the course, talents, character strengths, and other skills that go beyond that one exam. We have many extraordinarily gifted and successful graduates in law practice and on the bench who will openly state that they graduated in the “great middle” of their class.
- All you can ask of yourself is to do the best that you can. No one can do better than his or her best. No man or woman is perfect. The important thing is to do as well as you can within your intellectual capabilities, talents, and skills. Our best does not always get us an “A” grade, but it does get us self-respect.
- Do not dwell on what you have no control over. You cannot control the days of your exams in most cases. You cannot control the questions on your exams. You cannot control how a professor grades. Do not waste time wishing that you had control over these things. Focus instead on what you can control.
- Do not dwell on what you did not do earlier in the semester. You cannot change that you did not study enough during the first part of the semester. You cannot change that you did not do practice questions earlier. You cannot change that you did not outline earlier. Regrets get you no further along the path to exam success. Make a note to change next semester. But for now, spend time and energy focusing on what you can still control.
- Take control of what YOU can control. You can ask your professors questions about material you do not understand. You can study with classmates to gain new or broader perspectives on the material. You can do more practice questions. You can set up a structured time management schedule to distribute tasks more effectively. You can use study aids to help you understand material that is still vague. You can use breaks to increase your focus during intense study periods. You can use rewards to keep yourself motivated.