Exam Tip - Skeletal Outlines, Instructions, and Organization

Skeletal Outlines - You will be nervous when the examination proctor says “Begin,” so the worst thing you can do is to start writing out your answer immediately.  Instead, consider writing out your skeletal outline as soon as the exam begins.  A skeletal outline is merely an organized list of principles and issues, created by you, which relates to a given area of the law.  Think about the outline you have been creating all semester, but now reduce it down to a page or two – this is your skeletal outline.  Writing out this list will give a few moments to compose your thoughts before digging into the exam. 

Instructions - Read the instructions!  This is the most obvious advice imaginable, but every exam period several students will, for example, answer 3 short exam questions, only to discover that the instructions said “provide an answer to 1 of the following 3 hypotheticals.”  Most students get flustered at the start of an exam, so this type of mistake is more common than you might imagine.  When the exam starts, take a deep breath, slow yourself down, and read the instructions.

Organization - Before answering an essay question, you must outline and organize your response.  Too many students read the first sentence 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.