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kimkartrashian

Ran out of time on midterms - advice needed

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So I just wrote my second midterm of 1L and it was utter garbage. I was honestly really panicking when I started, but I knew there was no time to panic and I just had to write. So I wrote without really thinking, ran out of time, and after I submitted, SO much came to me and I realized basically everything I wrote was incorrect. I disregarded most of the facts from the scenario given, identified the issues wrong, and didn't really justify anything in my analysis. I don't even know what I was thinking! The same thing happened on my first exam. I was just spewing straight garbage thinking I'd come back to it and next thing u know the time was up. A few classmates I talked to said they didn't really find time to be an issue, but I have no idea how!! I think I spent too much time going back and looking at my notes, but I feel like I needed them to aid my memory because I honestly didn't remember anything (as a mix of panic and probably not being as prepared as I should've been).

I guess I'm just wondering how you guys manage to complete law school exams without running out of time? Do you know every case like the back of your hand so there's no need to look back at notes? I tried to make an attack outline, but I have such a hard time remembering the facts, issues, and analysis of each case so I end up putting them in and next thing I know my "attack" outline becomes a full blown outline. Was I just not prepared enough? Do you also outline an answer before starting to write? My thoughts were all over the place when I was writing. I also spent a lot of time studying stuff that I was pretty sure wasn't going to be on the exam, but I felt like I needed to know it just in case. Of course, none of it ended up being on the exam.

I know it's only my first couple exams of law school, but does it get better? I just don't understand how anyone stays calm enough to actually think through the exam when there's so little time! I'm terrified for my April finals now because of how much they're worth. Please send any tips/experiences my way. Thank you so much in advance!!

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I just want start by saying, just take a moment and understand that exams are meant to be hard and it's always difficult to perform perfectly - even more so in the covid context. That said, to handle time I recommend four things.

First, read the questions before the fact pattern. Seriously. Read them first and then read the fact pattern with the question in mind. Be an active reader and make notes as you go of issues you see as you read them. Do not answer the question as you read. Use this reading time to build a roadmap for your answer. In the context of the IRAC method, this works great and maximizes your issue spotting and ensures your answer actually answers what you've been directed to answer. 

Second you need to really make note of how much each question is worth, portion time accordingly and then stick to your time notwithstanding that you may not fully develop the issues identified. This approach prevents you from getting sucked into the vortex of a question and the desire to make it perfect. I cannot tell you how many times I've been tempted to really strengthen an answer to a question to maybe get 17/20 on it, only to then to be crunch for time on another question and end up getting 10/20 on it when I otherwise could have got 15/10 and 15/20 respectively. Therefore, allocate your time and stick to it. Answer as best you can and move on. 

Thirdly, be effective in your studying and summary building. You should memorize the core concepts as much as you can and for the more detailed matters know where to quickly find the information in your summary. Do not treat a summary/open book exams as a supplement for memorization and study. This will allow you to quickly apply major principles for some easy issues and then free up your time for the more detailed/nuanced ones. 

Lastly, be wise in how you tackle an exam. You do not need to do questions in order. If a question is super puzzling to you, skip it and go to the ones you can get right away. Failing to do so may result in you over investing in that puzzling question and in turn leaving you less time for the questions you otherwise could have answered completely with ease. 

 

Also...it gets better. Be patient with yourself! 

 

Edited by LeoandCharlie
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10 minutes ago, LeoandCharlie said:

I just want start by saying, just take a moment and understand that exams are meant to be hard and it's always difficult to perform perfectly - even more so in the covid context. That said, to handle time I recommend four things.

First, read the questions before the fact pattern. Seriously. Read them first and then read the fact pattern with the question in mind. Be an active reader and make notes as you go of issues you see as you read them. Do not answer the question as you read. Use this reading time to build a roadmap for your answer. In the context of the IRAC method, this works great and maximizes your issue spotting and ensures your answer actually answers what you've been directed to answer. 

Second you need to really make note of how much each question is worth, portion time accordingly and then stick to your time notwithstanding that you may not fully develop the issues identified. This approach prevents you from getting sucked into the vortex of a question and the desire to make it perfect. I cannot tell you how many times I've been tempted to really strengthen an answer to a question to maybe get 17/20 on it, only to then to be crunch for time on another question and end up getting 10/20 on it when I otherwise could have got 15/10 and 15/20 respectively. Therefore, allocate your time and stick to it. Answer as best you can and move on. 

Thirdly, be effective in your studying and summary building. You should memorize the core concepts as much as you can and for the more detailed matters know where to quickly find the information in your summary. Do not treat a summary/open book exams as a supplement for memorization and study. This will allow you to quickly apply major principles for some easy issues and then free up your time for the more detailed/nuanced ones. 

Lastly, be wise in how you tackle an exam. You do not need to do questions in order. If a question is super puzzling to you, skip it and go to the ones you can get right away. Failing to do so may result in you over investing in that puzzling question and in turn leaving you less time for the questions you otherwise could have answered completely with ease. 

 

Also...it gets better. Be patient with yourself! 

 

Thank you so much! This was extremely helpful advice!!

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People like to talk themselves up after an exam, it's how some people cope with it. I wouldn't put to much value in how people said they did on the exam, they aren't the one marking it. During my time in law school there were multiple times where a student walked out an hour early and talked about how great they did on the exam, the professor time had an opposing view.

Also yes it does get better. The first 1L exams are a shitshow, which is why they generally don't count as much (or at all if you are in certain schools). This is a learning experience but wait to get your grades back before you decide they went terribly wrong. It's fairly likely you did average on the exams.

As for advice going forward, there's no substitute to knowing the law. That doesn't mean memorizing each case. It means have a general understanding of how the law works, and then having your outlines as supplement to that knowledge. While the top student might go into detail on the nuances on why the facts in case A are more applicable than case B, most of the marks comes from just saying "Case A stands for X, here's how that applies to the facts"

Finally, most exams end up being just braindumps that are kinda related to the exam. Everyone is writing it in the exact same conditions and it's curved against that standard.

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You have to remember that these are the very first law exams you've ever written. They are very different than the exams you wrote in undergrad. Yes it will get better as you get more used to the format. Your midterms are likely worth a relatively low percent of your total mark and in April when you write your finals you will have gone through an exam period and will be more familiar with how everything works. Do not beat yourself up about it. When you get your midterms back, go over them, speak with your professors, figure out where you went wrong. Learning from your mistakes is the best way to make sure you do well in April.

I would also suggest that you try to write practice exams when you prepare for April. When you find out how much time you'll have for each exam, try to write an old exam within that time frame. Think of it as an LSAT practice test - the more of these you do, the faster you'll get at identifying the issues and analyzing them.

Speaking about my own method. I do run out of time on exams sometimes. When I don't run off, I'm normally still working quickly throughout the allotted time. When I get the exam paper, I like to highlight and make notes in the fact pattern first, then write a very bare bones outline into the exam software. I just jot down issues I've identified on my first superficial read and any details that jump out. Then I go back and flesh out everything, go through any necessary tests, etc. That way if I run out of time, at the very least the professor can see that I identified what the fact pattern is about and maybe some extra details like if there's a potential defence available. It also helps me not get carried away with a digression or some fringe issue that's unimportant because I have a map that I plan to follow. Sometimes I identify a new issue or detail when I fill out my answers, but it keeps me on track with addressing the actual issues at hand.

I absolutely do not know every case like the back of my hand. You don't have to be able to recite all of the facts and issues and reasoning of each case off the top of your head. You should, however, know the law. This means identifying broadly, for example, that there might be a defence of consent to battery in your torts fact pattern, and referring to your outline to find one or more cases that discuss what the requirements of such a defence are. For your attack outline, consider only putting the ratio of each case. What's the actual takeaway you need to remember? What was the reason the professor assigned it in the first place? Does this case establish a new legal test, redefine a concept, refine the interpretation of a statutory provision in a certain context? For example, for Donoghue v Stevenson, maybe you'd jot down "Manufacturers have a legal duty of care to the consumers of their products." In as brief a way as possible, sum up exactly what purpose the case serves as precedent. You can keep your long summary close by if you need to know the facts or would like to refer to them in order to point out similarities or differences with the fact pattern at hand.

Edited by lewcifer

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Practice practice practice. If your school has a past exam database or exam bank that you can access, get a copy of past exams for the same course/professor. Prepare your map, follow the very good study advice you've been given above, then sit down with a past exam with your map/outline ready, and set a timer for however long the real exam will be. See how much you can get done within the same amount of time, identify any weaknesses in how you've laid out the information on your map, test your level of memorization (did you know most of the legal rules and key cases off the top of your head, or did you have to spend extra minutes looking them up in your map?). Spend a couple of days doing past exams like running drills, and I think you will feel a difference. Past exams will help you pinpoint the weaknesses in your map/outline as well as your approach/technique to answering exams. If you can get your hands on sample upper year answers to compare against your own answer, that would be even better. 

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