10 Truths I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Law Exams

Thane Messinger, author of Law School: Getting In, Getting Good, Getting the Gold and The Young Lawyer’s Jungle Book shared with us the best advice he never got, but wished he had. 

Here are ten things she thinks you should know about law exams:

1. Classroom participation does not count. Ergo, stop worrying how you look. Worry instead about how you think.

2. You should begin preparing for your law exams from your very first day of class.

3. You read #2 correctly. This is not about undertaking a massive, unfair burden. Or it’s not just that. It is to build a legal framework (i.e., black letter law) into which you put classroom discussions (i.e., thinking like a lawyer). Your framework includes top-level outline headings for that subject. You add black-letter depth during the semester, but you do so before class, not after.

4. Class is not for “participation,” but for mental jousting: your job is to confirm that you understand how that specific point of law works, and can anticipate your professor’s responses to students. If you do not know what they are going to say before they say it, you’re not ready for the exam. Move back two steps.

5. Notes are not a good way to study the law (or anything else, for that matter). Therefore, stop wasting time taking them. Your job is to think, not write.

6. Outlines are an answer. They are not, however, a goal.  They are a tool and a crystallization of your ability to “think like a lawyer.” See No. 10.

7. Study groups are not for the “study” (or, worse, division) of outlines, but for the (a) purposeful discussion of hypotheticals and (b) for the working of practice exams. It doesn’t matter whose (although you should clearly take all available exams from your prof, under timed conditions), nor does it matter which law school or how old. The law is the law is the law. See No. 10.

8. In law school, hypos and practice exams are your life. Why? Because that is what is required to “think like a lawyer,” which is what is tested in a law exam. See No. 10.

9. No, classroom participation still does not count.

10. “Thinking like a lawyer” does not mean that you “know” the law, but that you know how to apply a set of rules to a messy set of facts, cold. That is what you need to be able to do in a law exam, of any type.