My Advice for Law School Exam Test Takers. Tip #1: Know Thine Professor.

December 1st, 2009

It’s that time of the year. Exams! If you are a 1L, this is the time you should be freaking out. If you are a 2L, you should still be freaking out. And if you are 3L, graduating into this economy, well, you should be in a perpetual state of freaked-outedness.

A lot of my friends suffering through Exam Periods have asked me for advice, so I hope to shed some wisdom. This will be the first tip in a series of post leading up to Finals.

Tip #1: Know Thine Professor.

People always ask me, how do I prepare for an exam? The most efficient way to prepare for an exam, is to know what will be on the exam. Check if your professor leaves old exams in the library. Or, ask some previous students if they recall what was on the exam. If none of these options are possible, despair not. You would think that asking the Professor would be the easiest way to figure this out, but Professors are notoriously evasive when you ask them about the exams, rightfully so. But, you really should not need to rely on this last ditch prayer for relief.

When preparing for an exam, you need to remember one very important thing. The person writing that exam is the same person who lectured in front of you every week for the entire semester. Law school isn’t like baseball, where the Dean brings in a relief pitcher in the 9th inning to write and grade the exam (though that would be interesting).

At this point in the Semester, you should know how your professor operates. If you were paying attention (and if you were not, befriend a gunner ASAP), you should understand what he is interested in, and any peculiar quirks he may have. Use this knowledge to your advantage. Know thine professor.

For example, if your professor spent 80% of the class discussing the UCC or the Restatement, and barely focused on case law, that is a pretty good indication your exam will focus on the UCC or the Restatement. If your professor spent a lot of time on the moral obligations of tort law, rather than the black letter law of the Restatement, that is a pretty good indication you should be prepared to discuss these more holistic issues. If your Professor is an expert in eminent domain law, and publishes many articles on this topic, you can probably predict there will be some eminent domain questions on your exam.

This tip is not based simply on my experience as a student, but on human nature. If a Professor focuses class discussion on a certain topic and publishes on that topic in his professional career, it is safe to say that is the professor’s area of expertise. If he has expertise in an area, he will be able to more easily write, and grade, a question in that area. I am not saying Professors are lazy, but let’s just say they seek to maximize their comparative advantages. Thus, a Professor who is an expert in the MPC is more likely to test on MPC than on common law crimes. A Professor who previously worked for a certain regulatory agency is likely to test on cases involving that agency. It’s simple, yet predictable.

Now, you should not focus exclusively on the Professor’s area of expertise. This is foolish. In my experiences, new Professors, who haven’t quite figured out the ropes, are the biggest wildcards, and their exams are somewhat unpredictable. But, if you have a veteran professor, you can stack your time so you spend more time in that area.

Tip #2 Tomorrow. Creating your Cram Schedule.

Disclaimer: Caveat emptor. Take this advice at your own peril. If it doesn’t work, don’t complain. If it works, I appreciate gift cards. See also this advice from an anonymous law professor. And for some humorous exam tweets, see here.