Master Exam Basics Before You Try to Go Above & Beyond

By Professor Matthew Festa

Learning the substantive law that is assigned on your syllabus and discussed in class is hard enough. If you’re really motivated to do well in law school, you might be tempted to think that if you just read more than everyone else you will do better. Not necessarily. Focus on what the professor is teaching, and master that first. There isn’t necessarily much “extra credit” in law school; while your professor may (or may not) be personally impressed that you read a bunch of treatises or law review articles, that isn’t what you’re being tested on. And if you try too hard to show off your extra knowledge on the exam, it may work against you.

This isn’t to say that reading doing extra reading beyond the assignments can’t be helpful—it certainly can . . . to the extent that it helps you better understand the assigned material that will be tested on the exam. You might find yourself much better served by doing more practice exams rather than reading more treatises or law reviews.

This was one of the first things I realized as a new professor: it’s hard enough just to master the basics: spotting the issues, knowing the law, and applying it to the facts in order to answer the question. Focus on that first.

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