Law School Exam Preparation Free Live Webcast

Happy Halloween to all the law students out there! We hope everyone took a much-deserved break. Once all of the costumes are put away, law students naturally tend to turn their attention to exam prep. It’s time to start outlining! That’s where Open Book can help. Now’s the time to read Chapters 10 on outlining – and to glance at chapter 12 on practice exams. (You may even want to read the whole book at this point.)

But we have more help! On Tuesday, November 8th, at 7pm Eastern, we’ll be hosting another free webcast. This time around we’ll be focusing on exam prep – especially outlining and using practice exams effectively. We can’t promise there will be candy, but we do hope we can take some of the stress out of preparing for exams – and of course there will be time for plenty of questions! You can sign up by clicking here or following the link on our homepage.

We would love to get questions you have in advance of the webcast, so we can prepare to answer them. You can submit them at

Tell your friends! And we hope you’ll join us on Tuesday!

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More on Law School Practice Exams

Tuesday’s post on practice exams generated some questions over at the Volokh Conspiracy to which we think we can usefully respond.

First, we should have made clear that no student’s exam answer will be posted on the Open Book website without the informed and express consent of the student. Interestingly, when we approached our own (former) students for permission and explained what we are doing, they were quite positive. Their uniform response — which might help counter the image of law students as cutthroat or jaded — was enthusiasm at the chance to help other students learn from their experiences.

Second, as we mentioned in the initial post, we agree entirely that getting individualized feedback from one’s own professors is the first-best option. Indeed, borrowing from Star Trek, we state early in the book a law school version of “The Prime Directive” — for his or her class, what the prof says goes. We don’t mean this cynically. We mean merely to emphasize that different profs teaching the same class legitimately emphasize different aspects of the subject and reward somewhat different things in exam answers. The issue we have tried to tackle is what to do in the absence of the first-best.

We continue to believe that studying should be all about practice, practice, practice — especially practice with feedback. There are different ways to do this; we flag them in the book. If your Torts prof doesn’t have practice exams, see if you can find past exams from another Torts professor at your school. If your Contracts prof posts old exams but no model answers, go over your answer with colleagues who have taken the same practice exam.

No appellate litigator worth her salt goes into an argument without having been ‘mooted.’ That’s because experienced lawyers understand the importance of practice. This is another respect in which law school mirrors and teaches practice. 90% of the practice of law is practice — i.e., careful preparation.

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Do Profs Teach What Law School Exams Test?

We’ve been blogging over at the Volokh Conspiracy about law school exams and our new book Open Book: Succeeding on Exams from the First Day of Law School.

In response to a post about how exams mirror law practice, several commentators raised a fair question: do law professors teach what gets tested for on exams?

Our answer is: sometimes yes, sometimes no, and maybe.

Perhaps the most poignant of concerns was that of Mario O who said law professors should teach issue-spotting more deliberately, writing: “It’s like showing people pictures of violins and reading books about violins — but never touching one — and then for the final the student has to perform a solo with an orchestra.”

For what it is worth, we agree –- we devote several chapters of our book to meticulously taking apart the issue-spotting process, showing how to spot issues, apply rules, argue both sides, all the skills that go into writing a good exam.

But we think there are reasons professors don’t do more. Here, we speculate, welcoming your reactions.

Our suspicion is that the folks who are now law professors tended to be students to whom the particular skill of exam-taking came naturally. If so, it would not be a huge surprise to learn that they often underestimate the challenge that exams pose for many students. This is not an excuse, just an explanation: if you find something intuitive, you may have trouble appreciating that others find it counter-intuitive.

There’s another, more substantive problem at work here. It is not at all easy to teach what makes a good or bad legal argument. Several commenters pointed out that this best is learned in practice. We think this is true, albeit overstated. In the classroom — especially a Socratic classroom — the professor is (or should be) pushing students to make arguments and giving the students a feel for what makes for a better or worse argument.

Finally, there is a point to the “inside-out” approach of the law school classroom. Legal argument requires knowledge of law, and professors tend to teach cases rather than problems because the cases pull double-duty as lessons in substance and reasoning. This response is not entirely sufficient. There can and should be cases and problems. Probably most of us could do better in ensuring a proper mix between the two.

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Law School Practice Exams

Everyone knows the old joke. A guy walking in New York City asks a woman: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” She responds, “Practice, Practice, Practice.” Practice make perfect. But how are law students supposed to practice for exams?

Law students frequently, and often with justification, complain about lack of pre-exam feedback. In pre-publication reviews of Open Book, students stressed to us how much they wanted more examples, and . . . more feedback!

It is easy to see why students feel this way. They come to class day after day, mostly listening while someone else speaks. Then, suddenly, they are expected to take the exams that pretty much determine their course grades. Even after exams, they are often left wondering what happened.

Most profs try to provide some feedback. For example, it’s common these days to post practice exams and model answers. We’ve done the same thing in our book by providing hypotheticals that readers can try their hand at, along with sample answers available on the website that accompanies the book.

But can we do better? Here’s what we came up with. Coming soon to our website is a suite of practice exams that provide faculty feedback beyond model answers. Students who buy them get an actual exam and a model answer, but also a copy of the exam with annotations from the professor identifying where issues were hidden or key facts provided. They also get actual student answers (anonymous, of course), and these too are marked up by the professor to show strengths and weaknesses.

In a perfect world, law professors would provide extensive individualized feedback to each student before exams. And we know some heroic profs who do this. But many of us don’t and can’t. So we need to provide alternatives. We think Open Book’s exam suite is promising, but there are surely other ways to go. We’d love to hear your ideas.

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Why Do Law School Exams Look the Way They Do?

With Halloween comes a scary prospect for law students and law professors alike. Exams! So it seems like a good time to ask: why do law school exams still center around issue-spotting questions?

It certainly isn’t for the good of professors. As the saying goes: “They don’t pay me to teach, they pay me to grade.” We’re curious for your thoughts. Why do exams look the way they do? Where’s the value? Should we be testing differently?

We offer an explanation for issue-spotters in our new book — Open Book: Succeeding on Exams from the First Day of Law School. As the title suggests, our aim is to demystify exam-taking, in part by helping students understand why exams are as they are. It’s early, but initial positive reviews suggest we’re on to something.

Our account of issue-spotters is straightforward, almost embarrassingly so. The traditional issue-spotter exam connects legal education to law practice. This may seem a strange claim, given the fondness professors often show for exam questions featuring bizarre narratives. The point, however, is that they are narratives. And narratives are what lawyers deal with every day.

Somebody – a client, another attorney – comes to a lawyer and tells a story. The lawyer then has to translate it into the language of the law, giving advice and predicting possible outcomes. That’s what issue-spotters ask students to do.

We certainly don’t mean to suggest that other evaluation methods lack merit. Well-crafted multiple choice and short answer questions reward careful thinking and writing. But the classic issue-spotter has the special virtue of tracking legal practice.

Taking law school exams is never going to be fun. Nor will grading them. But we think that professors can take some comfort in recognizing that, on the whole, we are testing for the right thing; that elusive ability to ‘think like a lawyer.’

And students, too, can benefit from realizing that they are not merely being asked to play an arbitrary game. Indeed, a basic claim of the book is that students will tend to do better on exams when they connect the “how” of exam-taking to the “why.”

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What’s The Right Way To Take Notes in Class?

John and I would like to introduce you to Nick Axelrod and Jonathan Bruno, two 2Ls who have been helping us with The Blog and The Commons. After we got some comments and questions about note-taking, they volunteered to write something on the subject. Their comments follow . . .

At this point you’ve been in class for a few weeks. No doubt you’ve noticed classmates using different note-taking techniques and have probably wondered which style is best. Needless to say, different styles of note-taking will work better for different kinds of students. Still, there are a few tips that we believe can serve every student well:

• Let’s face it: you’re tempted to copy down everything your professor says. We understand the urge. It’s natural, especially for 1Ls, because at this stage it can be difficult to distinguish what’s important or note-worthy from what’s not. Resist this urge! Your goal while note-taking is not to record information indiscriminately, but to identify and keep account of the issues that your professor is really trying to highlight—the “bumpers” you’ll need to hit on the exam.

• How do you know what the professor is trying to highlight? One way is to pay close attention whenever the discussion of a case, or a class, or a unit of the course, is coming to a close. These are moments when the professor is likely to be synthesizing or recapping the “take-aways.” Some professors may also give a quick summary of the last meeting’s key points at the beginning of class. More generally, be active in class. You needn’t (and probably shouldn’t) raise your hand every two minutes, but you should always keep apace, mentally, with the class discussion.

• Don’t stop paying attention simply because a classmate, and not the professor, is speaking! Many professors try to elicit key points through discussion. So remember: the classmate a few rows back might just be identifying the key point that your professor has been driving towards.

• Your notes don’t have to look boring! Feel free to change up your fonts and use different styles, colors, and sizes. Use bold and italics to emphasize the relative importance of different ideas.

• As for mechanics, be aware that one mammoth Word document may not be the most convenient way to organize your notes. If you’re using a computer, you might want to investigate a dedicated note-taking program like Microsoft OneNote or Circus Ponies NoteBook for Mac. Whichever application you use, remember to back-up your work!

• Don’t be afraid to eschew the computer altogether if you find it impossible to stay focused on class with the Internet at your fingertips. (For this particular distraction problem, you could also try an Internet disabling program like Freedom). Of course, some students prefer pencil-and-paper for different reasons; for example, “visual learners” may find it easier to incorporate charts or diagrams into their notes this way. The bottom line: there’s no right answer to the pencil-and-paper v. computer question. Figure out what works best for you and make an informed decision that will serve you well.

For more tips on making the most of class, check out Chapter 13 of Open Book. Have other ideas about note-taking? Please share them by posting a reply below or by e-mailing!

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Webcast On Gearing Up For Exams

Last week John and I – joined by Claire Suni – did a webcast called “What’s Going on in Here, Anyway?” During that webcast we discussed why 1L professors teach as they do, and how that classroom experience relates to what will happen during exams. We also answered many of the student questions that were sent in. (Reminder: you can send questions in to us at our Contact page at any time. Some we will answer directly, some on the blog, and some we will save for our webcasts.)

You can now view that first webcast simply by looking in the “video” section of the website.

This is to let you know that our next webcast will be on “Gearing Up for Exams.” It will discuss outlining, practice exams, and how to get ready for and take exams.

The next webcast will be early November, most likely November 8. (Oops, I know I said November 7 during the first webcast; that was an error.) We will probably do it at 7 or 7:30, given that folks on the west coast pointed out they still had class during the first one. We will post specific details as soon as we know them.

In the meantime, if you have questions about “Gearing up for Exams,” please send them to our Contact page!

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