Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My Finals Survival Checklist

            This title was recommended to all of us bloggers as a topic that would be appropriate for this time of the year, and it may well be because a checklist is one of the most valuable documents a law student can create in preparing for a final exam. 


            Let me preface: finals are a bit terrifying.  In your first year, most classes like Property, Torts, Contracts, and Civil Procedure are 5 units and they are required to have a mid-term exam, which counts for somewhere between 15-25% of your final grade.  It’s meant to give you an idea of how you’re doing and where you might need to improve your understanding of the material or hone your exam-taking skills.  But that still leaves 75-85% of your grade to the final exam.  With subsequent courses, the final exam is often 100% of your grade.  And grades matter in law school.  They really matter.  Employers select interviewees based on grades.  Big Law partners mention Order of the Coif on their webpage 30 years after graduation.  So you want to do the best you can on your finals.


            One of the best techniques for doing well on a final exam is to create a checklist.  I did this for Contracts my first year, and it made all the difference.  A typical law school exam will have a fact pattern, a little story where the characters have legal problems with each other, and it’s your job to “IRAC”:  spot the Issues, state the Rule, Apply the rule, and come to a Conclusion.  (IRAC is an acronym you’ll hear tossed around all the time in law school.)  When reading through a fact pattern, I like to make notes as soon as I spot an issue or possible issue – sometimes it’s a red herring.   Some issues jump out right away and it’s easy to dive into those and begin your analysis.  But inevitably, there are other issues that are not so obvious, and that’s when it’s good to have a checklist.  Generally speaking, the professors are going to test you on all the material they covered during the course of the semester or the year.  A 5 unit class will have about 70 hours of lecture.  That is going to be A LOT of material, so having a checklist can be really useful. 

In the contracts final, as soon as the exam started, I used the scratch paper provided and wrote my 25-point checklist.  It was basically a list of all the topics we had covered.  It only took a minute to write it, but then I could go through my analysis and make sure I had covered every element on that list.  And there were a few issues I wouldn’t have spotted without the checklist.  As the adage goes, you find what you’re looking for.  And having a checklist is a very good way to make sure you find the things that will lead you to a better grade.

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