6.3 – Bad News and Good News About Law School Exams
Good and Bad of Law School Exams
Bad Parts(1) No shortcuts, (2) hard work and practice are key to performing well, (3) raw talent doesn't ensure very good performance
I want to talk about some bad news and some good news about law school exams. I'm going to get the bad news out of the way first. I think I've already kind of stressed this point earlier in this course, but I just want to emphasize it one more time, which is that there aren't real shortcuts here, it isn't going to be possible to perform at a really high level in law school without doing the work, in some significant way, without really doing the reading, spending time studying carefully, spending time doing things like outlining, that really help you build up a knowledge structure in your mind, and doing some actual concrete practice that'll get you ready to take a particular exam.
This isn't like some undergrad majors where you can just walk in on the day of the exam, or you can just write a paper and just be brilliant, and it's going to work out. Law school classes are almost always graded on a curve. You're going to have a lot of peers who are just as talented as you are, and a lot of them are going to be working hard. If you are not prepared to do that, it's very, very, very unlikely that you're going to be able to perform at the highest level, at least consistently over the long run of classes.
You may have one or two classes where you can just bluff your way through, but that's going to be pretty unlikely in most classes, and most law school exams really are designed to really test how well did you learn this stuff, how deeply do you understand the law and the specific way of thinking about the law that we've been teaching in this course.
Recognize that law school exams, they aren't innate tests of how brilliant you are, and also, they aren't innate tests of even how deeply you understand the law, because they also require you to be prepared to take a law school exam. That is, they're going to be evaluating you not just on how much you understand the law, but how ready you are and how able you are to convey your knowledge and understanding in the specific format of the exam that you're taking.
Good Parts(1) Exams are not preordained, (2) exam-taking skill can be developed with practice
But that also, I think, leads to some good news, which is that your grades on law school exams are not preordained.
Law school exam taking is something that is a skill, and it is a skill that you can develop, you can practice, you can get significantly better at it, and you can also try to understand what exactly you need to be doing, and what successful exams look like, the ingredients of successful exams, what professors are trying to get at when they write exams.
I think if you develop that understanding, and you really pour some practice into it, you can really develop the skill and become a highly proficient law school exam taker as long as you're willing to do the work of really learning the material. That's true even if you have already taken some law school exams, let's say, maybe you're in your second semester of your first year, maybe you're a rising second-year student, maybe you're halfway through law school. Even if you've already taken exams and haven't performed at the level you want to perform, that doesn't mean it's too late.
It's not too late at all, but it might require you to kind of just sit down and really think about what exactly the law school exam is trying to do. Try to develop the skill, and I'm here to try to help you do that. There are some people who just intuitively understand the skills that go into law school exams, and they do well from the beginning of law school and all the way through. Other people take longer to figure it out, but I had a lot of friends in law school who maybe didn't get it right at the beginning, but then got it after a semester or two. From then on, they were consistently able to perform really well because they just figured out what it was they were supposed to be doing. I'm here to try to jump-start that process for you.
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