6.7 – The Importance of Timed Practice Exams


Importance of Timed Practice Exams

Timed practice exams are crucial for in-class exams as time is of the essence.

I think the most important thing you can do as you're preparing to take an exam is to do practice exams. Ideally, you will have some old exams that your professor gave previously, or maybe exams that your professor wrote to be practice exams, that you can actually take in a setting that really looks like the law school exam is going to look like itself, you take in a setting that really resembles the actual test-taking experience. Now, this is particularly true for in-class exams.

For an in-class exam, let's say it's a two-, three-, four-hour exam, you don't have a lot of margin for error. You want to use that time really effectively. If you realize that you've spent an hour barking up the wrong tree, writing something that doesn't make sense, or figuring out how to kind of write the exam, that could be potentially 33% of your points. That could be the difference between an A and a C grade.

I'm going to tell you something. No matter how well you think you know the material, the first time you sit down to try to write an exam answer in this format, you will spend a period of time just being unable to write anything and be like, "Wait, how do I even do this? I don't know what I'm doing here." Because you might think, "Oh, I've taken a bunch of exams in my life. I know the material really well." Nonetheless, if you haven't practiced the skill of writing a law school exam, and in particular, if you haven't practiced the skill of writing a law school exam for this class, you're going to feel really rusty.

The thing that will really get you to a position where you can perform really well, really effectively, and use your time really well, is have taken, ideally, a couple of timed practice exams for that class. Now, let me offer some clarifications. For a take-home exam, I think this is maybe a little bit less important. That is, if you have an eight-hour take-home, I wouldn't recommend necessarily actually doing an eight-hour take-home practice exam. That takes a lot of time. For a take-home exam, it's a little bit more like a paper where you have a little bit more margin for error. You have time to think before you write.

When I was in law school, I would always prepare for those a little differently. I would do something like I would wait to use the practice take-home exam. Then I would read it and then I would outline an answer. I wouldn't actually finish the process of spending eight hours writing out the actual answer. Anytime I had an in-class exam, a timed exam, an exam where I knew time was really going to be of the essence, I always tried to do one and ideally two actual timed exams. This is the thing that is going to make the biggest difference in your performance. If you don't do it, it's going to be very hard to perform at your highest level.

As I said, in a perfect world, you're going to have some of these. You'll have ones that the professor gave you. You'll have ones the library makes available from previous years. It's not always going to be a perfect world. You might have a professor who's teaching in the class for the very first time. You might have a visiting professor who's not going to make the old exams available. That happens. You know, that can be annoying, but it's not the end of the world. Find somebody else's exam. Maybe there's a different professor at your school who taught the same subject. You can use that exam. Maybe you can find a friend at a different school. You can use that exam. It might not be perfect. They might have covered slightly different topics than you've taken, but it's at least going to help you practice that skill.

Worst-case scenario, if you work with a study group, you guys could try to devise questions to give each other. You want to do something like this, because I can't tell you what it's going to feel like that first time you sit down and try to write out a law school exam, you're not going to know what to do. You think you know what you're going to do and you think it's going to come easily, and it's not, and that's totally okay. I'd much rather have you figure that out when you're practicing at home the first time than have it actually happen to you in a situation where it's actually going to affect your grade.

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