Kindly provided by Bo Weng (“Arrow”). Published August 2009, last updated March 2011.
I am writing this thread in hopes of helping out all 0L’s out there on TLS since I received excellent advice on TLS. This is not a thread on the best method of studying, it is simply what I did. Most of the “how-to-do-well threads” come from people in the T14, so this thread is perhaps more geared towards those attending schools outside the T14 (since I am not in the T14). Good luck to everyone in overcoming the unique challenge of law school. My first year in law school was the most fun I have ever had that I never want to do again.
I just finished my first year at Loyola Law School (Los Angeles). I was ranked top in the top 1% with the highest GPA in my section both semesters. Also, I went to an Ivy undergrad but had a dismal ~3.4/159. (I decided to go to law school too late and had a science/engineering background). Based on my success at Loyola Law School I was able to transfer into many top ten law schools, including Berkeley, which is where I choose to attend.
0L Prep (Summer before 1L)
I realized I had performed poorly in undergrad and on the LSAT (relatively speaking) and decided to take the entire summer prepping for 1L. I went the typical gunner route and read all 6 Examples and Explanations (E&E’s) books (0735562415, 0735570337, 0735540241, 0735570310, 0735562431, 0735562113), Getting to Maybe, Law School Confidential, Planet Law School, did LEEWS, and Delaney’s Logic for Lawyers. I took a simple front desk job at my summer dorm where I would have tons of time (during work) to read since all I had to do was give people their keys if they forgot them.
The value of 0L prepping is highly controversial. The E&E’s took the longest time to read but gave me a solid background and introduction to thinking about the typical questions that come up. The number 1 ranked student at my school last year read all 6 hornbooks as a 0L, but I personally felt that reading the E&E’s were more efficient. Getting to Maybe is a great introduction to legal thinking (i.e., through its “forks” analogy) and has a great policy section. Law School Confidential is a great introduction to law school. I read this book first, and, while it does not offer much helpful information, it does provide a general background as to what law school is all about and what people generally do. Planet Law School is not the most positive book, but it has much truth to it. The book describes, perhaps, a darker side to law school, but it also provides useful and unique advice to overcome this “dark side.” LEEWS probably cost the most (since it is not a book), but it was the most helpful in my opinion. Delaney’s book was short but equally great on legal thinking.
I also read just about every website/blog/thread on TLS on how to do well.
I read every word in every book listed above from beginning to end. I read Law School Confidential first, then Planet Law School, then did 3 E&E’s (started with the Glannons Torts/Civ Pro, which were the best of the series), then read Getting to Maybe, then another 3 E&E’s, followed by Delaney’s, and finally LEEWS right before school started.
If you choose not to do all this prep (and I assume many will not), I would recommend LEEWS, Getting to Maybe, and Delaney’s in that order.
Did I enjoy my summer? Totally. The material was generally super interesting, and I spent about 6-10 hours reading it everyday, planning out my schedule to make sure I would be able to finish everything. Okay, I am lying. I wasted my entire summer since I did not travel the world and party every night (unlike some of you, or so you claim).
I strongly suggest you live near the school (within walking distance). Loyola is a commuter school, but I chose to live about 1-2 blocks away. It took me literally 3-5 minutes to walk to school, and I felt that this provided a bit of an advantage. I heard about many people wasting many hours in traffic or spending 30+ minutes commuting. This may not seem like much time, but shortening one’s commute (along with many other time-saving techniques) adds up over time.
Living near the school gives you more motivation to attend classes as well. I have found that people who live farther away lack motivation to drive to campus if they wake up a bit late or are less in the mood to go to school. Needless to say, out of the people I knew, people who lived within walking distance of the school were far more likely to end up in the top 15%. Actually all 4 people I knew who lived within 3-4 blocks of the school were in the top 10%. (Obviously, this could just be a coincidence.)
The only downside is that we lived in the ghetto.
Focus on the Exam
This is the one thing you must do from the first day of class. You must realize that the exam at the end of the semester counts for 100% of the grade, so, if it is not on the exam, do not waste time studying it. Do not do something simply because others are doing it. Thus, when I say focus, I mean only study it if it is going to be on the exam. I will emphasize this point again and again.
If you did your 0L prep, then you should have an idea what exams look like. My 0L prep greatly helped me focus on the law since I kind of knew what to look for. I looked up my professors’ old exams when school started just to make sure they were the typical fact pattern issue-spotting exams and focused on them from day one.
You need to have this focused mindset in deciding what to study. There are tons of materials out there, and people will tell you again and again that you have to study smart (and not just study a lot). If you are not sure if you need to study something, think about whether you would write it down on the exam.
The answer is no. I did not brief the way people normally do (with facts, procedure, rule, holding, etc). In fact, I followed the LEEWS method. I would have two columns in my word document. On the left column, I would have the name of the case, with one sentence stating the rule and one sentence stating the facts in each box. I usually just pulled this information from online briefs or briefing books. It gave me enough information to get through class and for reference later on. In the right column, I would take notes on any important information the professor gives during class.
This is all the “briefing” I ever did. However, I would always do this before I read the actual case. There were a few times where I could not find a case summary/brief summary online, and had to do the mini-brief after I read the case. (Note that Lexis and Westlaw generally have mini-briefs of all the cases.)
You must understand that the typical case briefing method (with the facts, procedure, rule, holding, etc) is likely useless and an enormous waste time. This idea may be hard to accept, but do not get sucked into the group mentality that says otherwise. Other students will talk about briefing and lecturers will suggest it during orientation. You must understand that case briefing is an antiquated concept. Case briefing is a matter of tradition, but more importantly, it is a trap that lures the masses to mediocrity. The cases do not teach the law, and the notes that come after the cases confuse more than educate.
I will acknowledge that a small percentage of people will read cases, see all the twists and turns, and naturally know the law. These are probably the naturally talented, and I personally did not bank on myself being one of these.
Did I read the cases? Yes. I read just about every case assigned. However, I did not read it with a meticulous level of detail. I “fast read” every case, and skimmed cases that were unnecessarily long. Remember, the cases are nearly NEVER tested on the exam. Only one professor wanted me to cite cases. In the other 5 substantive classes, I never cited a single case (other than landmark cases, or cases which have rules named after them) and received A’s.
Because cases are generally not specifically tested, do not waste too much time reading the casebook. I only used the casebook for the relevant black letter law it sometimes held. Generally, the reason a particular case is assigned is simply to show the origins of a one sentence rule of law. I almost always skipped reading the notes that came after it (unless they discussed black letter law).
I usually would read the assigned reading 1-2 weeks in advance during the weekends and occasionally during the week if I could not finish. It would usually take me about 1-2 hours to read each assigned reading per class and do the mini-briefs.
Outlining is probably overrated. Everyone tells you to outline, but really it is just like in undergrad: you take notes on what is important and study from it. The process of making an outline from every class takes an enormous amount of time, but I still highly recommend you (in a sense) make your own.
First, put ONLY what is tested on the outline. This generally means only the black letter law and its nuances go on the outline. I did not insert case summaries into the outline because they were never tested. I did not even put the names of the cases on there unless I felt that the professor wanted us to mention the name or the case name was also the name of a rule.
Second, outline early. Everyone knows to do this, but nobody does it. You will run out of time in the end, and I would recommend outlining near the beginning of the semester. Seriously, outlining a class takes forever.
Third, try to save time by using old outlines and just copying and pasting from them. I was able to obtain access to every club’s outlines on campus. I was in two clubs, obtained passwords to their outline banks, and exchanged passwords with others so we all were able to access the outline banks. I also asked certain upperclassmen, who were friends of mine, for outlines (most of them said yes, so don’t be shy).
These old outlines are a gem. Some were very useful for following along in class (and provided answers for me when called on). I even used some of the old outlines to learn the material since past brilliant students may have figured it all out already. Others had case briefs (which I used to do my mini-briefs). Some had exam tips. I pasted parts of these old outlines and continued updating and rewording them into my own version throughout the semester. My school actually has an honor society for the upperclassmen in the top 15%, and the society shares its outlines for free to 1L’s, which is great.
Finally, keep your outlines short. Otherwise, they take too long, but all of my outlines were under 20 pages (most were around 10-15) single spaced, size 12 font.
Oh, and, in case anyone was wondering, for every class I had three word documents. One was for the minibriefs and case notes, one for outlines, and one for exam prep/hypothetical practice.
Analyzing the Professors
You must get inside your professor’s head. I would say this made the difference between an A- and an A+ (like one to two grade differences). The professor grades your final exam and has a final say on your grade, so you must figure out what he or she wants.
The best way to do this is by going to class, going to office hours, and looking at old exams.
The problem with going to class is that some (maybe all) of the professors do not always test what they teach. This is obvious enough. You talk about cases in class and what do you see on the exam? A big long fact pattern that often does not mention cases at all.
However, pay attention to how they phrase things during class. If your professor uses Powerpoints or words the law in a certain manner, USE THAT WORDING (not the supplement’s wording) by putting it on your outline and later on the exam.
I used office hours as a place to both bond with the professors (by talking about non-academic things, usually by asking them about career/their backgrounds) and to get my questions answered. I would usually come in with a list of questions. Basically I would run into questions and concepts from reading the supplements/reviewing notes (that I was confused by or go beyond what was taught), write it down, and ask them during office hours. Other times, I would just ask the questions via email, but I felt going there in person created a bonding experience that would greatly help if I needed recommendations.
More importantly, office hours allowed me to further probe their brilliance. It would help me analyze their style and personality to figure out how they like to test students. Were they a “hide-the-ball” type? Did they like to trick students? Were they straightforward? Did they only test what they taught or do the opposite? Did they like to write long fact patterns or were they lazier (or, more likely, busier) and preferred to give shorter ones? More importantly, how did they want us to write the exams? Did they want us to cover seeming non-issues and make arguments that relate more indirectly to the problem? Their old exams also offer clues to their testing style.
I was surprised that most of my professors were extremely helpful in office hours, and nearly all of them loved hanging out with students. I even discovered some that were a little strict/boring/mean in class turned out to be nice/exciting/fun/relaxed outside of class.
Supplements constituted the bulk of my reading. The number one rule is to always use your professors’ supplements if THEY wrote them.
Generally I used the E&E’s and sometimes the hornbooks if the professor was more policy-oriented. The E&E’s are generally amazing since they give the law first and then give practice questions to go along with it. I read the hornbooks just because they were so well written, clear and very comprehensive in covering specific areas of law. E&E’s and hornbooks were definitely the main supplements, for they teach the law and its nuances, which is what is tested. The E&E’s were the only supplements I read more than once as the problems they have are very helpful.
Of course, I only read the relevant sections once school had started. I would usually read these to go along with the course. Basically I followed along with the syllabus and read the relevant sections either before or after a class on the same subject. I feel as though these books are the “actual texts” of the course and what you should be reading.
I also used CALI lessons as supplements, but used them exclusively for test prep. (I did the problems right before the exams.) I think this is an underrated supplement. The questions quiz you on much of the nuances of the law, but only if you already know it pretty well (which is why I saved it for exams). The problems allow you to think (like the E&E’s), and the lessons give you answers with great explanations. Some of the lessons are very helpful for clarifying some of the more difficult legal doctrines (Rule against Perpetuities, Proximate Cause, Offer/Acceptance).
I read other supplements as well but not as much. The next most used were the Emmanuels and Gilberts commercial outlines. These were definitely helpful, as they basically outline all of the black letter law. I only used them in 3-4 of my classes (Property, Contracts, Civil Pro) since the other classes had better supplements. I would also pull much of the law/nuances from these two series and put them on my outline.
I also never bought any supplements other than the E&E’s, which I bought for 0L study. The rest I borrowed from the library. I also checked out and read the relevant portions of many other outlines (Roadmap Series, Q&A series, BarBri’s 1L review). I read these only when I was unclear after reading the hornbooks or as a review for test prep.
By the way, I am sure most people realize that different professors and different supplements say different things. This is true, and you should always use the wording/approach used by your professor. However, supplements “supplement” your understanding of the field of law. You will realize that after reading about 5-6 supplements on one subject, it all kind of sounds the same. Yes, each supplement will word the exact elements of “battery” a little differently, but the concept behind it will be the same. Moreover, even if your professor takes the majority view of a subject, he will likely be impressed if you say something like “in a minority of courts, judges have adopted the Andrews standard for proximate cause because….” I also feel that reading the law in different words/formats from different supplements will greatly enhance your understanding of some difficult legal doctrines. People take different interpretations of the law, but overall, it is still the same law.
Also, be sure to adjust which supplements you read. There is no one supplement for every class. Remember to focus on the exam. So, if your professor uses multiple choice questions, use the multiple choice supplements (Q&A series, and Glannon Multiple Choice guides). If your professor doesn’t do multiple choice, then, by all means, skip those supplements.
Some of the best supplements, in my opinion, are Glannons E&Es on Torts and Civil Procedure, Chemerinsky’s Constitutional Law, Chirelstein’s Contracts, Prosser’s Hornbook on Torts, Farnsworth’s Hornbook on Contracts, Dressler’s Criminal Law books, and of course various CALI lessons.
Legal Thinking/Thinking Like a Lawyer
Legal thinking and analysis is the key to success. This idea of “thinking like a lawyer” is so important, yet it is so enigmatic that many law students do not understand it. It took me over a semester to truly master it, and, if anything, this one skill makes the BIGGEST difference on exam grades. In fact, I think mastering this skill distinguishes the A grades from the rest. Learning to “think like a lawyer” will greatly help you both in your legal writing class and in your legal career.
Legal thinking can be defined in different ways. Delaney calls it an interweaving of facts and law. A Southwestern professor calls it using creative arguments to tie the facts to relevant laws. LEEWS calls it nitpicking the facts and arguing both sides. Getting to Maybe describes it as “forks in a road.” I think that legal thinking encompasses all of these. It is really just attention to detail. Some smart people get this naturally, but the rest of us have to practice.
LEEWS is, in my opinion, the best method to learn legal thinking. For that reason, I think it is the best and single most important supplement. (You should do the audio program before law school). In addition, the methods it teaches for exam success are unparalleled. I would also read Delaney, Getting to Maybe, and any other sources on it that you can find.
LEEWS recommends you practice “hypotheticals” every week, and this is exactly what I did. I did any hypothetical I could find (provided it had an answer to learn from). It takes time to be able to analyze the law and nitpick the facts while recognizing all the legal nuances. I realize you can only do this after you have learned some law, so I started doing this a lot one month in, after I had learned some laws and written some rules in my outlines. Make sure the hypos that you are practicing have answers so you can learn and compare. It was actually hard to find too many hypos to practice in, so I sometimes used old exams (usually midterms) from other schools that tested the subjects we already learned.
Legal thinking is what every professor wants to see, and after you master the skill, all you really need to know is the law, and I honestly think you will be set. After the 1st semester, I stopped practicing extra non-class related hypotheticals, and I received the same grades 2nd semester.
Getting through Class and the Socratic Method
This is another trap for the unwary law student. You will get called in class, and you will mess up, but you need let it go. Do not let this fear drive you into reading cases. Yes, I got ripped apart when reciting the facts, but since I read the supplements and knew legal thinking, it usually sounded impressive according to my classmates. (I always thought I sounded dumb.)
I also developed a habit of guessing wildly irrelevant answers or even funny answers. For example, my professor asked me, “What is the difference between the first son and the second son?” I had no idea since the fact was certainly not going to be tested. I am pretty sure I just blurted out, “I think the first son was a genetic son and the second one was a bastard child from when the mom had an affair.”
Anyhow, the takeaway is to not let the Socratic Method scare you into losing your focus on the final exam. Do not let it change your study habits.
During class, you should be thinking, not writing down everything. Yes, when other students around you take a ton of notes, it gets to you (but, trust me, it will pass). Every once in a while, the professor will give you the law or something useful for the exam. (For instance, she might go over felony murder and tell you that you need to cover a certain aspect of felony murder). WRITE THIS DOWN. These gems of information are few, so you should be taking very few notes every class. I wrote all of this “in class” stuff down in the right-hand column of my notes. (Remember that the left hand column was my mini-briefs.)
Also, make good use of class time. When your professor is going over the law or going over something exam related, pay attention. The rest of the time, try to figure out if it is important. If it is not, do something productive. Sometimes I would skim a case or review it in case I was called on. Other times, I would usually just work on the outlines. If the professor says something super important, you do not need to put it in your notes and later transfer that into your outlines. SKIP that step, and just put the law (as your professor states it) directly into the outline.
Also, when the professor is going over on a tangent or going over facts of the case (generally not useful information), go work on your outlines. I usually spend this time reading over old outlines and pasting relevant portions into my own outline.
Finally, do not worry too much about class participation. Our professors can give +/- 3 points for participation, but apparently this barely mattered, since I sucked at it and still did okay. Also, I noticed that people who raise their hands too often did not generally fall towards the top of the class. It was usually the quiet ones in the back that tended to hog the A’s.
My mindset was that basically I was going to spend every waking moment on law school. This obviously was not literally true, but it was the general idea. I would study 8-12 hours a day, which was actually not that bad. If you have this mindset, I do not think you will have trouble doing all that 0L reading, or reading all those supplements during the school year.
Now, a huge obstacle is motivation/inspiration. I imagine that many students may get burned out after studying so much. You need to overcome this. The law is very interesting, but there are boring parts as well and you need to get through them (Cough*ConLaw*Cough).
One great motivation fact is that you should realize that the first year means EVERYTHING. It literally determines your life (or at least you should think this way). Your job depends on first-year grades and grades alone (plus a good interview). Your grades alone determine if you can transfer, if you can make it onto law review, if you can go to big law, or if you get a scholarship the next semester. Most people seem to realize that grades are important, but it just does not seem to hit them (especially if they already have money or connections, etc). First year grades pave the way for continued success in your legal career, for, if you succeed in your first year, you likely will get a good job for your second summer and receive an offer from that firm. Work hard in your first year and coast in your third year if desired.
I tried to motivate myself in so many ways. I got these techniques from these random self-help books back in the day. Basically I would think of things that motivate me, like how my family depended on me or how others ridiculed me (for not going to HYS). I also pretended I was one of those brilliant legal scholars.
I also drove myself to study through fear, by thinking about how screwed I was if I did not end up at the top of my class. This was not hard (especially in this economy) since I literally did not have money or connections like many of my classmates. This was all or nothing for me. Heck, reading Above the Law or other blogs/threads about non-T14 prospects motivated me. I even vilified my own law school (I love Loyola, by the way), but at that time, I repeated to myself in my mind that I would not get a job out of Loyola unless I did well (all in the name of motivation).
Other times I motivated myself by appealing to my love for science fiction/fantasy. I remember times where I pretended I was Harry Potter or Raistlin Majere and that I was studying tomes of magic. I analogized studying law to magic and thought about all the cool power and intellectual satisfaction it could bring. Silly perhaps, but it worked and I continued studying.
Sometimes I would sit near good-looking members of the opposite sex in the library to motivate me (actually I am not sure if this motivated me or distracted me). Other times I would listen to different music to study. I am sure everyone has their own way of studying, but whatever it is, you do need to find proper motivation to get past the laziness and burnout.
Remember, when you are drowsy, your competitors study hard.
If you ask me about study groups, the answer is a resounding “no.” Study groups are a huge time sink, but I will admit that I tried them out and they are much more enjoyable than studying alone.
I did sometimes use my own version of study groups. Basically I studied with 2-3 people NOT from my section. In fact, we all just sat in a room and studied quietly. Maybe every couple hours we would all stop and chat for about 5-10 minutes. I really liked this “silent” study group and used this quite often since it is just nice to do things with people.
I also found it was hard to explain to others my method of studying. My advice to not study the cases was often met with disbelief. Thus, I strayed away from the traditional study groups where you sit and discuss stuff. I would not even recommend groups for discussing practice exams/hypotheticals (it is just too slow). You read a lot faster than you can talk (or listen). In addition, if the practice exams did not have answers, I went to the professor, not to my fellow students (who may or may not know the answers).
If I knew who else was going to do well on exams, I might have considered studying with them, but no one knows this until after grades come out.
The Final Stretch (What to do about 1 month before the exam)
About a month before finals, you should formulate a plan and stop partying (or at least heavily cut back if you are a social animal). I pretty much stopped going to social events, because this is a time where you solidify all information.
By this time, I usually had finished reading all assigned cases in nearly all of my classes. Sometimes I could not complete the reading because the professor did not give us a syllabus or would make last minute changes, so I had to adjust accordingly. Also, by this time, I had generally finished most of my outlines or was close to it.
I think formulating a plan is important. I assigned like 3-4 days just to one subject, and then another few days to the next, and so on and made sure I had plenty of time for each class. Basically during these days, I would review materials and start going over all the supplements, practice exams, and Cali lessons.
Next, the best thing I think I did that made the biggest difference was that I put the black letter law from my outline into an “exam paragraph format.” Basically I put the black letter law into short simple sentences, along with any nuances, into paragraphs and practiced memorizing it by typing it out.
Basically I would have a heading then the next paragraph would be the law as if I would type it on the exam if the issue came out. It would look something like:
Battery is the 1) intentional infliction 2) causing 3) harmful or offensive 4) contact (the rule).
Intent is purpose or desire. Intent can be transferred or established by substantial certainty. (further defining the rule/nuance).
Causation can be direct or indirect.
Contact can be without physical contact of the skin. No awareness necessary. (further defining the rules/nuances).
… and so on
Note that this is EXACTLY what I wrote on the exams. I practiced writing these rules out before the exam, over and over again, so that on the exam, when an issue for battery came out, I wrote that first paragraph EXACTLY, then proceeded to analyze the issue. For example, on an exam I would then write something like this (note how I added analysis here):
Blueberry (B) v. Cherry (C)
Battery is the 1) intentional infliction 2) causing 3) harmful or offensive 4) contact.
Intent is purpose or desire. Intent can be transferred or established by substantial certainty. B had purpose to harm C because C punched B, C tickled him, and B stated that he “hated” C. In addition B targeted C’s face, which is a vulnerable but small spot on C’s body. Thus, B had intent.
Causation can be direct or indirect. B caused C’s black eye because his fist came into contact with C’s eye. This is direct (but for) causation.
Contact can be without physical contact of the skin. No awareness necessary. Contact is established even though B was wearing a glove because skin on skin contact is not required. The surface of the glove physically touched the skin of C, which is sufficient
Thus, B likely committed battery.
… and so on
Loyola’s first year classes all require memorizing, so this was an ACTIVE method of memorizing the law (a passive method would be simply reading your outline) by writing it out over and over again. I practiced writing out the law in my “Exam Prep/Hypo” document, and I would basically type the black letter law and nuances in every class like usually 10+ times until I had it memorized cold.
Another option is to create a flow chart type outline where rules flow from the larger rule to the smaller rule and application of the rule. But whether one writes outlines or creates a flow chart as a supplement to the outline, they should be concise and already known well.
If you have a closed-book exam, I highly recommend doing this. It helps you memorize exactly what you will write on the exam, and gives you A TON of extra time on the exam. In fact, this was the difference between an A- on one of my midterms and an A+ on the final. (I figured out how to do this after the A-.)
If I sent you a copy of my “exam prep” document for each class, you would see that I have the black letter law written down (in non-outline format) about 10+ times each. Each class had a black letter law summary of about 2000-3000 words, and, while this took a bit of time to memorize, it was well worth it. Therefore, when the exam came and I had to state a rule, I could recite it instantly and clearly as well as recognize any nuances of the law.
Everyone knows you have to know the black letter law cold. I think if you practice typing out the black letter law over and over again, you will have it down cold. It is not enough to simply stare at your outline and read it. You need to actively think. I realize that memorizing was my personal method and may not be for everyone, but I think everyone should practice exams in the way I describe in the next section. If your exam is open book and open outline then less memorization is required.
During the final 3-5 days before the exam, I would write out the entire black letter law as prepared for the class 2-3 times a day, do maybe one written practice a day if I had any time left, issue spot more practice exams, read a review of the black letter law (usually the BarBri one because it was short), and do the CALI lessons.
You should have already looked at these at the beginning of the semester to “focus” on the exams, but you should definitely go through them again when exam time rolls around.
Everyone knows you have to look at and do practice exams, and so you should. However, make sure they have answers, or they can become a huge waste of time. I usually wrote out only about 4-5 practice exams so that I could get the general idea. Many people recommend doing 10-20 practice exams per class. I think this is helpful but unnecessary. Once you understand how to think like a lawyer and nitpick the facts, you do not NEED to do that many practice exams. I felt like this was a bit time-consuming but also necessary for my own “comfort.”
A few of my professors were new, so I basically found other professors with similar syllabuses (generally from my law school) and did their exams instead.
Once you have practiced writing out a few exams, practice issue-spotting past exams. I would take old exams and just practice writing the “basic outline of issues” as recommended by LEEWS (this is the mini outline you make after you read the exam fact pattern and before you start writing). Just practicing issue-spotting is a lot less time consuming, and I would just make sure I recognized all the nuances and issues. I would generally just do this for 10-20 exams. No writing, just issue-spotting. I would compare the answer with my basic issue outline to make sure I covered everything. By the way, this practice of issue spotting actual exams is basically what I was doing all semester along with hypotheticals, but now I specifically do it for the professor’s past exams.
I just wanted to make a few points about writing the exam itself. Basically, the exam requires memorizing the law plus analyzing (which you should be prepared for since you memorized the black letter law and practiced legal analysis). One other thing that is super important is organization and format. Half of my professors denied its importance, but I believe it subconsciously affects how they view the exam.
Thus, use headings and use new paragraphs (LEEWS teaches this), though I did not italicize or underline to save up time. I always spell checked (this was quick), and I usually had more time since I type fast plus I could recite the law quickly.
By the way, when I was going over a midterm with one of my professors, he openly admitted that I had discussed an issue but he did not spot my discussion and thus failed to give me points for it. Though it would have made no difference (since I got an A on the exam), he said that he did not recognize it because it was buried in a longer paragraph. The lesson here is, make a new paragraph every time you have a new issue or law (like LEEWS says, new law, new paragraph). I am guessing this is true for all professors. They will miss issues if it is buried in a long paragraph, so use a lot of headings and new paragraphs.
Another thing I did is make a list of issues and wrote it down when the exam started. It was the first thing I did on every exam. This list of issues lists everything covered in every course along with some easily missed issues. As LEEWS recommended, I would scan the list and double check to see if I missed any issues as I read the exam and at the end. I used simple abbreviations and was able to write out the entire issue list in about one minute of every exam.
There was only one issue that I think I missed but shouldn’t have. Unsurprisingly, I forgot to put it (the Rule of Infectious Invalidity) on this issue list. I thought I could have spotted the issue because it was so obvious and that I would remember it (which is what students normally hope will happen). Silly me. It came up in my exam but was not on this mini-list that I had prepared, so I missed the issue.
One other thing: I think typing fast is very important. Most exams have more issues than you can spot or write. I felt as though being able to type fast was a huge advantage. People say that writing more is not always better, but if you are writing on topic, within the call of the question, and writing sound legal analysis, then you are on the right track. On average, I would pound out 8000-9000 words for every 3 hour exam and averaged about 700-800 words every 15 minutes. (I would take about 10-20 minutes to read/outline the issues.) I went over exams with some classmates, and I noticed a trend that if you wrote more, you generally received better grades, but I am sure exceptions exist as always. I never had to practice typing, but I noticed a few other dedicated people did, so you should perhaps consider practicing typing if you type slowly. Always type your exams instead of writing your exams if you are a decent typist.
As you all know, there is luck in grading exams (OMG NO WAY). However, your overall range of grades will be fairly consistent. I received nearly all A’s with two B+’s. I use the same general approach described above (adjusting properly for each class), but sometimes I received an A- and other times an A+. I honestly believe it is just partially luck, but I nearly always stay in the A range.
Other times, you just get screwed by the curve. My B+ was in legal writing, which had a class of 20 people. When I went to see the professor, she told me I had the 3rd highest grade in the class, and the two people above me got A-’s. My other B+ was from a new professor. She had no past exams, gave us no problems, and I assumed she would give us a typical fact pattern on the exam, but apparently not. She gave us an exam that asked us for “our opinions” on a topic, and I guessed she graded more on writing ability instead of analytical ability. You might get a crazy professor that give you a hard or unique exam that strays from tradition, but if you do the LEEWS method (which I did by applying legal analysis), you should still come out okay (I did, as a B+ = still top 15%-20% here).
Seriously, you can always blame your bad grades on luck.
Go to social events! It will be fun. There are a few things I always did no matter what. I would always go to the gym and work out. I would also play pick up basketball games on campus at least once a week. I think being physically fit is essential for being mentally fit.
In addition, I would go to various social events on Friday/Saturday nights once or twice every few weeks (“Bar” review, Club meetings). Networking is important, and you still have to do it even with intense studying going on. Plus the free food was nice. We all have to eat, so I recommend socializing while eating. Having a good work/life balance is important in keeping you sane. Also, having human interaction is an important skill as a lawyer (and totally fun), so be sure to meet your amazing classmates.
I also recommend reading the following threads, which have been very helpful.
Xeoh85’s Advice http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=36635
Advice From Students After Receiving Grades http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=22536
“If you could ONLY buy one Commercial Supplement” http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=26949
“Things I’d do over” http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=19378
Common 0L Questions http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=26949