Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Okay, here we go, the ultimate exam studying post. I'm taking it as a challenge that Evan didn't link to me this week, even though I'm sure it's nothing personal. By putting the word "ultimate" into the first line, I'm setting myself up for disappointment, I know, but I'm going to try to somehow balance humor and actual information into this post, in a way no one has ever done before...

The Ultimate Exam Studying Post: Ten Steps to Exam Success

1. Isolate your materials. This is my favorite step of the exam studying process, because it requires very little mental engagement but somehow feels like an accomplishment. I print out everything I want to look at for each exam. I search the Internet for useful outlines (I like the ones with tables and charts), I search the Harvard database for useful outlines actually relevant to my professors, I print out my notes, I print out practice exams, I slot in the paper notes from the day I didn't bring my laptop, so that everything's together. I take the silly unnecessary handouts out of the folds of casebook and either put them in order (if they're useful), or put them on a shelf (if they're not). I buy a new highlighter and some legal pads. I make a list of everything I have. I vacuum, so the books and papers don't get dusty. I say a blessing over the outlines. And then I am ready. And can move on to step 2.

2. Read. Step two is my second favorite step of the exam studying process, because it's not that hard, and really does feel like an accomplishment, because it is one. I read everything. I read the outlines, I read my notes, I skim the casebooks -- all to make sure I'm not missing any big chunks of material in my head, and everything has a chance to float around and make connections in my subconscious. So that even if I don't remember what rule 16(b) is, I remember it's important, and I vaguely remember where I can find out more, and that it's something I might be tested on. As I read, I let things percolate in my head and hope they come together. The occasional insight -- like "oh, so if we don't tax that thing over here, we must therefore tax it... yes?... yes?... over there?... yes!" -- makes this step feel relatively painless.

3. Summarize. Step three is my least favorite step because it requires a chunk of time and a good deal of typing. And, as this blog poorly demonstrates, I hate to type stuff. I like making really short outlines with everything I need to know, said in as few words as possible. So I go back through all of my outlines and notes, and make sure everything gets represented in some way, but if it's 5 pages long it's probably too long. I won't actually use this outline for much. But I like knowing it's there.

4. Practice tests. I always mean to do more practice tests than I do. I try to sit down and really write down answers, but I'm just not committed. I'm always thinking, "oh, in the test I'll know this but for now let me just skip it because it's no fun." This is (in my opinion the only thing) what study groups are good for. Grab a friend and force him to take the practice test with you, and then you can compare answers and see who knows less about the class. It's fun. You can both feel stupid, it's a blast. More than 3 people I've found turns into a useless exercise in trying to stay focused, which makes it less valuable when actually motivated to study, but more fun if you want to talk trash about your classmates ("did you hear she got a job cleaning up trash on the side of the road for the summer?" "No? Oh, I meant she got a job at a medium-to-large-sized law firm in a major city. My bad.")

5. Memorize the tax code.

6. Step five is a lie, but I'm running out of steps. Why, oh why, did I promise TEN steps? I don't have TEN steps! I have about four and a half, and all the rest of this is going to be filler!

7. Read the instructions on the practice exam and commit them to memory. This is something I've heard people say. What a dumb idea. What if the professor changes the instructions? And like you can't spare 90 seconds at the beginning of the exam to remind yourself what to do?

8. Get sleep. Obviously.

9. Don't take an antihistamine before the exam. Tax (yawn) law (yawn) is (yawn) (snore).

10. Get an A. Well, that's the best advice of all. Man, this post degenerated into worthlessness pretty quickly. Sorry about that. I thought I had more to say! Guess not.