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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Whoops! Waddling Thunder just posted a terrific response to my advice about outlining (below, from a couple of days ago), and it made me realize I forgot all about practice exams. Not that I forgot to do them when I was studying, just that I forgot to write about them, and so my post makes it look like I study for exams without thinking about practice exams.

Which, of course, would be wrong, wrong, wrong! Practice exams are weapon #1, more important than the world's best outline, more important than knowing the material cold, more important, I dare say, than somehow finding a loophole in the rules that allows you to have a leading scholar in whatever field your exam is about standing by your side ready to help you with the exam.

Because professors, I dare say, are human. And they have preferences and styles and patterns that come up in their exams. And the more familiar you are with their exams -- like when you're taking standardized tests and trying to get into the heads of the College Board and figure out why the wrong answers are wrong so that you can better understand why the right answers are right -- the better you'll do. Waddling Thunder talks about doing exams from other schools, and other professors before doing exams from his professor. I understand the theory there -- the more practice the better, and real questions given by *some * professor are better than no questions at all. I didn't look at any other professor's exams -- mostly because I had enough exams to go through that there wouldn't have been time, but I thought about it, and was concerned that it may not be worth the time. Because even in a standard class like Contracts, each professor teaches different stuff. They emphasize different things, they have you read different cases, they have different things they want. It would be uber-frustrating to work on an exam from another school, puzzle through something hard, and then either (a) not be sure whether you're responsible for that nugget of knowledge anyway, or (b) realize you've just wasted your time on something you figure out you don't need to know -- and, yeah, I know (a) and (b) are pretty much the same thing and should just be labeled (a). Less of a problem with other professors at the same school -- because at least you won't be wading into some trap where all California law schools teach special California rules about owning figs and raisins (I have no idea how my mind made me write "figs and raisins") -- but still the same issue of who knows what other professors are teaching, what kinds of questions they like, and what kinds of answers they're looking for. Even in a standard issue-spotter -- my property professor told us not to worry about things like the recording system, and not so much about the rule against perpetuities (although a little bit). Other professors think differently, I'm sure. Heck, even among your own professor's past exams, there could be some years he or she emphasized different parts of the course, used a different casebook, skipped a unit, added a unit, had a brain disease in the middle of the semester that caused him to go on a tangent about the law of turkey legs. Or something like that. So, yes, yes, yes do as many old exams as you can tolerate and have time for. But realize that exams that aren't geared to the same things you learned and in the same style as your professor aren't going to be as helpful.

And there's always the chance a professor will get lazy and repeat an exam question. It does happen. I've heard stories.

But even more likely, they repeat concepts, ideas, policy questions, turns of phrase -- and the more familiar you are with how they think, the better prepared you'll be. They also often repeat instructions, so, like on the SAT and LSAT, you can save a minute by pre-reading instructions off previous exams. Of course, you'll want to double check on your exam so that you don't answer the essay like it's a multiple choice question, or something silly like that.

Imagine, a 5 part essay question: Do (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e) that someone answers as a multiple choice question. (a). Ha. That would be funny.

More exam advice -- going over an exam with a friend or two is probably the only thing a study group is useful for, in my opinion. Do that. Especially on issue spotters. They'll see issues you won't. And vice versa. A learning experience for all. And isn't that what law school is all about.