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by Vault Law Editors | March 10, 2009


How to Ace Your First Year of Law School

You already know from First Year Law School Grades: Why They're So Important, that being in the top 10% at the end of the first year is the fastest route to realizing your legal dreams. But what does it mean to be in the top 10%, and how does one go about getting there?

Unlike many undergraduate classes, in which there is no limit to the number of A's a professor may give, law school grades are almost always curved. For a top 10% to exist, by definition there must be a bottom 90%. This means that in order to perform well in law school you don't have to demonstrate your genius-you just have to be better than everyone else.

There are a couple of ways to achieve this. The first is not to get sidetracked by class (as odd as that may sound) and the second is to master the art of the law school exam.

Many professors employ the Socratic method in classroom discussion. They assign particular cases for students to learn, then question them on the facts in front of the entire class. If this sounds intimidating, it absolutely is. No matter how pathetically you may perform in class however, it doesn't matter for your final grade. The only grade that counts is the grade from your final exam. And because exams are graded anonymously, classroom performance doesn't factor in at all. This means you should focus, not on avoiding the public humiliation of classroom grilling, but on performing well on the final exam.

Which begs the question: how does one perform well on the exam?First, there's the issue of memorizing the law. Resources like the "Examples & Explanations" series of books are a good place to start. If you're conniving enough to be able to make friends for ulterior motives&here's your motive: students on law review will have access to outlines for almost every class. Make friends. Get outlines. These sources contain the law you will need to be able to recite in your sleep.

Second, law school exams feature essays and/or multiple-choice questions. Therefore, all you have to learn is 1) how to write a great law school essay and 2) how to figure out which bubble to blacken on a Scantron answer sheet. It's easier than you think.

Essays require a student to be able to recall the law and apply it correctly to the facts posed by the question. The quickest way to develop this skill is to read, analyze and write past exams. Many law schools post past exam essays on their websites. At a minimum, download every single past exam that your professor has given. Be sure to memorize the answer sheet if one is provided. If a professor does not post past exams and answers, get essays from another professor teaching the same subject, or purchase used bar preparation materials online.

But simply reading the essays and model answers is just the beginning. Write practice essays and ask your professor for feedback. This is essential because individual professors prefer essays written in different styles. By the time the real exam arrives, you should already be able to ace every past exam. Now, it's time to blacken some bubbles.

The hardest part of mastering multiple-choice questions is amassing a bank of practice questions. Check the library, the bookstore and acquire used bar preparation materials. provides all of the multiple-choice questions that have been released by the Multistate Bar Exam as an online, customizable exam. Aim to acquire 500 to 800 questions per subject. Answer all of the questions. Start with 25 per day and then ramp up to 50 to 100 questions per day. Repeat any questions that you get wrong. On the following day, repeat the prior day's set of questions to warm up for a new set. Continue. By the end of this bubble-a-thon, that huge bank of answers is in your head. Early wrong answers become right answers in time for the exam.

Heading into dead week, (the time between the end of classes and exams), you should already have memorized the law, written and memorized the answers for lots of practice essays, and memorized at least several hundred multiple-choice questions for each subject. This may sound like a lot of work, but at the end of the semester when you find yourself in the top 10% of your class, it will be worth it.

Article by Simon Lamb who graduated magna cum laude from Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles. Edited by Jodi Triplett and Trent Teti, founders of Blueprint Test Preparation.


Filed Under: Law