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by Mary Kate Sheridan | November 12, 2019

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Alright, law students, it’s time to get your final exam game faces on. I know exams still seem far away—it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet! But these weeks are going to fly, and cramming is not your friend when it comes to beating the curve. Instead, stick with the six "P"s of law school exam prep this study season: Plan, Personalize, Pace, Persistence, Preparation, and Patience.

Plan: There is a ton of information to master for finals, but don’t let the magnitude of the information paralyze you. Instead, make a plan so that you can apportion your time among subjects appropriately. Determine which study style—or combination of styles—suits you best and then plot out how to tackle your studies over the next month. For example, if you are productive in study groups, set up the meetings now and then weave in times for self-preparation. If you plan on creating outlines, make a calendar of which dates and times will be dedicated to outlining for each subject. I found it helpful to consider how comfortable I was with each subject and for which ones I had the most information to master—I then made a study schedule, assigning myself specific dates and times to dedicate to each class. Whatever method you choose, be sure to plan how you will execute it.

Personalize: I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: Ignore the noise. Something law students aren’t short on are opinions, and you’ve probably heard your fair share of study tips from fellow students. Some of those tips may be helpful; others may be stress inducing. Instead of hyperventilating over how prepared another student seems and how iron-clad their study plan is, focus on what kinds of preparation work best for you and integrate those tools into your study plan. Outlines, study groups, flash cards, practice tests, case briefs, study sessions with the professor: There are countless ways to study. No way is the correct way. But one method—or combination of methods—will be the best way for you.

Persistence: Distractions are everywhere, especially with the holidays rolling in. It is tempting to put your work aside to do some online gift shopping or to get together with some old friends who are in town for the festivities. Resist—close Amazon and tell your friends you’ll catch them next time they are in town. You get one shot at your finals, and the grades you get now can truly have a major impact on your first job out of law school. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take any study breaks or personal time; just be sure to stay focused on your study schedule and keep working gradually toward your end goal every day.

Pacing: Along these same lines, pacing yourself in your studies is critical to staying healthy and optimistic as you near finals. Working around the clock every day for a month will lead to burnout. On the other hand, pushing off studying because finals still seem far will leave you scrambling and stressed in the days before your exams. Find a middle ground that gives you the time you need to tackle each subject while also providing you time to decompress every day.

Preparation: As someone who had a very strict exam routine—down to the snack I brought into the exam room—I can tell you that you can never prepare too much when it comes to law school exams. A lot can go wrong on test day, so if you can prep the areas under your control, you will better be able to manage stress. Pack your bag the night before with snacks, water, and a sweatshirt in case it is cold in the room. Make sure you have your computer and power cord ready. Bring pens in case your computer malfunctions. Print your outline (if you are allowed to bring it into the test). And make sure you know in which classroom the test is being administered and the time of the exam—trying to figure these details out the morning of the test is an extra stressor you don’t need.

Patience: If you’re like most other Type As, you are incredibly hard on yourself. Now is the time to ease up. Racking your brain after on every issue you missed or forgot to analyze won’t raise your grade, and it could have the incredibly negative effect of distracting you from studying for your next exam. I can’t tell you how many law school exams I walked out of convinced I bombed them only to later receive a respectable grade. Law school exams are meant to be difficult and are filled with more issues than you can address. And while the curve itself can induce cold sweats, it also works in your favor when an exam seems impossible—because if you put the time in and think an exam is difficult, it is likely your classmates feel the same, which in turn, means the curve will be there to regulate. So instead of badgering yourself and analyzing the exam when it is done, move on and focus on the next.

Good luck!

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