Law School Exams

Whether they like it or not, law students need to be very flexible; after all, they’re preparing themselves to some day bend over backwards for Biglaw partners. By way of example, just take a look at law school finals. This time of year tends to put students into some pretty awkward positions. From going shirtless in the library to sleeping with a classmate — for an outline, obviously! — law students are willing to do just about anything to make the grade.

But just how far can a law student bend before she breaks?

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The night before my first final exam every semester in law school, I’d pop in my Rocky DVD, fast forward to the point where Rocky goes to the arena the night before, and watch through to the end. The movie reinforced my approach to law school exams.

“I can’t beat him.” But if you can go the distance, if you can still be standing by the time the exam is over, then you’ve achieved your own personal victory.

Of course, there are winners and loser every finals period. The damn things are graded on a curve. Today, we’ve got a law professor who took the time to tell his students how to “win” his upcoming evidence exam — just some standard exam tips, plus an explanation of what he particularly looks for.

Sounds nice enough? Well, not for one 3L. This student took the opportunity to post some kind of hippie screed as if law students are supposed to get together and sing kumbaya and reject competition or something.

In other words, this law student thinks law school is a damn show, she doesn’t know it’s a damn fight…

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Finals time is upon us once again, and that means law students are about to reach their breaking points. Perhaps that outline you got in exchange for hooking up with a 3L wasn’t very helpful, or maybe you missed one too many classes to know what the hell’s going to be on the test. Whichever way you slice it, you think you’re going to be screwed.

Luckily, your law school’s administration is well aware of the situation, and to try to alleviate some of the stress, law schools are offering students relief in the form of food, massages, and puppies. These are just some of the perks of an education that costs up to six figures to complete.

Come on, wouldn’t you rather snuggle with a cute and cuddly animal instead of grabbing a handful of your poop and smearing it all over the walls? Let’s see what law schools are doing to prevent their students from losing their sh*t — literally….

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I prefer my final exam freak-out stories to be of this variety instead of a freaking remake of Quills.

You all know how much I appreciate a good final exam freak-out. Law students losing their minds under the crushing pressure of end-of-the-year exams is one of those things that makes my job fun.

But not today. Because I really don’t like fecal humor. If I’m going to talk about poo on the walls, I want to be making an elaborate, overwrought analogy about what I intend to do with the conservative opinion in Fisher. I don’t want to be talking about literal poop on an actual wall in a real law school.

Unfortunately, it looks like this semester’s top exam disassociative break involves: poop, walls, urinals, and a New York area law school…

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The answer to the question of where you should be with just a couple of weeks until finals is “it depends.” Of course, every law student knows that almost every question can be answered with “it depends,” so the following will discuss what it depends on and why.

First, it depends how you learn. What I mean by that is that while most law students are busy outlining, the students I coach (at lawstudentcoach.com) are doing a variety of activities, some of which include outlining. Why do law students outline or study from outlines? The simple answer is that your exams will require you to show that you can work with the law and use the law in a manner that is structured and well thought out. It makes sense, then, to prepare in a manner that forces you to examine how the rules of law fit together, that forces you to categorize and to make decisions about what rules are related and how they are related. Creating an outline can thus be a very valuable study activity.

The downside of an outline, however, is that it works best for those who think in straight lines. In a traditional outline, things are related in only one or two possible ways. Concepts are either separate enough to be side-by-side or one concept is a subcategory of another. However, legal concepts often have a more complex relationship….

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Lawstudentcoach.com works one-on-one with students to produce an individualized game plan for exam taking — individualized to the student and to the professor. This article will discuss some of the things that a student entering the exam with a game plan will do.

Your exam prep has been completed. The day of the exam has arrived. Here’s how using a game plan will ensure success.

First, the game plan should be based on use of this professor’s prior exams and by examination of what skills this professor models in class. Based on that, the student should enter the exam with a list of issues and concepts that are most likely to be on the exam. Write that list before reading the exam, and keep it in mind as you read. This will help with issue spotting in two ways: (1) it will be easier to spot the key issues if you have them in mind as you read; and (2) if your first read of the exam question does not appear to raise some key issue or group of issues, you want to review the question. Remember, the exam is not just about answering the question. It is about answering the question in a manner that earns the most points.

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Now that we’re done yelling at all the law professors in America who couldn’t bother to submit grades for their classes in a timely manner, it’s time for our other semi-annual tradition of covering total grading screw-ups by esteemed legal academics. Exam period isn’t truly over until at least one professor adds to the misery of current law students in some odd way.

The screw-up in this instant case is a doozy. We’re looking at a large 1L class, a massive administrative failure, and a loss of privacy for the students.

You know your screw-up is noteworthy when the official administrative “solution” to the problem is “wait, don’t read that email…”

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Would you like to go to law school, receive your grades, be sad, and then have your administration turn around and “recall” them because maybe they weren’t high enough? I mean, sure, you’d be annoyed that grades were late and that they teased you with something and then took it away… but if the end result was that your professors were not fully aware of opportunities to inflate your grades, you’d be willing to wait for everybody to take another look.

That’s what seems to be happening at a law school out west. The 2Ls and 3Ls received their grades over the long weekend. But almost immediately, the administration sent out word to disregard the grades because not all of the professors were aware of the opportunity to adjust the curve upwards. Would that make you happy?

Or, would you just like your grades now?

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We talk about this twice a year. Sorry, I should say we are forced to talk about this twice a year. Every year. Because every semester, there are law professors out there who refuse to submit grades in a timely fashion.

I don’t know why. Professors have to work like nine or 12 hours a week, maybe eight months a year, and write a final exam and grade it. That’s what the students are paying them for. The rest, the research, scholarship, whatever glad handing they do on their path to tenure, is something they can do on their own time. On the student’s dime, they have to lecture, write exams, and grade them.

WHY DO SO MANY OF THEM FAIL TO DO THIS?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I may never know. Last semester, Columbia Law School threatened to fine professors who handed in late grades.

Columbia’s plan seems to be working, so maybe other New York area schools should give it a try….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, with the second semester looming, Alison Monahan offers some practical advice for law students dealing with a particularly maddening type of professor.

At some point in your law school experience, you’re likely to encounter a professor who — brilliant though he or she may be — just isn’t that interested in discussing “the law.” Sure, they’ll go on for hours about their pet theory of justice, or an esoteric research problem they’re working on, but good luck getting them to explain how Rule 4(k)(2) works.

This can be a frustrating scenario. (After all, you are paying for LAW school.)

Chances are good they’re not going to change their teaching style (hooray, tenure), but you can develop some coping mechanisms.

Continue reading at the ATL Career Center….

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