Congratulations to all current students on completing another semester of classes! (Or, in the case of first-year students, your first semester!) Now comes the hard work of the exam period. Whether these are your first set of exams, or you’re a seasoned law school exam taker, you’re probably feeling at least a little anxious and uncertain.

The Office of Career Planning encourages you to take a deep breath, be thoughtful in your preparation, and stay focused on the important task of doing as well as you are able on your upcoming exams. Thanks to the C|M|LAW Office of Academic Support who drafted today’s post, we offer some comprehensive tips on your exams. Be sure to be in touch with Nick DeSantis and Alonda Bush if you’re feeling uncertain about your approach to exams.

Common Mistakes on Exams:

  1. Students don’t read carefully. Read the instructions, call of the question, and question itself very carefully.  Be a nitpicker. Devoting 10-20 percent of your answer time to reading and planning your answer is a good investment. 
  2. Students are conclusory. The key to every legal analysis is pointing to the relevant facts and explaining why they impact your analysis.   For example, let’s look at the following simple hypo to illustrate the difference between a conclusory analysis and a thorough legal analysis.
    • Hypo: Slick hates Sam. Slick decides the next time he sees Sam he will punch him.  The very next day Slick sees Sam and punches him in the back causing him a serious contusion.  Sam’s injury causes him pain for several days.  Please analyze whether Slick’s actions satisfied the harmful contact requirement of battery.
    • Answer: The issue is whether Slick’s actions satisfy the harmful contact requirement of battery.  A harmful contact battery is one where the contact to plaintiff’s person causes pain, bodily impairment, or illness. Here, …
      • Conclusory Analysis: Slick hit Sam in his back causing him a contusion, therefore, Slick has committed a harmful touching. Accordingly, … 
      • Legal Analysis:  When Slick hit Sam in his back he caused a serious contusion that caused him pain for several days.  A contusion would meet the definition of a harmful contact because it is both painful and may also be an impairment to the body.  Moreover, since it was a punch directly to Sam’s back there is no question that it was a contact to his person.  Accordingly . .
    • A good way to test yourself is by applying the why/because test.    The why/because test works like this:  If after your analysis you have explained why each material fact is important to the relevant rule and that you are coming to a conclusion because of these facts—you have most likely done your job and can move on. Here, the material facts are the contact to the back and the contusion resulting in pain.  Since pain is an important part of the definition of harmful contact you need to relate it back to the rule and explain why it justifies your conclusion.
  1. Students don’t plan out their answer—they just start writing. Bad idea.  Really, really, really bad idea.  You will miss things.  You will devote too much time to smaller issues.  You realize something halfway through that changes your analysis.  Don’t do this.  Seriously don’t do it.
    • How you organize your answer will depend upon the hypo itself and the subject matter. For example, with torts, you may want to organize your answer by party and by claim.  You will also want to organize by factual occurrence.   For instance, if on your torts exam you have fact pattern involving a bar fight and botch surgery to repair one of the injured fighters, you should first organize your analysis by addressing the various claims caused  bar fight and then tackle the botched surgery.   Be flexible.  No exam is the same so there is no secret formula.  Take your time and think it through.
    • Outline!
    • Read the hypo again if needs be.
    • Also, if you are a visual learner, try doing a claim/issue chart where you organize by occurrence and party.  Then, you can thoughtfully make a decision about the order in which you will address each claim/issue.
  1. Students repeat themselves. Save time, if you have already stated the rule, refer to it and don’t restate it again and again.
    • Also, if an analysis of a claim is the same (in whole or in part) for more than one person, you can combine your analysis to include all the claimants or you can refer to the parts of the analysis that are the same and address only the portions that are different.  This is a huge time and space saver. Just make sure the analysis is truly the same!
  1. Students don’t monitor their time. Have a plan for how much time to spend on each question.  Look for the professor’s suggestions.  If there are no suggested times limits provided try to gauge the importance of the essays based upon the number of points available or the size of the essay in comparison to other questions.


  1. Students don’t answer the call of the question. This goes back to reading carefully. It doesn’t matter if you write the best answer to the wrong question.  Stay focused on what your professor is asking you to do.


  1. Students make assumptions or add to the facts. Stick with what you got. You can draw reasonable inferences but let your professor know you are making an assumption and why. Use common sense here.


  1. Students don’t complete the full analysis. Just because you think there is no intent doesn’t mean you should stop your analysis of battery.  You may be wrong—don’t limit the points you can earn by ignoring the rest of the analysis.  This can also be done by just addressing what you think is the important element and not taking the time to prove out all the elements of the entire analysis.


  1. Students don’t explain the rule in enough detail. Make sure you state and explain the rules and sub-rules.  This demonstrates to your professor that you know the topic and understand it. That being said, don’t just throw all the rules you know about a topic into your analysis.  Relevance should be your guide to what comes in and what stays out.


  1. Students come to a conclusion before they do the analysis. Reverse this. Do the analysis then come to your conclusion!  Remember it really isn’t about the conclusion anyway – it’s about the analysis. Remember that “A” is the biggest letter in your “irAc.”


  1. Students don’t learn and heed their professor’s preferences. You professor is grading your exam—learn what they like and tailor your answers to their preferences in style and substance.


  1. Students leave early. Don’t do it.  There is always something you could add or improve.  Time is currency so don’t waste it.


  1. Students talk about the exam afterwards with peers. Don’t do this. Just don’t – it can lead to panic and effect performance in other finals.  Trust yourself!


  1. Students don’t take care of themselves.   Eat.  Relax. Breathe.  Believe in yourself.  Pump yourself up.  Remind yourself of your progress.  Cultivate a positive mindset.  You got this!