Exams are the only part of my degree that I despise – not the early mornings, not the intimidating professors, but law examinations tend to get the best of me. By now, I’ve sat through quite a few exams and I have my strategy down. I’ve learned that having a great plan of attack is half the battle. Since I’ve just finished (freedom!) I thought I’d write a post about my top strategies specifically for law exams. Law exams typically have a certain structure and a very specific marking criteria that needs to be adhered to in order to attract a mere pass mark (read: they can be tricky to manouvre), so if you’re a law student, I think you’ll find this post particularly helpful.
Remember to breathe!
It sounds obvious, but I always find myself shallow breathing before an exam. Get to the exam room with plenty of time (half an hour is usually ideal for me), and check you have the right room. Spend two minutes focused on breathing correctly and slow your heart rate. You’ll be able to focus better and answer the questions correctly if you’re calm.
Capitalise on perusal time
Perusal time is a total God-send and you should make the most of every minute. The general rule is 30 minutes perusal time and two hours writing the exam, but this obviously differs between universities. During perusal, we’re allowed to make notes, use highlighters, and tab with sticky notes. A lot of people read the questions a few times before they decide which ones to answer, but for me, it’s usually a waste of time because I know instinctively which questions I can give my strongest answer to. This is your time to understand the question and make a thorough plan for your answer. Write a detailed answer plan with dot-points. Make sure to underline key words and ensure you are answering every part of the question – often law exams have two questions in one and to get the full marks, you must answer the question in its entirety.
Have a strategy
Physically make a plan for how long you’re going to need for each question – factor in the number of questions you are required to answer and ratio your time according to the marks for each question. One thing I did in the past was severely underestimate how much writing time I have – I seldom have enough time to give an answer that I’m totally happy with. If you start running out of time, dot-point your answers – although it’s not really acceptable, you can at least show your marker you know your stuff without wasting time writing out full ‘IRAC’ structure sentences. Make a plan, allocate time accordingly, and stick to it. Don’t throw your plan out the window if you get to half time and realise you’re not even close to finishing your first question. Move on to the next one and come back to it at the end – better to have answered both questions than only one!
Throw in subjects your professor is passionate about
It’s a bit of a cheeky tactic, but if you can find out your professor’s opinions on specific topics or something they are passionate about, use it to your advantage with your exam answer. For example, last semester my professor made it pretty obvious that he was all about gay equality rights, so I made sure I navigated/manipulated my exam answer in favour of that. Although the question didn’t expressly ask about gay rights, I made sure to utilise it as an example to support a claim I was making. Although professors and markers are trained to be impartial when marking exams, they are also only human and you may score an extra mark here and there if you make it obvious that you share the same views. It’s worth a shot!
Understand your professor’s expectations
Before you even step foot into the exam room, make sure you are 100% clear on what your professor expects from an exam answer. Some professors understand that you only have limited time to answer a question and are okay with a less detailed answer, whereas others will only give you marks based on your level of detail.
Take a 30-second break between questions
Have a drink, breathe and re-focus your mind for the next question. Often, my brain has been so focused on the first question that it gets confused when answering the second. Taking a quick (and I mean really quick) break to ensure a clean slate is crucial in producing a quality answer.
Good luck! xx