Emond Exam Prep: 10 Rules You Need to Know to Pass Your Law School Exams

The summer before I started at Osgoode Hall Law School, I received a law school preparation book, which advised me to apologize in advance to my friends and family for my behaviour during exam time. I had been amused by this tidbit of law school humour. Several months later however, in the midst of a stressful, sleepless, emotional exam haze, both I and my family came to fully understand the seriousness of that suggestion.

Preparing to write your first law school exam is particularly stressful, because in law school exams are worth 100% of your final grade. Due to the bell-curve grading system, you are always in direct competition with every other student in your class. The tips below should help you navigate this stressful period with a bit more confidence, preparation, and grace than some of us have:

1. Know your summary

Knowing your summary well is the key to success in open book law school exams. The last thing you want to do is spend all of your time searching for material. It is helpful to organize your summary either by tabs, colour-coding, a table of contents, or theme. I recommend attempting to finish summaries a week or so before the exam to give yourself enough time to practise finding material within the summary.

2. Make a short summary

A short summary should include the ratios to important cases and how to go about applying the material by listing the appropriate test from legislation or jurisprudence. This way, it is easier to find material and apply the test. The long summary can still be consulted if the professor asks more specific questions, rather than general application questions.

3. Look at past exams

This prevents any surprises on exam day. Even if you don’t have time to actually complete them, taking a look at a few past exams allows you to see and prepare to answer the types of questions your professor typically asks.

4. Keep track of time

If you thought writing the LSAT was the last time you would be panicking to answer questions as quickly and accurately as humanly possible, you are, unfortunately, mistaken. On a law school exam, timing is everything. It is imperative that you stick to the allotted time frame your professor outlined. You do not want to either rush through or completely miss questions. I have never heard of anyone finishing a law exam early. Most people are typing until the bitter end, so keeping yourself on a strict time schedule is of the utmost importance.

5. Practise issue spotting for fact patterns

Several law school exams contain fact patterns, wherein the student must spot and argue both sides of the issues within the scenario. For most students this is a foreign concept, which is only learned and improved by practice. During the exam, spot all the issues first and then budget your time accordingly. Either begin with the most important issue (e.g., a murder charge in criminal law instead of a public disturbance charge)—the professor will likely award more points to the answer—or start with the issue you are most confident about.

6. Do not panic

You will not know everything or catch every single issue on a law school exam. Remember, if you are extremely confused about something on the exam, it is quite likely that your classmates are confused as well; which is the beauty of a bell-curve marking system. If you do not know something, move on and try to gain points elsewhere.

7. Leave enough time to answer the policy question

If it is worth the same amount of marks as the fact pattern, spend the same amount of time on it. This is one way you can potentially “beat the curve” because, in my experience, most law students rush their policy question.

8. Do not worry too much about the curve

Keep in mind how you can potentially beat the curve but do not spend a lot of time worrying about it. I cannot even count how many times I’ve heard for certain classes that “the curve is tight.” You cannot predict how others will fare on the exam, so the best thing to do is to just worry about yourself.

9. Bring your textbook to the exam

This is extra security in case your professor blindsides you with a question that you did not expect/include in your summary. For example, my law school torts exam included a loss of chance question, which my classmates and I did not anticipate. I had to quickly find that section of my textbook, read it, and formulate an answer in a very short period of time. If I had not brought my textbook with me, I would not have been able to answer that 15-mark question.

10. After the exam, do not ask other people what they wrote

You will inevitably miss things and make mistakes on your exam. If you ask other people what they wrote, you risk spending your Christmas break worrying about how you probably failed and consequently will be kicked out of law school because you forgot to include a remedies section on your contracts exam. Follow the tips outlined above, be confident that you’ve done the best you can do, and enjoy your break!

By Meghan Rourke

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