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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Monday, December 06, 2004
Posted 8:38 AM by Kelly
Exam Tip #1: You Already Know the Answer*

I know this sounds silly. Many of you may throw up your hands and declare "that's not real advice - I need real advice!" But this revelation, made while studying for 2nd semester exams of my 1L year, helped me decrease my anxiety and concentrate on producing comprehensive, complete, and organized answers to exam essay questions.

The concept is this: each semester there is only a finite number of subjects around which your professor can craft a test question. And of course, you already know what those subjects are. Check out your syllabus or the table of contents of your casebook. Make a list of possible exam topics and realize that there are less than you may think. Take cues from what topics your prof spent the most time on in class, what topics are most important overall, and what topics appear in old exams (if available) to determine which ones are most likely to be covered this time around.

Then, after putting together your outline, force yourself to practice answering an essay question about each topic - even without a fact pattern to solve. I used to have the problem of worrying about what kind of question the prof was going to come up with. I would despair because I knew there was no way to anticipate the fact pattern and the intricacies it might involve. Then I realized the specific facts didn't make as much of a difference as I thought.

I already knew what topics were going to be covered. I already knew what the key points were for each of those topics. I already knew what things my profs thought were important - because they told us during class. I realized I could literally sit down and craft an exam answer of sorts - days before ever seeing the exam.

Don't take this to mean you can prepare complete essay answers before the exam and expect to waltz in, throw in a few names from the fact pattern, and waltz out with an A. I don't think it's quite that simple. Your professors will be looking for your complete analysis of not only the concepts and elements of a particular problem, but also of how the particular facts of the question might influence the outcome. But do realize you can develop a framework for dealing with exam questions. Figure out how to transition between topics, draft an intro of sorts to a complex topic like personal jurisdiction, consider how best to work public policy implications into a particular discussion.

This might be simplistic advice for some, stuff that many of you figured out long ago. But for me, realizing that my profs were constrained in developing exam questions - that the possibilities weren't quite endless because my profs were forced to wrap fact patterns around the rules we had learned in class - helped me relax a bit (not too much!) and concentrate on preparing to create solid answers to essay questions.

*It's the last day of classes at IU-Indy. This is the first post of at least 1 exam tip a day for the rest of the week. These tips have worked for me and I hope a reader or 2 finds at least one of them to be helpful or reassuring. But as always, what worked for me may not work for you. Good luck to everyone taking finals!!!

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