So, you’ve got like 10 exams coming up, your stress levels are high and keeping calm and composed seems impossible. Plus managing the whole thing is getting really hard. To ease the process, here Lawyer Monthly hears from Francine Ryan, lecturer in law and member of the Open Justice team at the Open University, who gives her top tips on managing the exam preparation.
Law is a competitive field and to ensure good marks it is important to prepare well. Exams are an opportunity to demonstrate what you have learned over the course of your studies and, although they can seem daunting, with the right preparation and practice you will succeed.
- What type of exam?
Firstly, you need to know what type of exam you are taking. As a law student it is likely over the course of your studies you will take a variety of different types of exams.
Essay and problem question exams
These are probably the most traditional law exams, asking you to complete a set number of questions in two or three hours. The mistake that many law students make when answering these types of questions is writing everything they know about the legal topic as opposed to answering the question asked. Planning and practice is critical to success.
Multi choice exams
The proposed SQE exam includes a variety of question formats, single best answer, extended matching questions and multiple-choice questions. The revision requires learning a lot of information. Generally speaking for each question there will be several answers which are plausible but not right and a couple which look correct. Time must be taken to narrow the choices and work out which is the correct answer. These types of exams require you to work at speed, so it is important you give yourself plenty of opportunity to practise beforehand.
Some exams will have a combination of multiple choice, short answers, essay and problem questions. In any type of exam, you can choose which order you answer the questions, a good strategy is to start where you feel most confident as this will encourage you and settle any nerves.
- Have a revision strategy
Exam success is determined by effective revision, the first step is to create a realistic timetable that breaks your revision into manageable chunks. Simply re-reading your notes or cramming the night before is not a good strategy, you need a methodical approach which includes condensing your notes into revision cards, creating plans for answering essay and problem questions, going through past papers and practising answering questions under timed conditions.
Learning cases and statutes is an important part of revision, but the ability to remember lots of different cases and statues in isolation is not helpful, you need to relate them to a legal topic so in the exam you can refer to the principles to support the points you are making. An examiner will give you very little credit for simply including a list of cases that touch upon a legal topic.
- Nervous but not too nervous!
Many students feel nervous before taking an exam but that is actually a good thing because you produce adrenalin which helps sharpen your mind. Being over anxious is not helpful as it may impact on your performance so here are some suggestions to help control your nerves. The day before the check where you are going and how you plan to get there so you are not panicking on the morning of the exam. Take a bottle of water and a small snack with you, you don’t want to become dehydrated or your blood sugar to fall. Have a few notes with you which you can glance over before you go in to reassure you.
- Hone your exam technique
It sounds obvious but remember to breathe! Take controlled deep breaths if you start to feel anxious. If it is an essay and problem question exam, plan how you will divide your time for answering each question and make sure you stick to it! Read the questions several times to make sure you have clearly understood what is required and star the ones you think you will answer. As you read the questions you can jot down key points, cases or statutes that pop into your mind. Plan your answer first. It is tempting to start madly writing but you will produce a much clearer and more coherent answer, if you spend a couple of minutes organising your thoughts.
If it is a multiple-choice exam, answer the easiest questions first. Don’t rush because you want to avoid making careless mistakes or marking the wrong box. Go back and answer the more challenging questions. If you have time, check over your answers to make sure you have answered every question and marked the correct box. If you are running out of time just guess- there is a statistical chance that you may be right!
- And finally, when it’s done, it’s done!
Avoid having a post mortem and berating yourself for forgetting a point, instead reward yourself for all your hard work. A few days later it is good idea to capture your thoughts on your revision strategy and exam technique, to think about whether you would do anything differently in the future. If you have a series of exams make sure you have lots of breaks, get plenty of sleep and eat well.
Good luck, exams can seem daunting but with good preparation you will get the results you deserve.