Monday, November 17, 2008

*Slow Clap* 1Ls are Reading this Thing, So Here Is Some Exam Advice

We were hanging out in Scott Commons stuffing our face with an eight-dollar sandwich when we heard a group who by their conversation were obviously first-year students [zOMG, what's the difference between "intentional" and "knowing"?] and they mentioned something (that sounded a lot like) UVA Law Blog. Well, shoot! If only anyone enjoyed reading this rag as much as we did writing it.

Anyway, with exams approaching we figured it's time to begin our recurring semi-annual coverage of, well, exams. There was a column from the PAs last week in the Law Weekly that gave the following advice: there's no right way to outline, there's no right way to study, but for the love god don't study to much, don't be stressed, etc etc.

Really, that's all well and nice, especially the not getting stressed bit because, believe us, it doesn't help - but [brace for words that will disqualify Rule 12 f from ever being a PA ever] - you got to remember that especially in this economy, there is one major thing that employers will be looking at, and it rhymes with "grades". Remember that (for reasons that are just as unclear as they are unequitable) to us law school grading is hypercompetitive. Every above the median mark you get has to come at the expense of one of your classmates. We don't like it one bit but that's the way we see it, and if you've been following this or any or other law blog at all you know that the we'll-all-get-biglaw-jobs-because-we-all-go-to-UVA mantra is . . . precarious at present.

Remember also that Law exam grading is super-arbritrary and basically not subject to any kind of review. Almost this arbitary. Here's a brilliant idea: put a huge component of your future career (your first year grades) in the hands of a few professors who are judging on a single, three exam, your abilities against those your classmates in a process in which you have no right to review or appeal. What a brilliant system for both allocating your future opportunities and determining how good of a lawyer you can be. So, we're just saying with this disjointed rant if we were in charge, things would be different!

But that was a digression, let us get back on track (to the weird extent that this blog is ever on track). We were going to give some practical advice about exams; we have our own experience, that of close friends, and that of our favorite [redacted] editor, FFJ (whose counsel we gracefully culled whilst he was he was trying to meet girls in Panera). So without further ado:

1) Taking Practice Exams Is Literally the Most Important Thing You Can Do. And we mean taking them under exam conditions, if possible. Approach the practice exam like it is really an exam. Think about it; if you have a road test to get your license, how do you prepare? By "outlining" everything in the road test manual or by actually driving to hone your skills. Which brings us to the next point.

2) Outlining is Unbelievably Overrated and Quite Possibly the Biggest Scam Pulled on Law Students Since Law School Itself, or, Alternatively, Journal Tryouts. We don't know whose idea it was to have law students sit down in November and summarize an entire law school course in a ten page word document. We think a far more useful activity is just organizing your notes by topic in a semi-coherent way so you can access them for exams (you can even hyperlink them and stuff, woooooo gun gun gun); this is far quicker than trying to cull all the important information from the book and condense it into a 15 page summary of the entire class. On the otherhand, some people don't like to leave anything to chance and I concede that outlining has benefits over doing absolutely nothing (but just is not nearly important as #1), but you should remember that the whole point of an outline is to help organize your thinking and have a quick reference during the exam (which is why that I think coherently organizing your notes is the way to go). And yea yea people have different definitions of outline, etc, so take everything here with a grain of salt. We just don't want to see you in the fishbowl for 14 hours the day before the exam with your eyes darting back and forth between the casebook and an indexed word document. We could go on but we think we made the point.

3) Timing is everything in life. You gotta move fast during these things. If you're constantly having to rely on your casebooks and outlines during the exam, there's a good chance you're going to fall behind. Yea, yea it's a marathon, not a sprint - but how do you think Usain Bolt would run a marathon? Really fast, that's how.

4) Grades are very much arbitrary. We've been at the top of the curve in one class and the bottom of another, and we couldn't name a single difference in the two exams. There's really nothing you can do about it (and don't ask me how the Law Review kids manage to get As/A-s on everything; get them to start their own blog. Oh wait, they are too busy cite-checking . . .). One result is that if/when you kick ass this semester it doesn't really necessarily mean you will be a better lawyer or even know the law much better than the person who didn't; it means MAYBE you wrote a better exam and chose the right religion. Our torts professor basically all but admitted his exam grading was pretty arbitrary and not an indication of legal knowledge or application (so why do they matter so much? *shrugs*). So while you should study your butt off to the extent that they are not completely arbitrary and play huge role in the job search process, you shouldn't get too down on yourself if you put in the time and studied smart and didn't get the grades you wanted. Alternatively, an "A" in civ pro, torts, contracts, whatever doesn't make you the man either.

5) Know the Black Letter Law Cold and Apply a Lawyer-Like Analysis. There, we just saved hundreds of dollars from taking that LEEWS course. Because that is what it tells you. Get a commercial outline and it will tell you what the black-letter law is. As for a lawyer like analysis, do the conclusion - issues - rule(s) [there's usually more than one and they often conflict] - applicaiton [look at all the rules, which one is the most persuasive?] - conlusion. Do this right and you will have as good a chance of anyone.

6) Do Not Discuss Grades. We're as nosy at it gets, and we only know the grades of three individuals: our own, and [double redacted]. So don't talk about your grades, it cheapens us all. Or, at least if you do, be round-about and clever about it. tyia xoxo.

BONUS: You will probably notice that the grades start going up on ISIS a few weeks after exams. You may have heard that grades come a few days AFTER evaluations but this categorically false; sometimes they come up before the evaluaitons. One thing that is true is the grades get posted first thing in the morning, so if we reccomend getting up super-early to check, and if they are posted, emailing the rest of the section to make them aware of this fact. The law school gods will appreciate this and reward you accordingly. And your PAs will send you emails reccomending kill-self. Good times.

Also, only about half the advice here was meant to be taken seriously. hth.


Anonymous said...

good advice

Rule 12 (f) said...

ty ty xoxo