Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Beating Law School Finals: An Unconventional Study Tip

Finals season is here, and law students everywhere are far too immersed in their studies to be reading blogs...right? Okay, maybe not. But everyone is looking for an edge, especially 1Ls, and I guess I can't blame them. After all, eat or be eaten is the law school way.

So I'll feed the finals frenzy by offering some unconventional study advice: after preparing via the conventional means (e.g. outlining, practice exams, etc.) try creating your own exam. Have a friend in your class do the same thing. After you've both made your exams, swap them and take them. Then discuss. It's a very simple protocol, really, and it works rather well. Here's an example a classmate created in preparing for a criminal procedure examination last fall:
Police receive various reports regarding possible public sex strings (ala Larry Craig) operating in various rest areas within the 120 mile stretch between Wilimington, Delaware and Baltimore, Maryland. In response, they randomly choose 2 such rest areas at which to conduct visual surveillance. In order to do this, agents install "mini-cameras" without sound capacity in each men's room and in each lobby.

At approximately 10:30PM on the third night of surveillance, 3 agents notice two black males (A and B) exchanging some type of material in the bathroom. Upon walking out, the agents stop the individuals, conduct a pat down search, and find a wad of $100 dollar bills in A's pocket, but nothing in B's pocket.

Police then ask what the money is for. A responds that he is merely receiving payment for a paper route. However, agents notice that while questioning A, B begins to look nervous. A says, "can we please go?" One agent responds, "yes, if you let us search your vehicle." B quickly says, "yes." But, A refuses. The vehicle is registered to one, C, A's father.

Officers conduct a broad search of the car, find 10 grams of marijuana, and arrest both A and B. Without giving Miranda warnings, police ask, "did you leave anything in the bathroom?" B responds, "yes, we left a gram of marijuana in the stall under the toilet paper dispenser for [another individual] to pick up." Officers find the gram, and seize it.

Prior to trial A and B both move to suppress many pieces of evidence obtained by the officers on this night. What result?
Why does this work? Because creating a remotely decent law school exam is exceptionally difficult, and requires a comprehensive understanding of the material--especially how it all fits together. Thus, this approach will--as I'm sure Usha Rodrigues at The Conglomerate would agree--give students a "newfound respect" for what law professors do.

And it's not just mimicking law professors for its own sake; by exchanging your efforts with a classmate, you often realize that there are issues in your own fact patterns that you did not even consider. Professors, I'm told, have this happen to them too. Seeing how others perceive your fact patterns is illuminating, and expands your understanding of the material immensely.

In short, I highly recommend the method.


  1. I think that this is fantastic advice. I imagine that it could help you by teasing out how the issues in the fact pattern actually work together and incentivize you to "throw in" all the issues you know.

  2. Wow, this is crazy. I recommend everyone do this, so we can make the curve easier. This is a boneheaded strategy that is bound to lead to B-'s.

  3. @ 9:40--

    I agree...that's exactly the idea.

    @ 2:05--

    To each his (or her) own, but I disagree. I think your critique would be more warranted if I were suggesting doing this in lieu of every other method of studying. But I'm not. This approach is more supplementary than anything, and should be used after ample study time along the traditional lines.

  4. Do you have an answer key for this hypothetical?

  5. Yes....I was thinking the same thing 3:39...

  6. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer key; if I have time, I'll try to make one myself, but Criminal Procedure is a distant memory for me at this point, so I don't know that my "answer" would be all that helpful anyway.

  7. hi. i'm a law student myself and i was wondering if anyone could share an outline on answering exams. my problem has been that i know the answer and they seem correct but my professors seem not to like the way i answer at all. my grades have horribly suffered. help. .

  8. @ 7:03--

    I'll post something in the next few days addressing this question.

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