Last Minute Exam Crams: Plan Your Attack
Before you dive into panic reading, be strategic. Apply this five-step checklist to ensure you are best able to cover the major areas of your course most likely to be examined within your limited time frame, with limited resources.
1. Review all your subject outlines & highlight important focus topics
Rarely will all the topics within a subject be examined in a final exam. While one problem or essay may trigger several points of law, your lecturer or tutor will often draw your attention to certain areas to focus on. For example, in Law of Torts, negligence law will usually be the major area to be examined, due to its prevalence and complexity.
If possible, check the subject outline or clarify with your lecturer which areas will be covered in the finals. In doing so, you may also discover which chapters, readings, sections of legislation or cases are vital for the exam and from there, you can manage your workload.
2. Get Notes
“If you can, get your hands on a good set of uni notes (from friends, friends-of-friends, co-workers-of-friends, who have done the subject before),” said Kounny Rattley. “It will save you an enormous amount of time. I know more than a few people who spent all their time and energy during semester and leading up until exams preparing the PERFECT set of notes – printed, bound and paginated. Having this will certainly save you precious time in an exam but if you can get someone else to do the ‘grunt work’, you will have that much more time to actually review the notes. Syndicating notes with some friends is also an option.”
Notes are by nature, personalized, and you will always learn best by attending class and writing your own notes. If you do have time, write up your own notes. Perhaps start by tabbing must-read chapters, cases, journal articles and sections of law you know may be covered in the final exam. Journal articles, in particular, are invaluable for a quick, clear explanation of a new area of law or summary of existing legal principles.
Take brief 1-3 page ‘dot-point’ notes on each topic you think will be covered in the final exam, drawing from all these sources – include a quote, reference and where relevant, case or legislation citation. This offers a swift means of understanding key points of your subject, rather than ‘over-learning’ one area and neglecting others.
From this set of notes, you can develop ‘template’ answers to essays or problem questions. Your notes can act as a ‘map’ in the exam, referring you to key legal citations.
3. Find worked answers to legal problems and essays.
Attending final revision lectures and tutorials, as well as throwing up exam hints, may also offer sample exam problems worked through by the lecturer or tutor. How forthcoming an academic may be with exam hints depends on their teaching philosophy and style. Alternatively, published guides to common exam questions and worked answers are readily available at Co-Op bookshops and tend to cover core law subjects.
4. Plan your time.
With all your notes ready, readings tabbed and a selection of worked exam questions at your disposal, you can now clear your current schedule and plan your day-to-day study regime. While everyone revises material and studies differently, we recommend setting about 80% of your time to active reading – making summary notes of each key topic as you go – and preparing ‘template’ answers to questions you think are likely to appear in the exam.
Preparing Template Answers
There’s no trick to template answers. They are simply a way to organise the overload of law you have at hand into a format that you can easily refer to during the exam, in a manner that’s likely to mirror possible exam questions. Worked answers offer a guide to how exam answers should be written in long-form. We don’t recommend your template be a complete long-form written answer. Rather, keep it concise, in dot-points, under clear headings, with specific references to your tabbed readings where more information can be referred under exam time pressure.
Template answers tend to be one page long, with two or three pages at a maximum. If you are really pressed for time, you can split this task between a group of friends and fellow students. It’s an ‘all-purpose’ skeleton answer. Your argument in your exam answer will give it substance.
The remaining 20% of your time may be spent working through past exams (See Point 5.)
5. Past Exams
“I cannot stress how useful practice exams are,” said Kounny Rattley. “I would normally work through a few papers with ‘unlimited time’ and then do at least one under ‘exam conditions’ to make sure I was leaving enough time for each question and sure that I was familiar with my notes, textbooks, etc.”
If you can find a friend who is both disciplined and not (too) distracting, meet up to do the exams together – verbally, referring to your respective notes, or separately, under exam conditions – so you can compare reasoning and your approach. Remember, the study of law is not a multiple choice exercise in delivering the checkbox ‘right’ answer. It is your approach, the quality and ingenuity of your well-supported argument, which you will be assessed upon. A lawyer in practice does not necessarily look for a one-size-fits-all ‘right’ answer. Instead, they perhaps acknowledge that a multitude of views offers different solutions to different situations.
Enjoyed this post? Sign up for the Survive Law weekly newsletter for more.