Not every law school offers midterms to 1L students, but if you have one you should be incredibly thankful. I know, midterm season is approaching and you are stressed out thinking about your first law school exams. Don’t worry, every law student is stressed out for their first exam, and in this article I will show you how to study for your law school midterms.
1. Make an outline
You should prepare for the midterm like you are preparing for a final exam, just maybe not with as much intensity. Start compiling your notes and crafting an outline several weeks before the midterm examination. You will soon realize that too many people treat the outline as if it were the “end all be all” of exam preparation. My experience has taught me that this is a poor strategy. An outline is useful for compiling your notes into a well-formatted guide and for synthesizing everything you have learned up to that point. Outlining for the midterm will also be helpful when you need to start studying for the final exam. When I started studying for my Civ Pro final exam I just starting adding to the outline that I originally wrote for the midterm.
It is important that you don’t spend too much time trying to make the perfect, all-encompassing outline. Writing a sixty-page outline for a midterm consumes far too much time and its practicality is far lower than a well-written 20-page outline. The students with these huge outlines always spend far too much time during the exam trying to find an answer. You’re much better off spending most of your time on practice exams!
2. Take plenty of practice exams
Hopefully, your professor has a collection of old midterms for you to practice with. These are great but if you want to get the most out of them you should avoid cutting corners. What is cutting corners on a practice exam? Well, a lot of students like to outline their responses to practice exams instead of actually fleshing out an entire answer. You should be taking these exams as if they were the real thing. That means under time pressure and preferably with your outline. Taking the exam with your outline can help you identify what needs to be cut out and what needs to be added. Of course, some professors do not allow outlines to be used during exams. If your professor does not allow you to use an outline on the exam, then you should not be using an outline on the practice tests.
If you put the time and effort into writing strong practice exam answers then you should perform well on the real thing. Usually, your professor will include model answers alongside whatever practice exams they release. Once I have completed a practice exam I like to compare my answer to the model answer. It’s easy to compare your answer to student model answers, but it is a little bit trickier if the professor wrote the practice exam answer. In that case, don’t try and write answers as well as the professor because you never will, but you should be taking notes of what the professor finds are really important issues.
3. Try your best to avoid anxiety before the exam
Many students will take the midterm too seriously because it’s the first law school exam you’ve ever taken. Now I’m not saying don’t take it seriously, but a full-time student will have four other classes to worry about and you don’t want to fall behind in your studies with those. The great thing about the midterm is that even if you don’t perform very well it’s usually only worth 10-20% of your class’s final grade. So you can easily make up for less than stellar performance on the midterm during finals.
What you should do after the exam
You have put your heart and soul into studying for your law school midterm and now you are done. You took the exam, you have your grade, so it’s on to the next thing, right? Wrong, there are a few things you need to do after your midterm is completed so you perform better on the next exam.
Meet with your professor
Whether you did great or not so great on the midterm you should speak with your professor. Most professors will hold plenty of office hours for students to meet one on one after the midterm. Most professors I met with after exams were well prepared for the meetings and had numerous notes about my essay writing and what I could have done better. Before you meet with your professor you should read through your answer and the model answer. Additionally, list any specific questions you might have as most professors don’t like generic “how could I have done better” questions.
When you receive criticism from your professor try to fix it. Most of the time the criticism will center on failure to explain your reasoning or poor case/statute comparisons. Sometimes you might be critiqued for other issues. I remember when I met my professor for my civ pro midterm meeting he went to town on my grammar style. Apparently I did not fix the issue because after finishing finals two more professors critiqued my poor grammar.
If your professor criticizes your writing style take steps to fix it. Some professors will tell you that they know within reading the first two sentences whether a student’s essay is going to be a pleasant read or a train wreck. Which writing style do you think gets better grades?
Review model answers from the midterm
Most professors will publish the model answer after the exams are completed. Actually, one of mine used to write his own model answer. You have to take professor written model answers with a grain of salt because they usually don’t put a time limit on their answers and they are always ten times as good as the best student answers.
Model student answers on the other hand make excellent comparison tools. You want to identify a few different things when looking at model answers. Did the model answer touch on an issue that you missed? Sometimes, students are just able to type faster and many of the issues you missed may be very minor or may not be good issues. However, if the model answer touched on a significant issue in the essay that you missed you are going to want to learn from that and remedy it for the final.
You will often notice that model student answers are well organized. Although professors understand that you’re under a time crunch, they also don’t like to see run-on sentences, misspelled words, and useless information. Sometimes it feels like students are in a typing competition to type as much crap as possible. Professors really don’t like that and if your guilty of it, fix it.
Here’s something else you might notice from the model answer. Many of the law school exams that you encounter ingeniously craft their fact patterns. In many exams you take, nearly every sentence in a fact pattern will present a different issue for you to spot. My Torts, Civ Pro, and Criminal Law exams were all like this. I’ve encountered a few exams, particularly Contracts where the professor wrote out an eight-page fact pattern and the first three could have been thrown out the window. However, that is the exception to the rule. It’s likely that the model answer made use of a substantial number of the facts in the exam, so identify any issues that you missed.
Don’t get arrogant if you did well on the midterm
My professor told me after midterms that more than half of the students who received “A’s” on the midterm end up with a B+ or lower in the class. Why is that? Because too many students walk out of their first midterm with an A thinking that they have figured out law school exams and the rest of the semester will be a breeze. If you do well on your midterm don’t get Napoleon Syndrome.
Why you should be thankful that you have a midterm
Midterms are great for law students and I wish more law schools offered more of them. They are an excellent opportunity to learn and practice taking a law school exam but without the pressure of the final exams hanging over your head. They help you identify your skills and weaknesses in exam-taking and how well you’re developing your legal analytical skills.
Not every law school offers a midterm to 1L law students, but most of them do. If your school does, treat it like a real final and be thankful that you have one.
Treat the midterm like you are preparing for a final exam and you will do fine! Remember that at the end of the day midterms are for your benefit. Law schools could easily do without them but there is a benefit in giving students an opportunity to see what law school exams look like and learn from them in a low stakes environment.