Ace Your 1L Exams: 9 Actionable Tips from an Attorney

Successful law school students are strategic in their approach to exams. You must make an effort to understand the expectations of your professors, take useful notes, and practice diligently, among other things. Read on for 9 actionable tips on how to ace your 1L exams.

1. Understand Your Professors’ Expectations

Professors often draw from current events and real-life scenarios to formulate exam questions. They draw from files of potential questions developed from their work, research, or teaching experiences and build upon these ideas to create complex, exam-worthy problems.

Exam formats vary from professor to professor but generally include fact-pattern questions that reflect real-world situations. Professors look for well-organized, well-argued answers demonstrating a student's ability to apply their understanding of the law to legal tasks. You don't just take the exam; you take the professor, so to speak. Review their old exams and analyze the style and content of their questions.

2. Create a Study Plan Schedule

Allocate time for attending lectures, reviewing notes, self-study, and practice exams. Don't forget to make time for breaks, exercise, and leisure. Balance is critical to avoiding burnout. Many find it difficult to turn down family and friends, so tell them about your schedule and be intentional about making plans.

Following a consistent, structured routine reduces stress, covers all your bases, and helps develop healthy habits. Find or create familiar study spaces. Join or start a study group where you can keep each other accountable. Forming routines like these habituate your brain to focus when you return to those spaces and groups.

3. Take Effective Notes Efficiently

Note-taking methods like the Cornell System will help you organize the avalanche of incoming new information. Jot down key concepts, legal principles, and case summaries while keeping your notes clear and concise. Review, revise, and reduce your notes regularly to reinforce your understanding of the material. Come exam time, these notes will be invaluable for developing study outlines.

Rule synthesis is another excellent skill for law students to learn early. This involves taking various legal rules from multiple cases and blending them into a coherent, single rule. You start by reviewing a bunch of cases dealing with a similar issue, then distill the rulings and interpretations into an overarching rule or principle that you would apply to new cases or use to argue your point in legal writing or court. This will pay dividends in your legal career when you have to make sense of a ton of different cases with slightly different takes on the same legal issue.

4. Create Outlines

Professors routinely recommended distilling course material from notes into outlines. Creating outlines helps you structure course material logically for quick reference during study sessions. Identify key topics, condense critical legal concepts, and incorporate examples from case law. Your outlines will provide the following:

  • A mental framework for answering exam questions efficiently.
  • Learning from past exam questions.
  • Improving issue-spotting and analytical skills.

Review and revise your outlines regularly, and memorize as much as possible. As you move towards exam day, continue to distill the information into an even shorter attack outline to ensure you understand the course material.

A Contract Outline from Themis + UWorld’s 1L Law School Essentials Program

Themis's free 1L Law School Essentials (1L LSE) program offers comprehensive outlines and condensed Key Concept Sheets, providing clear, concise, and authoritative content to complement your studies. They serve as an excellent starting point for building your own outlines and will ensure you don't overlook any critical exam topics.

5. Develop Issue-Spotting Skills

Issue spotting involves identifying legal issues within hypothetical scenarios and analyzing them using relevant legal principles. Create issue checklists for each subject, and seek feedback on your practice answers from peers or professors. The more you practice issue-spotting, the more adept you'll become at quickly identifying and articulating legal issues under exam conditions.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice

Simulating exams with timed practice tests is possibly the most essential way to prepare for exams. When you practice like you're taking an actual exam, the real thing will start to feel like practice. Routine practice will help you gauge your strengths and weaknesses so you can plan your studies accordingly. It will also reduce exam anxiety as you acclimate to the testing environment, ultimately developing your confidence and enhancing your performance during actual exams.

Multiple Choice Question from the Law School Essentials program

The Themis 1L LSE offers you the tools to put this theory into practice. You can simulate the exam experience with a bank of practice multiple-choice and essay questions. You'll refine your understanding of the law while improving your exam technique. This way, when you're faced with the actual exam, you'll feel prepared, composed, and ready to crush it.

7. Use Visual Aids

A study on visual learning found that after 3 days, students retained 50% more visual information than written or verbal. Visual aids like flowcharts, diagrams, and mind maps help break down complex legal concepts, encouraging better understanding and retention. Use visual aids to summarize legal processes, illustrate case law, or map out legal doctrines.

8. Use Spaced-Repetition Flashcards

Spaced repetition enhances retention by leveraging the psychological spacing effect. When you are presented with information at increasing intervals of time, retention increases. You can do this manually or with spaced-repetition software.

Initially, you review a flashcard, and based on your performance, the card will reappear for review after a set time, say a day. Initially, you review a flashcard, and based on your performance, the card will reappear for review after a set time. If you struggle, the card reappears more frequently until you're proficient. This keeps the information fresh in your memory over extended periods so you're always prepared for exams.

9. Practice Self-Care

Law school is demanding. Self-care isn't just about relaxing. It's about recharging so you can maintain mental and physical well-being. Get enough sleep and proper nutrition, and exercise regularly. Try mindfulness meditation or yoga to help manage stress. Maintain a healthy work-life balance by setting aside time for relaxation and social activities. These practices will keep you sharp between the ears so you perform well on exams.

Study anywhere. Pass the bar.

Learn more

The best bar review at $2,795

Looking for something?