Students Prepare for Autumn Quarter Exams

Students Prepare for Autumn Quarter Exams
Lynn Safranek
Law School Office of Communications
November 29, 2010

The Autumn Quarter exam period is the first time 1L students will take a law school exam, a test perhaps different than any they’ve ever faced. Not only is the format and subject matter far different from what they experienced as an undergraduate, but it’s the first time their only assessment in a course is a single final exam. It’s no wonder their anxiety levels these days might be running high.

Seeking to ease some of that stress, the University of Chicago Law School takes steps to help students enter exams feeling comfortable with the format and having an understanding of their professors’ expectations. At an event sponsored by the Law School’s Academic Counselor Program, two professors recently spent an hour advising the 1Ls in a Q&A discussion on the best ways to prepare for exams and what makes a good answer.

Hint: A thoughtful analysis of the exam question will get you somewhere. Professor Douglas Baird encouraged students to answer as if they were helping? a senior lawyer in their firm at the outset of the case trying to figure out how to approach the problem.

“You want the person reading the exam at every point to think, ‘This is the kind of person I want around to help me think through hard problems,’” Baird said.

Professor Emily Buss told the 1Ls that unlike many college exams, law school exams are not designed to test whether students can reproduce the ideas and arguments covered in class.

“The idea of law school exams is to ask you to take what you learned in class to draw new conclusions and work through new puzzles,” she said.

The Q&A was one of several informational events organized this year by the Academic Counselor Program to help familiarize 1Ls with law school academics. The Dean of Students Office supervises the program, which also provides services to 2L and 3L students. Four third-year law students are recruited to serve as academic counselors with regular office hours. They consult with students on study skills, to review exams and papers, and to give advice and support. Other information sessions coordinated by the group are an introduction to the Socratic Method, a presentation on outlining, and advice on course selection.

“We know our students are capable of succeeding, so we do what we can to help them leave their nerves behind and focus,” said Dean of Students Amy M. Gardner, ‘02. “If they sit down for their first exam with a broad understanding of what’s expected of them, they will feel more confident and ready to apply their classroom knowledge to the exam questions.”

The Law School’s quarter schedule also benefits the 1Ls. The Autumn and Winter exam periods for first-year students test only two courses, and the Autumn exam period tests just one quarter of material. This helps relieve some of the pressure of adjusting to law school.

Buss, the Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of Law and Kanter Director of Policy Initiatives, and Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law, assured the students who filled the Auditorium that their performance on these first exams isn’t a good predictor of how well they will do in subsequent quarters in law school or if they’ll succeed as attorneys. If their exam results don’t match their expectations, students should take advantage of opportunities to learn from the experience, by reviewing the exam memoranda prepared by their professors, and by discussing their exam answers with their professors and/or the academic counselors

When it comes to exam preparation, Baird encouraged students to follow a study method he used in law school: Take practice exams under the same length of time that will be given for the actual exam. Students can find past exam questions for various professors and courses on the Law School’s website. Several student answers are posted online as well for each exam question, but Baird told students to write their own answers before reading the samples.

“Don’t look at test questions and model answers and think, ‘I could do that,’ then move on,” he said.

Students asked how much they should worry about fixing typos as they complete the exam (answer: not at all; the answer’s content is what matters) and how soon they should ease into serious studying (answer: start intensifying daily class preparations now and gradually move onto reviewing past material).

The Law School’s Autumn exam period begins on Dec. 8 and ends on Dec. 15. Good luck to our students!

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To learn more about the Academic Counseling Program, go to:

Douglas G. Baird
Emily Buss