You're just back from winter break, and no matter what grades you got you should be thinking about what you can do to get better. There is an old adage a lot of competitors know “if you are not getting better, then you are getting worse.” This is as true in law school as it is in any other competition. Most students miss one of the best opportunities to get a leg up on improving their GPA. For those students who do take advantage of the opportunity: their approach ensures that they will either get no return, or limited return on their investment in time. This post will discuss the 5 steps to taking advantage of one of the most underutilized and misused tools for improving law school GPA.
After each semester most law professors will offer students the opportunity to review and discuss their exams. This opportunity goes underutilized because most students never take advantage of it, and it is misused because the students who do take advantage of it are looking for the wrong things. Most students who look at their old exams are either the students who did poorly, the students who thought they should have earned a better grade or the students who think they just need a little push to get a higher grade/gpa. Consequently, the students who are reviewing their exams are all looking in the wrong direction, the past. In the same way that an athlete will watch film of their last competition to look at strengths and weaknesses in preparation for the next, every student should be reviewing every exam, and they should be doing it with an eye towards the future.
In almost every law school exam there are three ways to get points:
- Correctly identifying the issues raised by the facts presented in the exam/problem/question;
- Correctly expressing the rule that will be used to resolve each issue; and,
- Correctly analyzing/applying the facts given the rule expressed.
Different professors may emphasize different area (some might give “issue-spotting” exams while others might state the issues placing greater weight on expressing the rule; while still others might make the exams open-book, deemphasizing rote memorization of the rules). No matter which approach a professor takes though, almost every law school exam is going to require these three fundamental skills at some level and this is especially true of the first-year.By reviewing your exam you have the opportunity to explore your “game day” performance in these three fundamental areas. The opportunity to discuss your exam with a professor means you’ll get coaching from someone who thinks just like the people who are going to be evaluating you in the future (it may even be someone who is going to be evaluating you if you take another class from that professor).
So now that you know why you should review your exams, let’s talk about how.
- Be prepared to take notes – many professors won’t let you keep a copy of the exams, and even if they do, there are some things you are going to want to write down;
- Be ready to compare your exam with the key/example/text – you don’t want to just be staring at your exam you need something concrete to judge the quality of your work against;
- Take notes – not about the points you missed, remember this is about the future, you should be focused on why you missed points – did you:
- fail to see the issues that were raised
- misidentify issues that you did see
- fail to provide a rule statement for each issue
- state the wrong rule
- inaccurately state the rule
- fail to apply the rule to the facts
- Provide insufficient support for your arguments
- Fail to provide all the reasonable arguments
- Do this for every exam in every class then look for patterns in each class and across all of your classes;
- Make appointments to see each of your professors to ask about how you can improve on each of the weaknesses you have identified, whether it cropped up in a particular class or not.
Every semester presents a new opportunity for you to improve your performance, and increase your chances of passing the bar exam. Don’t miss out on one of the best tools for doing both. This post talked about why you should review every single law school exam you take and discuss them with the professor who gave the exam. Later posts are going to talk about what you should do with the data you gathered during your reviews and discussions.