By Victoria Burnette, Regional Director, Bar Review Program Engagement, Helix Bar Review
If you’re thinking about midterms, then you’ve made it through the first weeks of law school. Congratulations! For most law students, these initial weeks fly by as you spend countless hours trying to learn the law while buried in briefs, casebooks and class notes. Now, for some lucky 1Ls, it’s time to show what you’ve learned on midterms.
Yes! You’re lucky if your professor has scheduled a midterm because this is your chance to assess your understanding of the material and your ability to convey that knowledge on an exam. Many law courses still follow the traditional one-grade-to-rule-them-all approach, only permitting students to show their stuff on a final exam. The latter approach can allow bright students to wallow for entire semesters in misunderstanding – until it’s too late. So, embrace the midterm experience and resolve to learn from it!
What Are Midterms Like in Law School?
Traditionally, law school midterms are not as formal as final exams and only account for a small percentage of your grade. When offered, most professors’ midterms look much like shorter versions of their final exams. So, the midterm is a great opportunity to peer into the crystal ball before the final.
Midterms measure your knowledge of the law, your ability to spot issues and your application of legal analysis skills. Overall, midterms provide insight into how well you are grasping material and can help you gauge where you stand in relation to others on the dreaded 1L curve. But your first law school exam experience can be scary, even if the stakes aren’t as high as they will be on the final exam. So, here are a few tips to help you prepare for your midterm exams.
- Make An Outline
Outlines are an essential tool in your exam toolbox because, when creating an outline, you must think about the material you’ve learned and place it within the context of other course concepts. It may be tempting to use an outline you received from an upperclassman, but you should create your own because it’s the process of outlining that prepares you for the exam more than the final product itself. If you are unsure where to start, make an appointment with an academic support professional at your school, ask a teaching assistant (TA) or professor for advice or check out the quick lesson, Outlining and Other Forms of Graphic Organization, on the Ask EDNA! platform! (Create your free Ask EDNA! account today to access helpful resources and tools to support your law school and bar prep journey.)
- Practice. Practice. Practice.
Professors may provide past exam questions for students to practice on before midterms. Your professor’s old exams are the best resource to prepare you for what the professor’s tests look like and the topics they tend to test on. So, take advantage of this opportunity! And, if you don’t have access to your professor’s past exams, the Ask EDNA! lesson, Practice, Practice, Practice, has some suggestions for other places to find practice essays.
Once you tackle an essay or two, you’ll see that it is not enough to know the rules of law. On law school exams, you’re going to be tested on your ability to apply the rules to a specific set of facts in an organized manner and reason through to a logical conclusion. Doing this well requires training. So, take practice exams, lots of them! Start early in the semester and practice often. Take the time to complete the practice exams under “test-like conditions.” Do not wait until you feel as though you have mastered the rules before you attempt to practice either, because answering questions helps you learn the law while simultaneously improving legal analysis skills. And make sure to save time to review and reflect after each practice exam. Compare the model answer against your answer and note the issues discussed, the rules identified and how the rules are applied to the facts. If you failed to spot an issue or didn’t fully explain a rule, go back and add what you missed to your outline.
Rinse, repeat and you’ll be ready for exam day!
(If you’d like to dive a little deeper into how to prepare for law school essay exams, there is an Ask EDNA! lesson for that, too! Check out the lesson, Writing Law School Essays.)
- Attend Office Hours
Professors are often required to hold office hours for their students, and most professors are happy to review practice exams during these sessions. Talk your answer through with your professor and request feedback. Professors will often provide critical insight into their exam expectations during office hours. So, participate in office hours early and often! If you are struggling with a concept or are unsure how to apply a rule to the facts, drop in and ask the expert. Do not wait until the day or week before midterms or final exams (when there is a line out the door and down the hall).
After The Exam
Remember, midterms are just as much a learning opportunity for you as an assessment opportunity for professors. So, get the most out of your midterm experience by meeting with your professor – regardless of how you performed on the exam. Before your meeting, review your exam, any notes your professor jotted down while grading and the model answer (if provided). Prepare a specific list of questions to determine, with your professor, how you can improve before the final exam. Take notes and be open to any criticism or feedback they provide.
Finally, do not be too hard on yourself, and keep the midterm in context – whether you did well or have room for improvement. Midterms afford you a dry run without the pressure of a final exam. Many people who bomb midterms end up acing their finals and vice versa. So, use this learning experience to grow and congratulate yourself for making it through your first law school exam!