Exams!

by Jessica Unger

As previously noted, two of our current first-year students will be periodically blogging about their experiences at W&L Law. Today, in her last post of the semester, Jessica Unger takes on the subject of exams. Or more specifically, all that our school does to make this stressful time a little more bearable for our students.

Well, exams are just around the corner. And as anxious a time as this is, I have been incredibly grateful for all the help our law school’s faculty and staff have offered over these past few weeks.

So why are law school exams so stressful? Well, to begin with, at almost all law schools (including here) your entire semester grade rides on one final exam. That’s it. One chance.  And naturally it follows that the exams are cumulative.  And there’s a lot of material. A lot. And it’s challenging. As a first semester 1L this is especially nerve-wracking because I have never taken a law school exam, and given that my entire grade is riding on this single test, I am not really sure how I stand in any of my classes.

Furthermore, while upperclassmen have options in scheduling their final exams, 1Ls all take their exams at the same time. During the next week and a half, we will have four exams that are each three to four hours in length. When you consider the mental strain of four months of law school, not to mention weeks of exam preparation and the general toll of taking such a major test, let alone four, back to back to back to back, that takes some endurance.

In addition, law exams are, by their very nature, harder than undergraduate exams (obvious, perhaps, but it bears repeating). For example, while an undergraduate exam might ask you to “define proximate cause,” law exams definitely go well beyond this. Law school exams are all about applying the law to the facts. Oftentimes, this means you are presented with a lengthy and more than likely confusing fact pattern (basically just a story) that touches upon legal issues and law you discussed during the semester. You are expected to take this information and spot and analyze the legal issues presented. I have never taken an exam structured in this manner, and as a result, just trying to figure out how best to study can be especially stressful.

However, while this might sound like a lot (and it definitely is), at our law school, you are definitely not expected to deal with it on your own. W&L offers multiple resources and support outlets to help you prepare for and deal with the stress of exams. My classmates and I have found several of these resources to be extremely useful.

It all started a few weeks ago when two things happened in quick succession: We met with our Kirgis fellows, who taught us about outlining and provided us with a few sample outlines from 2Ls and 3Ls.  We then met with Dean Evans, who reminded us of her open-door policy, office with a constant supply of chocolate, and soon-to-come golden retriever puppy that would be readily available for those in need of canine therapy.

And here’s the thing, Dean Evans, along with many, many other members of the faculty and staff here, really wants to help. In fact, she even told us that we could call her at home, at any time, if we needed her. That kind of dedication makes the stress of final exams just a little bit easier.

In addition, W&L has also offered several different seminars to help us devise study strategies. Several professors and lecturers have come in to talk to us about outlining and how to approach law school exams. Furthermore, all of our professors are happy to talk with us in or out of class about exams. The school also sponsored a seminar on how to study if you do not like to use the traditional outline method. Furthermore, we are having a panel session with two 1L professors who will answer any of our nervous questions before exams begin. And we have been receiving wellness tips to keep our minds and bodies in good shape during this stressful time. All of these options work well to ease the nervous minds of us 1Ls…a little.

And it is often during these really stressful times that I really appreciate of the collegial atmosphere of W&L. Yes, we are all stressed out. But we are all in this together. Even as exams draw nearer, I have never once seen an inkling of vengeful competition among my classmates. With the kind of pressure that we are all under, who need, wants or has the emotional energy to deal with that? Just one more reason the experience of W&L is different from that of the typical law school. There is so much here you don’t have to worry about that you actually have time to focus on what’s important: doing the best work you possibly can. And, at this time of year, this is something we all greatly appreciate.

This is, of course, my last post of the semester. Next time I speak with you I will officially be halfway done with my first year of law school! Until next time, have a very happy holiday season!

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