I know that most of you reading this won't have to worry about law school finals for another 6 months, but I thought I'd write about it now while it's fresh on my mind. Maybe it'll end up helping you feel prepared when you start law school knowing what to expect at the end. Warning: this is a little lengthy but I'd rather someone feel over prepared instead of just skimping through this.
There's been three types of questions that I've had so far on my law finals -- multiple choice, issue spotter, and deep think. Most of my tests have ended up being about 2/3 issue spotter and usually 1/3 multiple choice.
Yeah you've spent your whole life taking multiple choice tests and even had to take one to get into law school, but these are NOTHING like those! I remember my Kaplan instructor going over this "pick it and quit it" mantra when I was studying for my LSAT. You've probably been instructed your whole life that multiple choice questions are made up of 3 wrong answers and 1 right answer, so all you have to do is find the right one and move on. But for law school, you're instructed to choose the most correct answer, so your choices might be 1 completely wrong answer, 2 answers that seem very plausible, and 2 answers that are correct. Sound confusing? Here's the best way I can think to explain it.
Which of the following the best way to add and get the number ten?
A. 2 + 9
B. 1 x 10
C. 11 - 1
D. 5 + 5
E. 0 + 10
Obviously A is wrong because it doesn't even make 10.
B and C both make 10, but not through adding.
D and E both make 10 through adding, so you would have to think back on the rule.
So for this hypothetical math problem, say your professor said that the majority rule is to always add to get a number by using 0 and that number, and the minority rule is that you just add any two numbers to get that number. You'd have to not only not both rules, but also know which is the majority and minority to know which rule to apply. If you use the "pick it and quit it" rule, you would've just seen that 5 + 5 = 10, chosen the correct yet not the most correct choice, and gotten it wrong. This doesn't mean that you can think that you'll only need to know the majority, because sometimes they'll throw in a little sentence about how you should assume you're in a minority jurisdiction on some questions.
Of course, law school tests can't be that straight forward, so don't expect your questions to simply be one sentence. What they're more like is a whole paragraph or maybe two giving you a little scenario that you have to read and THEN go through all of the multiple choices. Don't think that having a multiple choice test on your final will take no time at all. For one of my finals, there were only 15 multiple choice questions but it still took me a little over an hour just because they're so thorough. For my Torts final last year, the entire thing was 100 multiple choice questions worth 100 points of my grade. This was super stressful because when I was stuck between two answer choices, I knew that if I guessed wrong I just lost a full point off my total grade in that class.
These are by far the most common type of questions that you'll have on a test. In fact, I've had a test where the whole thing was just three pages, with each page a different issue spotter. The very first time I had one on a final last year, it psyched me out. My property professor basically just gave us 5 sentences and then said, "Discuss all legal relevant factors." That was it! I wasted a whole minute panicking because I didn't even know where to start or what all to write about. I had expected some guidance after the fact pattern like "does Joe have a claim for breach of quiet enjoyment?" but I was given none of that.
This is where your attack outline that you copy on the back of your final really comes in handy. My short outlines are broken down into a chapter per Roman numeral, and the main points of each chapter being a letter beneath that. Start with this and answer your question. Go through each chapter one by one. If a chapter is completely irrelevant, you can write a few sentences over why this doesn't apply and move on (but think of this as a little something extra that you shouldn't even bother with until you've exhausted everything that is relevant) But if a chapter is relevant, you need to touch on every single letter you have under that Roman numeral. If you have time, aim to make a paragraph going over each point.
But make sure that you're connecting these points to the fact pattern you were given! The easiest way to do this is through a good ol' IRAC. It doesn't have to be as in depth as the ones you do for class. It can be as simple as "The issue here is whether Joe has a claim for a breach of quiet enjoyment. The rule for QE is ... Here, X happened which is one of the requirements for QE... Because X, Y, and Z, Joe does have a claim for a breach of QE." I bolded because since that is the most helpful thing to remember. You should be throwing because's in there like it's candy at a parade. If you do this, you're going to be making yourself analyze the issue more thoroughly. The least important part is the conclusion, because you can usually argue it either way. But don't fall into the trap where you just say it depends! If you say it depends, you need to explain how/why the circumstances could end up one way, and also how/why they could the other way.
Because you really have to master IS questions to pass, I'm adding a picture of a practice problem we went over in my Crim class. The pink are notes that I made before class about what I would discuss if this was a real test. The blue is what my professor went over in class of everything that we should've included. It's a lot of writing for not a lot of prompt!
None of my professors have even mentioned this type of question except for my Crim professor, but I've had it so I might as well talk about it. These are where you don't get a fact pattern like in an issue spotter, but instead have to think about the philosophies and reasoning behind the law. He explained that he's liked these type of questions ever since he got one when he was in law school. He told us about how he got an A on his Family Law final because the last question was "Pose a question and answer it." He chose to ask whether or not gay marriage should be legalized, but didn't take the moral/religious response like you'd expect. This was way back when not a lot about AIDS was known, and really only the gay community was being affected by it. His argument was that gay marriage should be allowed simply because marriage promotes monogamy and monogamy is a great way to reduce the spread of STDs, and then went into further detail on the pros and cons for each reason to legalize gay marriage, and then the same for each reason to not legalize gay marriage.
That's basically the structure of how these questions go. Luckily for my final, we didn't have to come up with our own questions, so we were given some guidance. My professor quoted the author of our book and asked what stance we believe the author was taking, if we agreed with it or not, and why. Don't think these are easier because it's just your opinion. What you have to do for these is discuss all of the legal theories and rules that you've learned, and apply them to your argument. Again, using your short outline as a checklist will really help give you direction of what to discuss and make sure that you don't leave out any relevant information just because you're rushed and becoming forgetful.
Although the LSAT pretty much has nothing to do with law school, the one feeling that is very familiar when taking both tests is the sense of urgency. Three hours may seem like more than enough time to fill in a few bubbles and write a few paragraphs, but I've rarely seen anyone turn in their final with more than 10 minutes remaining. This was a change for me because I'm usually a speed demon in tests and before I was always one of the first people to finish. My advice would be that if you do somehow finish with extra time remaining, go back through your paragraphs and see if there's any little extra thing that you could add to be your sprinkles on top of the sundae and get you a little bonus points. Once you've written everything you can think of, then it's time to go ahead and turn it in.
One thing that surprised me about law finals is how informal they are. Because you almost always run out of time, law professors expect you to be writing in a rushed form. So you can use common shorthands like "bc" or "w/" and not get counted off. Same goes for terms, so you would just have to write fee simple subject to condition subsequent (FSSCS) once, and then you can use the abbreviation for the rest of the paper. I also cut down on typing time by even shortening names if I have to use them a lot by using the parenthesis after the first time I mention the name, and their initials for the rest of the time.
Also, check out my Finals Posts Round Up post for more tips to help with your finals!
Also, check out my Finals Posts Round Up post for more tips to help with your finals!