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How to Find and Use Practice Exams to Study in Law School

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. | Last updated on

Law school exams tend to be all or nothing. You sit down, pound the keyboard for a few hours, walk out and a few weeks to a few months later, you've got your entire grade for that course. With everything riding on one test, it's no wonder stress levels are off the charts during exam time. Even worse, law school exams aren't like anything else you've done in law school and they can vary significantly between professors and courses.

There are many ways to prep for these exams, from using study groups to creating outlines to crying uncontrollably alone at night. But one of the best ways is to actually find and use a professor's practice or past exams. Here's how to go about it.

Practice for the Test With Practice Tests

Will your torts exam throw one big fact pattern at you and ask you to simply "identify all possible torts and defenses against these?" (God help you.) Will your administrative law exam be split between agency rulemaking and adjudicative hearings? Are there multiple choice questions on your evidence exam?

Your professors will probably give you an answer to these questions. They may even go over a sample exam in a review session. But that's only half the battle.

You don't need to just know what's on the exam, you need to practice with them. You might have the best torts outline around, for example, but will you be able to apply it to your prof's exams quickly enough to hit all the issues? Are those evidence MC's straight forward or designed to trick you up?

How to Get Past and Practice Exams

Alright, so the first task is getting past exams. Your law school probably has a database of these online or in their law library. If you're not familiar with how to access this, ask your law librarian. (In fact, the law librarian should already be your best friend. Those people are magic.) Also consider asking friends who have taken the course and, if your prof has been hopping between law schools, check out those law school resources as well. You probably can't access other schools' databases, but exams might be publicly available on a website or through connections at that school.

FindLaw's Law Students section also has a wealth of resources, including publicly available exams from several schools.

How to Use Practice Exams

Once you've got your tests, take them. Try to do it in the most "test like" conditions possible. If it's a 3-hour exam, spend three hours. Use your outline like you would in real life. Don't take a break, don't snack, don't get distracted -- don't do anything you wouldn't do in the real exam.

Afterwards, think about how the experience went. Did your outline work? Were there gaps in your knowledge that you need to address? Were you able to get through the questions in time or did you find yourself spending too long on particular questions?

And, of course, there are the questions themselves to go over. The problem with a practice exam is that you don't have a practice professor to grade it. But you do have your peers. Joining with other students in a study group is a good way to review answers, letting you see what issues others spotted and how they addressed them.

Finally, take what you've learned from your practice tests, and go back and apply them to your studies. If you're lucky, you'll have several exams available, so you can do this multiple times. But even if you have only one, taking even just a single practice test before an exam can be a great help.

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