Thursday, December 13, 2012

Law School Exams Round 1: TKO?

Toast is an excellent study buddy. Although she wasn't very into Civ Pro, she does do a good job of keeping me warm.
Reflecting on my first round of exams I honestly have no idea if I rocked them or they knocked me out. Physically, I feel more like I have been a punching bag for a pro boxer and I am the one who got knocked out. My body is sore, my brain hurts and I am exhausted. Okay, so maybe I am being a bit over dramatic but law school exam aren’t easy and it is really hard to tell how I did (and I won’t know until grades come out in January!).

For those of you who have never gone through the agony of a law school exam period, here is how it all shakes down:

After a grueling semester of having my brain stuffed to maximum capacity with rules, laws theories and cases, I was set free before Thanksgiving to “study” for exams scheduled for December 1st, 4th, 7th and 12th. The feeling of having no structure, no classes to go to, no assignments to read, no schedule, was terrifying at first. I had very little idea of how I was supposed to prepare and study for the exam.

I had been advised to put together outlines for all my classes. This is the basic law student method of prepping for exams. Outlines are basically annotated class syllabi. Mine were usually about 20 pages long and described, in detail, everything we had learned all semester. All rules, theories and cases with notes in the margins with all the hypotheticals that my professor presented in class thinking they might rear their ugly heads on exams (and they did!). Law students make a big deal about their exam prep outlines, comparing them to each other’s in length and competing over who was “done” with their outline first as if it was a race. I personally felt that my outlines evolved up to the last minute. I wrote the basic structure, but as I reread material, had study groups with friends and compared my notes to supplemental material, I found that I added and updated my outlines and I think this method worked for me. I was glad that I had basic outlines finished by Thanksgiving and I think I will try to do more to piece together the structure of the outlines during the semester next time around.

During the weeks before and during exams I had to be very diligent. I booked study rooms in the library (private little boxes that seat maybe 4 people, where you and a few study buddies can study without being bothered and chat without bothering others) to get me motivated to get my butt out of the house. I made flashcards and practiced them with my classmates and my patient, loving husband (who now may know more about the subject matter than some of my less diligent classmates!). I took practice tests read sample answers. I reread course material and supplements and other peoples outlines. I was working, generally, from 9am-9pm daily (with a lunch break and break to walk the dog in between).

Studying for exams was exhausting and taking them was even worse. Because I get testing accommodations for my dyslexia, I take the exams in the library. Alone. I miss out on taking exams with my peers so I don’t get the traditional experience of being crammed into a room full of 75 stressed people, typing frantically, sighing and groaning and generally freaking out. Instead, it is just me in a room, with the proctor right outside for 4 hours! The exams are excruciatingly long and complicated. The first 2/3rds of the test is a written essay that usually encompasses more than five issues that we covered during the semester, wrapped into a hypothetical case. We are supposed to give the hypothetical client advice or advise the judge on how she should rule on the matters before us. Under time pressure, I found it very difficult to address every issue thoroughly and, because the exams are closed book, I was often nervous that I might have misstated a rule of law. The second portion of the exams are multiple choice questions. I hate multiple choice questions! I never feel like I can pinpoint the perfect answer and sometimes feel like I am choosing the second best. Multiple choice questions will be my biggest challenge I think so I have to work on how to get better at them next semester.

Out of the four exams I took, three of them were challenging but manageable. I felt decently prepared and am reasonably confident that I passed. The third exam I took however, was the most awful, horrible, demoralizing hurdle of my academic life to date! Taking the Civil Procedure test felt like what I imagine sitting in the room in Sartre’s No Exit felt like. I was full of self-doubt and felt like there was no happy ending in sight. The exam tested on the most obscure topics we barely touched on during the term, the questions, even multiple choice required an in-depth analysis of complicated rules. For this exam the Prof gave us a 30-page packet of statutes and federal rules to reference. The good thing was we had the rules in front of us. The bad thing was he expected us to use them in precise legal analysis in a tiny tiny amount of time. After the exam I felt like I had gotten hit by a bus! And I was not the only one. I heard that the exam made some of the smartest people in our section cry. Literally. People who I respect, admire and view as some of the top students in my class afterwards were saying they weren’t sure if they passed. Yikes! I am just glad it is over, although I may have ptsd flashbacks in my dreams for a while now.

During exam time I was SO amazingly grateful for Tim! He took sole charge of many of the responsibilities that we usually share. He cooked and cleaned and took the dog out. He did grocery shopping and stayed up late to do flashcards with me. He gave me my space when I needed it, encouragement and hugs when I needed them, listened to me rant and cry and put up with my short temper and other stress-related nastiness. He deserves a gold medal for being so supportive! How did I get so lucky?!

Now I am 1/6th of the way done with my legal education and on vacation! YIPPEE! I am sitting on my couch, with Toast curled up next to me, for once not thinking about laws! Yay! My plan for the vacation is to get my house in order because I have not been very dutiful about staying clean and organized during finals. I am going to put on good music and clean and organize (which is not a chore when I am in a good mood and something that I actually like to do, yes, I am a weirdo!). Then, when Tim is done with his school term, we are heading up to Searanch for a getaway and then spending Christmas and New Years with family and friends! After this break I can go back to next semester refreshed and ready to do it all over again, this time with more wisdom and experience under my belt.

Happy Holidays!

I took a quick study break to go to a Christmas Fair in Coloma, the historic site of Sutter's Mill, heart of Old California gold country! Good times with good people! 

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