Preparing for finals feels like it should eventually become a less stressful process. This is, after all, my fifth semester of exams. It’s also my lightest exam load since starting law school. Somehow this familiarity and lighter load has not resulted in any fewer long days or any less stress. I have come to discover that the majority of law students, myself included, are results-driven people. Working hard and knowing a subject inside and out are nice in and of themselves, but are nothing compared to seeing a good grade show up on the transcript. Perhaps this is why I can’t seem to take this semester and its reduced load any easier.
The important thing to remember during this stressful time of year is to remember that the process I have taken up to this point has been successful, and that I should continue to follow the process. I take notes by hand throughout the semester, so my first step is to transfer all of my notes from my readings and class into a giant word document. From that document, I reduce all of my notes into an outline that organizes all of the information into an understandable format. Fortunately, that format also tends to coincide with the table of contents for my textbooks. I do that for all of my classes, generally in reverse order of when my finals are scheduled. That way, the last outline I do is for my first exam, making studying a little easier.
Once my outlines are done, if my exam is closed book, I prepare short memorization outlines. I work up a short outline that includes only the topics covered in class, the most important rules or cases, and anything to help me remember how to keep all of the information in order in my head. Once I have the short outline done, I start memorizing by writing them all out again by hand, starting with my outlines open and slowly moving away from using them. I write all of the sections and all of the corresponding rules and cases. I go through a lot of paper this way, but I have found that this allows me to cover everything and check it all when I go back through it.
For classes that are open book, I usually try to mark my outline for quick reference. The one thing I have come to count on is that open book exams rarely afford you the time to look anything, let alone everything, up. I think that open book exams are more stressful for me. I don’t feel entirely comfortable, and I often second guess myself when I have so much information right in front of me.
The most important thing to remember is that I have done this before, I will do it again, and I can do this now.