Exams are a source of tremendous stress and anxiety for most students. Even if you feel confident with your preparation, you will not be immune to the wave of stress closer to your exam.
Some people think that exams are an unfair way to assess a student, but not in my opinion. I think that it is a great way to ensure a level playing field – everyone gets the same exam, the same amount of time and the same environment.
Whatever your thoughts are regarding exams, they are not going anywhere anytime soon so you may as well learn how to study for them successfully. My aim with this article is to give you the best tips so that you maximise your hard work and get the grade you deserve.
I learnt these tips over many years studying in both France and the UK for my LLB and LLM degrees and they are what I teach the law students I coach.
1. Go back to basics
What I initially thought would be my biggest hindrance (being a foreigner and studying a complex subject in another language) was my saving grace. I was so scared of misunderstanding my professors that I created a list of key legal definitions and wanted to understand pretty much every single word that came out of my professor’s mouth (ok, maybe not every word but very close).
When I came to write my exam paper, I was not using fancy vocabulary, simply because I didn’t possess such a vocabulary. I used plain English, and this was such a blessing because (as I later found out) the best lawyers can explain a complex theory in simple terms. During your exam do not try to use fancy words if they do not add to your argument. Be clear, concise, and explain everything so even your granny who has never studied law will be able to understand your answer.
2. Start revising early by writing up your revision notes
When I was in high school in France, I was someone who could cram the night before and still get top marks. What I did not realise when I started university was that this was no longer possible. In fact, I quickly realised that this method was deadly at law school. I don’t care how clever you are, you will find yourself in hot water if you try to do this.
I don’t believe in unrealistic goals, so I am not expecting you to revise like crazy from day one especially if you have a part-time job or you are lucky enough to have found an internship. But I do recommend getting into a habit of drafting up your notes. Make it fun. I used to put on some nice music and spend an hour or so reading, writing and highlighting. Bonus tip: when you write your notes with our old good friend the paper and pen, you are forced to engage with what you are writing versus typing away on a keyboard in autopilot mode.
I had no idea how well I was setting myself up to exam success. Because by the time I had to properly study for my exams I realised that I knew so much already compared to other in my class. Your brain creates memories through repetition and the earlier you can start the process, the better.
3. Ask questions
A lot of what you can do to be successful in your exams comes well before you start studying and this also covers asking questions. In the UK it costs an arm to study. If you are going to pay so much for your education, you owe it to yourself to ask questions and to ask your professors to repeat an explanation of a key concept if you don’t fully understand it. Do not go home wishing you had asked your professor a burning question and waste time being frustrated. There is a huge power in saying the following words: I don’t understand, could you explain this point again please! There will be at least 25 people in your class thankful that you had the courage to ask.
4. Have a plan
There are simply not enough hours in the day to study everything. But if you plan how you will spend your time you will accomplish a lot more than if you just wing it. Create a calendar leading up to your exam day and plan out what chapters you are going to revise, what extra readings you are going to do and when you are going to start doing past exam papers (more on this below). Some professors may hold review sessions – whatever you do, make sure you are there! These are perfect for asking any burning questions you might have and your professor may give you some helpful tips or insight into possible exam questions. Make sure you allow relaxation and exercise time in your plan because your brain needs to rest in order to retain the information you are throwing at it.
5. Do not underestimate the power of past exam papers
I speak with law students every day and I can tell you that all of them “know” the importance of using past exam papers as a revision tool but hardly ever of them follow the correct method.
You can spend hours learning cases, definitions and theories but if you don’t understand the substance of the concepts and are able to use them in an exam setting you will not get a very good grade. The only way to check your understanding of what you have revised is by answering a past exam paper. There are unfortunately no ways around this (trust me, I tried).
Firstly, you need to do the past exam in exam settings. That means: no talking, no lunch breaks, no laptops and no extra time! It also means completing all the questions! This is the only way to truly test your preparedness for the exam.
Secondly, and this is key, once you have answered the past exam, go to your professor and ask them to proofread it and give you feedback. If you don’t do this part, you are missing out on an amazing chance to succeed in your exam. It is your job to find out if your answers are correct and Google will not help you. Your professors are here to teach you the syllabus and they are extremely busy individuals, but I am yet to meet a professor who would turn down a student asking for feedback. They will greatly appreciate your effort and will help you.
My final comment is to use the power of belief. Believe in your ability to succeed in your exams, you would not have got this far if you were not capable of smashing it. Remember that and pep talk yourself when you are feeling stressed. I hope you find these tips helpful and that they lead you to success in your exam. I would love to hear your tips too so please leave a comment below if you have any.