Final Exams: Advice for Black Law Students
For most Americans, November brings the promise of big dinners, family gatherings, and holiday fun. But for law students, November promises one thing: final exams. Final exams are one of the most nerve-wracking academic experiences. Final grades – particularly first year grades – can shape a young attorney’s career for years. So, law students have good reason to be nervous heading into this season.
While final exams are important for all law students, Black law students face special challenges. Multiple studies have found that Black law students feel unwelcomed in law school. Recent news stories concerning racist comments by law professors, racist threats by law students, and racist exam questions prove these studies right. Black law students must do the work all other law students must do while also combatting racism. Because of the challenges they face in an unsupportive environment, it is imperative for Black law students to work smarter, not harder, as they prepare for finals. This post will provide tips to help Black law students do just that.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
Although it may seem trite, the best advice going into exams is to prepare. The best preparation prior to exams consists of: 1) attending class each day; 2) reading before each class; 3) briefing each case; and 4) updating your notes after class. In the home stretch (i.e., now), the best preparation is to continue to attend class, read before class, brief your cases, and update your notes after each class.
Some “helpful” 2Ls will try to convince you that you can slack off now to give yourself more time to study. Do not listen to them. Most professors do not have to turn in their exams until classes are finished. So, there is plenty of time to create an exam based on a subject covered once in the last few weeks of class. Focus your studying on the subjects that you believe are most likely to be on the exam. But unless your professor has excluded certain topics, any subject covered up until the last minute of the course is fair game. Prepare accordingly.
2. Finish your OWN outline
Finishing your outline is perhaps the most important thing you can do to prepare for finals. Some more seasoned students will offer you an outline from a prior year. Politely decline this offer.
Writing an outline helps you to put the course together in a way that makes sense for you. It will help you understand which areas you know well and which areas need more study. If you borrow someone else’s outline, you will skip this important process. Take the time to write your own outline. It’s worth it.
3. Forget About What You Haven’t Done
After reading the first two points, you may be thinking about all the things that you haven’t done this semester. Don’t. If you want to add something new to your routine, great! But don’t obsess about what you haven’t done up to now. It will only make upset you and increase your anxiety. Focus on what you can do from now until your exams.
4. Make a Study Plan
You might be wondering how you will have time to prepare for the last few weeks of classes and finish outlines for multiple courses and study for finals. It is difficult, but not impossible. The key is to plan your time and stick to that schedule. Make a schedule that tells you what you will study each day and how many hours you will study each day. Doing so will help you decide how many hours to devote to each subject as exams approach.
Speaking of managing time, while law school is not fun, one of the cruelest things about law school is that most schools begin the exam period immediately after Thanksgiving. This evil timing means that – with the possible exception of 3Ls – law students should plan to stay at school during the Thanksgiving break. If you’ve already made plans to travel, don’t stress. Spend Thursday with your family. But take your books with you and study religiously for the remainder of the weekend.
Law school is stressful. Exams are stressful. Because your grades will determine eligibility for things like law review, moot court, and scholarships, it’s natural to think that you should spend as many hours as you can studying. Resist this temptation.
During the exam period, try to get eight hours of sleep each night. (If you just can’t do eight, try not to dip below six hours.) It might seem foolish to waste precious time on sleep, but sleep is the most important thing you can do. A good night’s sleep will help you control your anxiety. It will help your brain retain information. Most important, your studying will be in vain if you oversleep on the day of the exam! (It has happened.) Make rest an important part of your study schedule.
Bonus tip for Black Law Students: After Exams Are Over
After exams end, you should take a well-deserved break. But savvy students know that making good use of winter break can make spring semester much easier. During winter break, you should focus on two things. First, you should read ahead. At most law schools, some courses span two semesters. Reading ahead over the break will lighten your load going forward. Second, you should reach out to employers. If you travel home over the break and you want to work there after graduation, you should take time to meet with some attorneys in the area.
Law school can be daunting. But you are not alone. Turn to The African American Attorney Network for law school advice. You can also use The Network to connect with experienced attorneys in your city, state, or practice area.