The season is upon us. Everyone is starting to walk quicker, look worse, and be in a terrible mood. Yes my friends, we are preparing for finals. Finals didn’t used to be such a hideous task for me. In High School I simply never studied hard, maybe putting in a few hours before an exam, but never accomplishing much. My lack of effort lead to a High School experience of poor grades and agitated parents. In College I finally learned how to study. I figured out that making an outline of your notes was the most effective way to learn material. As such Finals were really only a two day ordeal involving drafting and learning an outline. Law school is a different boat. Now the stress of finals begins weeks before you have to sit in your exam.
Outlining becomes the first step in a long walk to a student’s last exam. By re-reading your notes you re-live the semester: on March 3rd Eddie wore a really ugly shirt, March 7th we discussed the public trust doctrine, and apparently on May 13th I decided to not pay attention to anything other than my doodles. Outlines can either take a couple days, or a few weeks, depending on how stressed/focused you are. It is fairly easy to passively work on outlines as you shop online, chat with friends, or watch sports games. I prefer to do them as quickly as possible: the less time drafting an outline, the more I can spend for “Jeff time”. However once the outline is done the real work begins.
Now that the outline is done, the hard parts begin. Learning outlines seems daunting at first, but after a few tries topics begin to make sense. But simply memorizing outlines is not the last step for law school. Students are not only required to memorize the law, but properly apply it to new facts in complex situations. Therefore once you memorize an outline the next step is to complete sample problems. By going over problems you reinforce memorizing your outlines. So the process goes until you show up in your exam room eager to demonstrate all that you have learned!
Finals also can make other work seem impossible. This includes work to be done for Law Review. It can often be frustrating to work on a project that doesn’t involve the looming exams on the horizon. However (at least in my experience) editors in Law Review understand what students are going through. As such they try to lighten the workload at the end of the semester, easing the burden on associates. I found our editors to be completely understanding and willing to help us during finals weeks, providing a moment of sanity during these hectic weeks.
Finals are also inherently stressful because they occur during two of my favorite times of the year: spring and Christmas! I cannot wait to enjoy these holidays without having to worry about turning a paper in or if I have prepared enough for a test. Until then, I’ll just keep my nose down and learn what the contested liability doctrine is….