It’s that dreaded time of year again — when your diet consists mainly of coffee and granola bars, you’re running on an average of three hours of sleep, your eyes sting from staring at textbooks, and you’re living in your sweats — yep, it’s exam time!
And for law students, it’s undoubtedly the most stressful time of the year. But fear not, help is on the way!
In an effort to reduce stress, your law school’s faculty might suggest you try yoga, eat a healthy snack, or listen to jazz music. But, as most students will admit, healthy choices tend to go out the window when you’re spending 15 to 20 hours a day studying.
The thing to remember is that you’re not alone. There are countless other students suffering along with you, some of whom can even help you prepare for the inevitable anxiety. Most law schools offer exam-preparation programs or workshops. For example, the University of Alberta Faculty of Law’s peer mentor program pairs first-year with upper-year students, who, among other things, provide advice and study tips.
First-year University of Ottawa law student Jenny Bogod attended a couple of exam-writing workshops in her first semester, but she prefers to either study on her own or in a group of her peers. She suggests working in groups throughout the school year.
“As the semester progresses, I think it’s very important to meet with people, discuss ideas, pull out critical analysis of the cases, compare and contrast, and basically zoom out of your personal reading of a case,” she says.
During exam time, she finds it helpful to go through previous exams and take up the questions with a study group. This can assist with planning out your answers.
“It’s not about being able to know the facts of the case or know the test, it’s about understanding it,” she says.
Pamela Cyr, acting assistant dean of students at the University of British Columbia Faculty of Law, tells students it’s normal to feel overwhelmed.
“I encourage them to study hard, but to also schedule in breaks and to remember to take time for family and friends,” she tells Canadian Lawyer 4Students.
Recently, Cyr organized a wellness week for students to help them relieve “pre-exam jitters.” It involved yoga, cookies, dogs, chair massages, a scribble board, and even a therapy scream.
But Bogod admits you have to sacrifice certain things during exams.
“It’s a period where you have to put yourself on hold for X amount of time to be able to really give all of yourself,” she says.
Proper diet, exercise, and family are no longer a priority, she adds, and a “lack of sleep is something you have to come to terms with.”
On a typical studying day, Bogod spends approximately 17 hours studying and manages to get five hours of sleep. One thing she is not going to do next year is study in the library.
“It’s like an incubator of illnesses and sickness,” she says.
What is Bogod’s most important tip? “Fight procrastination!”
“Procrastination is the biggest enemy in law school and it’s really easy to get bogged down by assignments and readings,” she says.
University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek also advises his students to start studying early on. “Keep up with the reading and start preparing for exams well in advance of the exam period. Don’t leave things to the last minute,” he says.
Dodek delivers a PowerPoint presentation to his students on preparing for exams, in which he provides six basic steps:
The two main areas where students tend to go wrong in exams, says Dodek, are time management and not reading or understanding the question properly. Bogod says it’s imperative that students read the question first and understand exactly what it’s asking. It’s also not worth answering more than the question requires.
For her own time management, Bogod plans to get a head start on studying next year by writing her summaries a month before exams.
“The No. 1 thing that I’m forcing myself to do next year, and I don’t care at what cost, I’m starting my summaries early,” she says.