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How to Succeed on a Closed Book Law School Exam

We recently wrote a post on How to Succeed on Open Book Law School Exams. We explained that the approach to both open and closed book exams are generally the same. However, in order to do well on a closed book law school  exam, you must have the law memorized. You also have to practice answering questions well ahead of time. Below we detail the steps to succeeding on a closed book law school exam.

Here are the three steps to succeeding on a closed book law school exam:

1. Outline

The first step to success on a closed book law school exam is outlining. You should start outlining early in the semester. Ideally, you should carve out time each week in your schedule that is dedicated to this. There are many reasons for this. First of all, it is easier and quicker to outline a few class sessions at a time versus a whole semester. Plus, if done weekly, you are actually preparing yourself for class. This is because it is imperative that you are reviewing your class notes regularly. You might as well outline while you do this. If not, you are saving a lot of work for later which simply doesn’t make sense. Also, since you are preparing for a closed book exam—you have to know the law. Outlining early and regularly will allow you to digest smaller amounts of material at a time.

2. Review and Learn Your Law School Outlines

The next step to prepare for a closed book law school exam is to review and learn your law school outlines. A lot of students refer to this step in the process as active review. There are many ways to engage in active review. You can make note cards, you can re-write parts of your outline, you can teach someone else the material or simply read your outline aloud. This step is essentially where you memorize the law. You should spend a lot of time doing this. That brings us to another reason why outlining early is so important: If you save outlining for the last minute, you will definitely not have enough time to memorize the law!

3. Practice

The last step of preparing for a closed book law school exam is to practice. Make sure you are practicing without your outline. You should start doing this as soon as practical. The best resource for practicing your application of the law is with your professor’s old exams. If you are limited in that resource you can find other law school exams online. You can also supplement your practice by using commercial supplements—like the Examples & Explanations series. Another reason to start outlining early is so that you have ample time to practice your analysis. The amount of time you spend memorizing and practicing your application of the law will largely dictate your grade! For more information on how to take law school practice exams, see this link.  For an in-depth guide on how to answer law school exam questions, see this link.

If you read our last post on how to succeed in an open book law school exam, you will see that really, the steps are not that different! You still have to know the material cold and be able to apply it to the types of fact patterns you will see on exams. The primary difference between open-book and closed-book exams is a nicely-tabbed outline (where you can easily find information, should you forget it!) is more important in an open-book exam! Further, practicing exam questions ahead of time is—while important for both open- and closed-book exams, even more important in open-book exams as professors will be less-impressed by rule statements.

In a closed-book exam, it is more important to know the rules cold (as you will not be able to refer to an outline during the exam!). If you do not have the rules memorized, then there will be nothing to apply when you get to the “A” in IRAC!