Monday, April 11, 2022
The Exams are coming!! The exams are coming!!
Next Monday is Patriot’s Day here in Massachusetts. I used to think that since it was the day of the marathon, we all got the day off because getting anywhere in Boston can be fraught when you cannot cross Beacon Street. However, there is a revolutionary war meaning behind the holiday (it is Massachusetts, right?). Patriot’s Day commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord that began the colonists’ fight for independence from Great Britain on April 19, 1775. And we all know the story of Paul Revere, who warned the colonists here in the Commonwealth the day before-- if for no other reason than because we all had to memorize Longfellow’s poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” which starts with,
“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.”
I think some of my students might actually believe that I do remember that famous day and year-sigh. But, more importantly, I think at this point in the semester students are starting to hear the warning about exams coming and are looking to Academic Support to hang a lantern aloft to help illuminate their approach to the battle ahead. Here is what I would be crying into the night as I rode through the towns where my students live:
Outlining: students who heard and followed through on our earlier admonition to start outlining in January (or even catch-up during spring break in March) have more munitions in stock here in April. But for those who did not, there is still time to outline-either in the standard or other useful formats-like annotated flowcharts or Prezi. Outlining is both a review and the creation of a document to study from. It is what I like to call a two-birder, it is useful to do and useful to have when you are done.
Practice: at this point in the semester, doctrinal professors are handing out and going over old exam questions. This is a gold mine, because it lets students know how a professor will raise an issue and the depth that is required to answer it appropriately. Even students who have already been through multiple sets of exams need this because knowing your audience is a good writing tactic no matter what type of legal writing you are undertaking. Also, practicing multiple choice questions daily, from multiple sources (because slight changes in terminology can really throw you off unless you’ve seen them before) is key. At this point in the semester (or year for yearlong classes), students can look to bar questions or even scramble around other sources because they have finally encountered most of the material (if done too early, students may panic at what they don’t already know even though it hasn’t come up in the class yet).
Planning: students should sit down with their exam schedule and work backwards to today to plan their study. An examplan™ is a REALISTIC plan that includes time for finishing up the outlines, practicing essay and multiple-choice questions, studying from your outline, and (please!!) remembering to attend to your personal hygiene, physical and mental health. I advise students to remember to preview for the exam that is after the one they are currently studying for-you need to stay mentally nimble and not have to relearn all of Torts or Con Law in the two days before that exam. Having a plan has the added bonus of helping students feel more in control of the situation. Control is comfort in stressful situations.
Study groups: yes, but…every year I meet with a student on academic warning who assures me that they were the expert in their study group and all their “students” got better grades than they did. Remind students that if they are teaching the group everything, that the group is not putting anything they need on the table for them. I tell students that community, camaraderie, and shared circumstances are all important, but you cannot bring anyone else’s brain into the exam with you.
So, while exams are indeed coming, and they will bring some panic and chaos into the lives of our students, there is a lot we can do to prepare them for the onslaught-more than I have listed certainly. All we can hope is that our students will hear our cry and know that it is,
“A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!”
 I am really hoping this phrase catches on, but like “fetch” I am afraid it will not be a thing after all.
 Ok, I haven’t really registered this trademark, but if I see you all wearing t-shirts that say this, I’ll be pretty upset.
 This is what I am always thinking about when I say this to students (Gary Larson, 1986):