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Law School Exams: A Guide to Better Grades

It’s that time of year again. Law students across the country are poring over their class notes and supplements, putting the finishing touches on their outlines, and fueling their all-night study sessions with a combination of high-carb snacks and Java Monsters. This can mean only one thing: exam time is approaching.

If you’re looking for a brief but effective guide to improving your exam performance, the O’Quinn Law Library has the book for you. Alex Schimel’s Law School Exams: A Guide to Better Grades, now in its second edition, provides a clear and concise strategy for mastering the issue-spotting exams that determine the majority of your grade in most law school classes. Schimel finished second in his class at the University Of Miami School Of Law, where he taught a wildly popular exam workshop in his 2L and 3L years, and later returned to become Associate Director of the Academic Achievement Program. The first edition of his book was written shortly after he finished law school, and it has the candid, engaging tone of a successful recent graduate sharing his tips and tricks with other law students.

One of Schimel’s key insights is his reformulation of the familiar IRAC (Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion) method, which here becomes IRAHNC. Those two extra letters stand for “However” and “Nevertheless,” reminding us that a first-rate law school exam not only presents an argument, but also identifies potential counterarguments, as well as rebuttals to those counterarguments.
After explaining the IRAHNC method, Schimel lays out the four requirements for a great exam: (1) understanding the hypo, (2) issue spotting, (3) organized analysis, and (4) clear presentation. This is followed by a corresponding four-step process for writing the exam, with helpful hints on everything from note-taking to section headings. This chapter is full of useful examples in which Schimel presents an exam question and shows in detail how he constructs his answer.

In addition to exam-writing strategy, the book contains an entire chapter on how to work toward the exam throughout the semester, something I wish somebody had taught me when I was in law school. Again and again, Schimel stresses the importance of writing practice exams. As he correctly points out, “It doesn’t take away from your substantive study time—it is substantive studying.”

I would recommend this book to all law students, at whatever stage of your law school career. The advice it contains could make a tremendous difference in your grades, and at 106 pages it’s a quick and even enjoyable read. It is now available on the New Books shelf, next to the reference desk. 


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