How exams work

After days and weeks of feverish studying, the first round of law school exams was finally upon us. Most people with even a cursory knowledge of the law school experience know this was a time to be feared, but what all did the dreaded Exam Week actually entail?   What do these law school exams even look like, and how do you actually take them?

For most professors it will be three to five essay questions over the course of three hours. (Some will include an objective portion of multiple choice on a classic scantron sheet and yes, it may induce flashbacks to the trauma of the LSAT.) 180 minutes (or 10,800 seconds, or a mere 0.125 of a day, whichever alarms you less to think of it as) may seem like a ton of writing, but isn’t actually when you consider how much information you have to demonstrate your mastery of through it. The law school spaces 1L exams a few days apart from each other so you’ll have time to focus on each subject in turn. That’s not all they do to help minimize stress: therapy dogs were on hand for petting, free tea and coffee were furnished for study breaks, and on one occasion there were even complimentary chair massages. Not that it was a picnic by any stretch, but perhaps not entirely as miserable as I’d been led to believe.

Although the law tower has a number of desktops avaliable for student use there aren’t enough computers for each student to type their exams (some do still prefer to handwrite in bluebooks, but they’re the minority). No problem, most of us own laptops for typing class notes anyways. But doesn’t using our own computers given rise to an integrity/plagiarism nightmare? At my high school exam proctors strolled on a constant rotation throughout the rows of test-takers to ensure no one was using the Internet or pulling up other word files.  Same deal in law school? Nope, nothing so low-tech. A program called Examsoft that you can download blocks all other applications on your computer, turning it into a glorified word processor sans bells and whistles, even spell check (if you find yourself as paranoid about entrusting your grade to to a software program the friendly people on the 17th floor will be happy to double-check for you that it’s working properly, but it really is very simple).

The exam itself is a sealed paper packet presented to you by the proctor. You can scribble out all the notes you like on it but keep in mind that only the data typed into your Examsoft file will be seen by your professor. After the proctor calls time there is then a terrifyingly long moment as the file uploads (not to worry, dozens of students are attempting to upload at the exact same moment so its probably just a delay in the system; odds are good your hard work is perfectly safe). Your name won’t appear anywhere on the exam, only your assigned exam number, which ensures anonymous grading.

Walking out it will be extremely tempting to ask if your classmates caught the issue in question three or if vicarious liability was the right principle to apply to the one problem with the gardeners. This is always a horrible idea. No good can come of it. You did your best, now walk straight out and unwind for the rest of the day (or for good if it was your last exam!).


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