Trials of an Event Law-aison

The trials of a second-year law student at the University of Alberta.

Exams: Done!

Nadya Ogloff - Monday, May 02, 2011

It's such a relief to be finally finished exams! We had five finals (property, constitutional, criminal, torts, and contracts, in that order), and although three of those happened in four days, I don't think I would have organized it much differently even if I had a choice because they were organized quite optimally. I think it was one of the most intense exam sessions I've ever had because they were, in practicality, all 100% finals (except constitutional which was 75%). Most of the exams covered material since September with an emphasis on classes since January. They were all open book except for criminal, but even for crim we were provided with a list of case names along with some sections of the Criminal Code.

The timing on the exams was quite strict so there's really wasn't much time to flip through the notes. Most of the exams gave us three hours to analyze at least two or three hypothetical scenarios along with an essay question. Pretty much everybody in my section, except for maybe one or two students, opted to write exams on their laptops (the school provides specialized software for that). I'd have to say that I can't think of many situations where time passes by quicker than when you're studying for exams or while you're actually writing them.

In the end, I think the exams were fair. The questions were pretty much expected, and other classmates agreed there weren't many questions that would make you go "What-in-the-world...?" The tricky part was making quick decisions about which issues to write more on, and which ones to spend less time on, and to analyze then resolve as many relevant issues as you can. A lot of the topics "evolved" over time so it can get tricky when you're "choosing" one seemingly (or actually!) conflicting judgment over the other. The essay questions test you further on how well you can draw themes and make comparisons between judgments; the profs seem to like giving excerpts from academic articles or judgments, then ask whether you agree with the writer's opinion based on your knowledge of the cases. I could really use a few hours to write the essay questions but alas, the timing usually permits maybe 30 minutes. The exam results are all curved so it's difficult to get a top notch grade.

To prepare for exams, a large amount of time was spent summarizing the facts and reasons for the cases we studied during the year, and then organizing it into an accessible way for exam time. Because of this, almost everybody has written five "books" of summaries for this exam session. A few people even got their notes bound, which was pretty impressive. For me, I think it was also helpful to create a table of contents which contains the section headings, case names, page numbers, and most importantly, a sentence or two of the main point (the "ratio") for each of the cases. I find that was often good enough to jog my memory without having to flip through the pages of my notes.

It was great how they extended the law library hours until midnight during the exam session. There was another library on campus that opened their study spaces for 24 hours a day. Back in science undergrad I usually didn't find it necessary to study in groups, but it was actually really helpful in law school to get together in study groups to talk about the cases and practice questions. It's also useful to compare notes just in case you missed what the prof said in class or misunderstood the main point of the cases. Just from looking around the library's study rooms, it seems people naturally gravitated towards a study group size of three.

It's been a fun and awesome year here in first year law school. I've learned a ton of law (beyond what I originally imagined) and met a lot of great people. I barely get a breather after exams but I will start my summer job this week here at the U of A doing a research project on a topic in biotechnology patents. This should be a great opportunity for me to get an idea what the law in this field is like. I'll continue to post updates this summer!

Jon

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