Whether you are excited by the idea of take-home essay exams or frightened by it, you may have some questions about the best way to prepare. I have compiled a list of tips and suggestions that apply generally to take-home exams. These tips should not take the place of any specific instructions your professor has provided you.
Treat it like an in-class exam
Although you will have more time to complete each of your exams and can refer to your outline or notes, you will not have time to figure out areas of law you still don’t understand. Study for the exam the same way you would otherwise. You don’t have to have the law completely memorized but be familiar with the rules and their complexities (elements, factors, exceptions).
Stay within the time limit recommended for each essay
For my exams, I typically give a one hour time limit. This means I am looking for what could reasonably be written in an hour. I draft my exams with a set number of issues in mind. When grading, I look for those issues to be spotted, a complete rule statement stated and an analysis of each issue with counterarguments, if applicable. These are my same expectations for a take-home exam. While it is tempting to go past the time limit to show the professor everything you have learned, keep in mind that including information that the question does not call for will not give you any extra points.
Practice writing past exams open book
Assuming you need to write your exam in an hour, give yourself one hour and see how the exam writing process goes. This will show you what additional work you need to do to prepare for the exam. Compare your answer to the model answer and take notes on areas you need to work on. Because this is a take-home and you can look up the rules, be sure you have the rules organized so you can refer to them quickly. Your focus then should be on whether or not you can spot the issues in time and providing a full discussion of the issues. If you are struggling to spot the issues, look at other similar exams and try to see what issues are commonly tested and how they come up. If you find that your analysis is weak, remember that every fact in the essay is there for a reason and needs to be used.
Continue to outline for each of your classes
You want to have a complete outline for each subject that you can refer to as a guide. This may take several drafts and ideally, you should be condensing the information from your class notes and classroom slides into a method of learning that works for you. This will also help you to create attack plans (see below). If you are taking a required course, you will appreciate this outline once you hit bar review.
Create attack plans for each subtopic of the law
From your outline and once you have a better understanding of the law, prepare a 1-2 page approach for each subtopic within an area of law. For my Property class, my students should have attack plans for: Adverse Possession, Covenants, Easements, Concurrent Estates, Freehold Estates and Leaseholds. Attack plans help you focus on the issues and provide a roadmap for how you would address the issues on an exam.
Remember, the faculty and Academic Support Department at your school can help you with this process. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.