Legal Theory Exams: Overview Advice for a Closed Book Exam

By Tanvi Dhariwal, First Year EAGLE Facilitator

Closed book exams are an anomaly in law school, but they are not unknown to most of us. Whether it was in high school or during our undergraduate degrees, we have all sat such exams. Although they might be a source of trepidation, closed book exams are a familiar beast. It is helpful to remind yourself that you have made it to graduate school and a stepping stone in the journey here was sitting closed book exams: you have done—and succeeded at—them before and you can succeed again!


The best way to tackle preparing for a closed book exam is by relying on mechanisms that have worked for you in the past: think of the strategies you employed in the past and reflect on what worked and what didn’t and how you can adapt those strategies to meet the requirements of a more theoretical subject. Would you need to change your note-taking methods? Do you need to use different memorisation devices (more on this topic in the next post)? Explore different avenues and pick what works best for you!


You can also think of your previous law school exams as a stage toward this closed book version. Even in open book exams, the time constraints do not permit us to flip through extensive notes or learn the material during the exam. The only difference with a closed book exam is the lack of memory aids.


The tips below might help you as you prepare for your Legal Theory closed book exam:


  1. Consider the freedom

A closed book exam alters what teachers are looking for in an ideal answer: they no longer require you to discuss specific statutory provisions or tests in cases or provide lengthy quotes from theorists. Rather, they are looking for a fundamental analysis of the material and are curious about the arguments you make.


  1. Identify themes

It is helpful to identify themes in the articles you read in Legal Theory. A good starting point is the blurb provided for each week in the reading guide. After reading the articles, ask yourself what the assigned theorists are preoccupied with examining and what mode of enquiry to they adopt to examine these themes. What did your teachers say was most interesting? It is helpful to reflect on class notes to identify themes and topics where there is disagreement.


  1. Synthesise sources

After identifying themes, it is helpful to synthesise your sources. Ask yourself how the different theorists tackle similar themes. How does their subject matter or target audience or perspective differ? How do these differences alter their arguments? It is helpful to use one theorist’s perspective to pick apart another’s argument. Create a conversation between theorists and use assigned cases as examples to show how their theories play out.


  1. Join the conversation

It is helpful to have a few notes with your thoughts about every article. Think about what your position is on the theory. Ask yourself if any of the other articles you have read change the way the theorists’ argument might be read. Think of the assigned readings as a kind of conversation and then imagine what you would say if you joined the conversation. This can be an effective way to build confidence in working with the material and would make it much easier to retrieve the information in an exam situation.


  1. Consider a study buddy/group during SWOTVAC

Having a conversation with your colleagues about the theorists and their arguments will help you consolidate your learning and make it easier to work with the ideas in the exam. Think about meeting up with friends to discuss the questions in the reading guide, and the questions that might have come up in class, so you have more experience (and confidence) working with the arguments.


I hope you have found these tips helpful! Remember, you have done this before and you can do it again and you are not alone in this!