Graduate legal study in the U.S. is a major step in a student’s professional career. Although it is rewarding, it is by no means easy. During the course of study, a student will be confronted with large quantities of unfamiliar legal material, possibly in a language with which the student is not entirely comfortable.
The American legal education is far more participatory than the traditional lecture method used in civil law education. Law school exams test the knowledge of the students in actual court decisions and how they apply it to derive legal rules. Class participations are also important and in many law schools, class participation is also taken into account before the students are allotted their grades. Many professors consider class participation to be an integral component of the final class grade.
Testing of research and writing skills is an essential component of graduate legal education in the United States. In addition to shorter papers which are written for seminars, most law schools require some sort of graduate thesis of substantial length. Students prepare their graduate thesis for a supervising professor who is available to offer advice and grades are allotted based on the quality of the thesis submitted by the students.
The final exams in law schools are generally presented as essay questions, rather than multiple choice tests. A typical law school exam consists of three one-hour questions, each of which sets out a fact pattern and asks specific questions that are to be addressed in an essay. These exams are comprehensive and generally test all the areas covered in the lectures. Some professors permit the students to bring written materials into the examination room and others require the exams to be “closed book” that is, taken without the benefit of any reference materials. The professors will make their policies clear, and failure to abide by the examination rules is considered as a very serious infraction. Examinations are timed, and while some schools permit additional time for international students whose native language is not English, others do not.