Monday Morning Message 12.9.19 Serenity Prayer for Final Exams

Posted 2019-12-09 9:27am

“Well, tests ain’t fair. Those that study have an unfair advantage.” – Allan Dare Pearce, Paris in April

“It’s not that I’m that smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” – Albert Einstein

Final exams begin later this week and continue until December 20. We provide coffee and food outside my office every day during exams, but I also want to offer my final exam secret sauce- a prayer, some tips, and 22 uplifting songs.

I’ve written Dean Fisher's Serenity Prayer for First Year Law Students and Dean Fisher's Serenity Prayer for Bar Exam Takers.

Below is my Serenity Prayer for Final Exam Takers.

God grant me the serenity to accept that knowing the material is only a starting point.

The courage to use what I’ve learned and apply it to problems I’ve never seen.

And the wisdom to know that there may not be a right answer and that sometimes ‘maybe’ is the best answer.

Taking each question one at a time.

Focusing on the moment, parking my worries and fears at the door, and visualizing success.

Accepting that the exam doesn’t just test my knowledge, it tests my state of mind and body.

Taking the exam as it is, not how I or others would have written it.

Trusting that I have prepared the best I can.

Supremely happy that I am a student at a law school where I not only learn law; I learn how to live justice.


Below are some excellent tips from some of our faculty and staff, and a link to 22 uplifting songs guaranteed to get you out of a final exam funk!

Nick De Santis, Director, Academic Support and Sarah Beznoska, Assistant Dean, Student and Career Services

Professor Mark Sundahl

  • Review past exams from your professors to get a feel for the nature of their exams.
  • Compile your course outlines on your own. The process of creating an outline is how you learn the material, not by using someone else's outline.

Professor Kevin O'Neill

  • It's critical that you get adequate SLEEP before taking a final exam. To perform successfully, you must be alert, not groggy, and you must have stamina -- but you won't have these things without adequate sleep.
  • I still remember a student from 15 years ago who got an "A" on my midterm but crashed and burned on the final because she stayed up studying most of the night before.

Professor Sandra Kerber

  • Read and follow the exam instructions carefully!
  • Survey the format of the exam: the value of each question often reflects the recommended time!
  • Pace yourself: budget your time!
  • Finally, Believe in yourself!

Professor Heidi Robertson

  • Remember that your professors are different from one another. Each one has an idea about what s/he wants you to learn and how s/he wants you to present it.  Try to figure out those things and respond to the exam accordingly.
  • Some professors will be very clear about how they want you to approach an exam question --yet many students don't do it.  If s/he tells you how to do it, do it that way!
  • Write with care. Lots of spelling mistakes, badly constructed sentences, poor grammar, and other writing crimes detract from your ability to make your best case on the exam. Even if the professor wants to read past them, that's difficult to do and it will sway (negatively) your professor's opinion of what you've written.

Professor Chris Sagers

  • Don't talk to other students about the test after it's over. You'll just psych yourself out.
  •  Just get to work on the next thing, and when the final one is over for the term, go take a break.

Professor Alan Weinstein

  • Preparatory:  Pace yourself through the exam period. This is not the time to see how well you function on 4 hrs. sleep, but anything less than 12 hours per day, 7 days a week between studying and taking exams is cheating yourself
  • Morning exams: get up early, eat a good breakfast (carbs/protein) at least two hours before exam.   
  •  Afternoon exams: relax for an hour before the exam, again schedule a meal about two hours before.
  •  Go into the exam with a positive attitude – hopefully justified because you’ve put the time and effort into studying, as opposed to delusional.

 When you get the exam:

  • 1st scan through the questions to get a sense of which are easier/more difficult for you.
  •  Order them from easiest to hardest and you will later do them in that order.
  • Start with answering the shorter questions. Go through and answer everything you know for sure, leaving more difficult questions for later.
  • Next answer the longer essay questions in order from easiest to most difficult.
  • Next, go back to the shorter format questions and tackle the questions you skipped previously.
  • If you have time, review your answers to check for errors, misstatements, etc.
  • Tips for all questions: Be sure you understand what the question is asking you to do or what it is asking for. 

Tips for essay questions:  

  • Pay attention to the facts. You should assume that any fact stated in the question will be relevant to the answer.  If you can’t figure out how it’s relevant – say so.  “Although the problem stated “xx,” that does not appear relevant to the answer here.
  • Most professors are looking for you to discuss and apply relevant law to the facts.  We’re not looking for a lengthy dissertation on each element of legal doctrine.
  • Some issues need to be handled in the alternative. E.g., the facts may not provide enough information to give a definitive answer: “There could be differing outcomes here depending on whether the reviewing court applies Chevron to the challenged agency action. If the court applies Chevron. . ..” Let the facts guide you as to how detailed to make this alternative analysis.  
  • Be sure to answer the question. If more than one answer might be right, explain each and then state which you prefer and why.
  •  If it’s a policy question, back-up your opinion with logic, cases, readings, etc.

Tips for multiple-choice questions:

  • Read fact-pattern and question carefully. 
  • Read answers extremely carefully. Most multiple choice questions are constructed so that you can quickly exclude two answers, but the remaining two are very close.
  • Look for qualifying words like “always,” “never,” “all” etc.
  •  Remember that multiple choice questions are asking you for the best answer among the choices provided – this is not the same as asking for the absolutely correct answer. The best answer may be the answer that is the least flawed.
Below are some helpful links.

 Finals Don't Finalize Who You Are

 Law School Toolbox Podcast: Final Exam Tips


This Week’s Monday Moment: 22 Uplifting Songs to Get You Out of a Law School Final Exam Funk

Good luck!

 For copies of past messages, please go to this link: Monday Morning Messages

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 My views in all my Monday Morning Messages are my personal views alone and do not reflect the views of our law school or our university.

My best,


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