February 6, 2012 -
During family gatherings over winter break, my family always exclaims in horror when I tell them that my exams are in January. They gasp and express their sympathies that I should have to spend winter break with the threat of exams lingering over my head. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. My suitcase is never burdened with law textbooks as I head home for the break and I leave all of my exam anticipation locked in my New Haven apartment.
Exams at Yale Law School are taken between the first and third weeks of January. For most students, first-semester 1L year is the only time they take four exams during that period. Generally, YLS students take between one and three exams every semester. Many classes have papers instead of exams and clinics, in which many YLS students participate, have real legal work throughout the semester, but no exam or paper at the end. Some exams are rigid (three or four hours scheduled for a particular date and time), but most exams are flexible (self-scheduled and can be taken anywhere in the world). Some exams can even be taken over 24 hours—giving the test-taker ample time to think about her answers, eat, sleep, and demonstrate her knowledge.
Although taking an exam is rarely a happy experience, at Yale students control the pace of their exams, creating a relaxed environment. For example, I chose to return to New Haven on January 3 and took two exams before returning home for an extended vacation on January 11. Some of my friends, in contrast, returned to the Elm City in mid-January and took one or two exams until the last day of exam period. One thing we all had in common—we took our self-scheduled exams in our pajamas!
The January-exam period is, overall, a positive experience. In January, we have several weeks to complete exams and papers, whereas if exams were in December, we would be limited to one or two weeks. Contrary to the understandable assumption that YLS students go home for winter break with a suitcase full of books and stress, we are actually able to relax and know that we will have plenty of time to tackle our studies when we choose to return.