I must already be old and nostalgic, and my law student readers are going to hate me for this post, but I'm really envious of the law students right about now. They're under big big pressure, they are trying to synthesize a semester's worth of materials that are tricky and complicated and obscure in just a couple of days. Their classmates have turned from relatively normal, perhaps high-strung folks into pale, unshaven, sickly, half-crazed nutjobs. And they're going to have to walk in on a date certain and write their exam number and take a deep breath and turn over the exam and face their own rising panic as they read the fact pattern. Look at their watch. Re-read the fact pattern. Look at the ceiling for a minute, maybe around the room of classmates. And then start to write. A timed essay or two or six, making cogent all the fragments of knowledge you've got in your head (and the ones that just fled your consciousness and taunt you from just beyond your reach -- how do you bring them back in and get them down on paper?), in a way that's organized and well-structured and on-point. Resisting the temptation to list all the other concepts and points that you proudly mastered last night or this morning in your most recent cram session, but that don't really apply to the question at hand. (Maybe for extra credit? Or to filibuster while you are trying to think of that damn term that is escaping you right now, maddeningly? Resist.) Staying calm when you run out of things to say and everyone else in the room is writing frantically. Staying calm when it appears on the first read through of the question, and maybe even on the second read, that you studied everything wrong, that you are missing a fundamental understanding of the subject matter, that you don't really even know what the professor is getting at with the question. Keeping your eyes on the clock.
Although I dreaded, procrastinated, avoided, lurched around, and panicked about them like everyone else, I really did love exam time. I liked figuring out what I needed to learn, how I could best learn it, and then teaching myself, intensively, during study time. And I really enjoyed the adrenaline rush of the exam itself. Matching wits with something hard, for a specific and limited duration, and being completely finished with it once you handed it in, that's a rare kind of fun. Enjoy yourselves, guys.