Here's what I did when I was in a similar situation last year:
Keep studying hard, first of all. Secondly, by week 8 or 9 put yourself on a schedule that makes you do abou 8-10 practice tests for each course by the time you sit for the real deal. Either get as many as you can with answers or study with some top students.
As for writing the practice exams, realize that until you get near hte end of the semester and a) have done a bunch of practice exams and, b) have gotten all of the material under your belt, you might struggle...I did...but do about 75% of the tests timed. Answer the call of the question oh and by the way, if the Q says write a letter, then address it to the client on the exam...it puts the professor in the proper mindset when scoring your test.
Keep briefing and outlning and reviewing every weekend. The smartest don't finish at the top in law school...the hardest workers do, I promise you. When it was all said and done, I had gone from a poor first practice exam to top 5%.
Thanks for the advice, that sounds very helpful.
I've already started on my outlines and I'm going to keep up with them so that I have time at the end to just review and synthesize. I will try to start on the practice exams that are available after fall break, near the end of October. I may start with exams from other teachers at my school just to get used to issue spotting and also so that I don't use the most valuable exams (my teachers' old exams) until I have a full grasp of the material.
I ordered Getting to Maybe from Amazon and I'm going to read it this weekend to try and get a grasp on how exactly to approach an exam question. I think I know the basic way to do it by looking for ambiguities and issues that might be relatively obscured or hidden by the fact pattern and then exploring those issues in depth with a solid analysis.
Any thoughts on the best way to organize the answers? What I saw from the model answers is that it doesn't necessarily have to be in paragraph form. The best answer simply underlined the issues individually and expanded on them without writing the essay in a narrative form. Does it matter or do most professors prefer one over the other?
I think a good part of my poor performance is definitely attributable to not knowing how to approach a law school exam question. It's just something that I'll have to work at.