I've always been a decent law student; I hover around the top third in class rank. Well this semester (my second-to-last) I have a job and I work a lot, so I decided to not do anything school-related. No reading, no listening in class, no notes. A week before finals, I got some old outlines for my courses, indexed them and read through them a couple times. I got straight A's.
I usually study my butt off and get a 3.3 gpa, so this is kind of a big deal to me. It just makes me think that knowing how to take a test well and focusing on the highlights might be far more important than the hours spent on learning everything about the course (most of which won't be on the test).
It also makes me wonder how anyone could ever fail a law school exam.
One of the aspects of law school that is hard to fathom, even for law graduates, is the [low] correlation between effort and result. Most 0Ls would find it unbelievable . . . and, judging by some conversations and threads, do
find it unbelievable (and are quite upset with folks such as I who attempt to tell them otherwise . . . that their brilliance, often mis-directed efforts, and cherished habits won't help them pull through.
What distinguishes a good exam from a mediocre one is not a knowledge of the law. [!] Rather, it is an ability to do something with a presumed knowledge of the law. So, after first year, you see law reviewers doing just what you describe, and still
acing their tests. How? They're not regurgitating stuff. They're not attempting an "info dump," and are instead looking at the exam question and fashioning a cogent legal analysis.
To your point, however, this isn't about "knowing how to take a test" as in gaming the test. That's the stuff of undergraduate, memorize-and-regurgitate, and multiple-guess fame. Rather, it's the difference between knowing the law and using the law.
PS: Yes, it is possible to fail a law exam. It's not easy to do so, but it can be done. = : )