What’s the Right Mindset for Studying?

Colored pencilsWhen you sit down to study for law school exams, how do you feel? Bored? Anxious? Stressed? Confused? Excited? Some combination of the above?

For most people, it’s one of two things: either bored/tired or anxious/stressed. Unfortunately, neither of these mindsets is conducive to studying effectively!

Why Not?

If you’re bored and tired, you’re not taking in information effectively, and might eventually fall asleep. If you’re anxious and stressed, you’re ALSO not taking in information effectively, and your head might eventually explode. Definitely a downside risk.

So, if these aren’t ideal, what is the ideal mindset for studying?

The Ideal Mindset for Law School Studying

Here’s the ideal mindset for studying: focused, and playful.

Playful? Are you kidding me?!? This is serious business.

Hear me out. I started reading an interesting book a few days ago (Finding Your Way in a Wild New World), and, in it, Martha Beck talks about one unique feature of humans — we have the capacity to learn through play our entire lives. (Apparently other animals lose this ability as they get older and their brains ossify into set patterns.)

She’s banished “work” from her vocabulary, and, for example, now thinks of “writing work” as “word play.” Hum…pretty interesting, no?

How Does This Apply to Law School?

Obviously law school studying is serious business, but, if you can inject a sense of playfulness and levity into the experience, you’ll learn more, faster.

How might you do this? Everyone has a different idea about what’s fun, so feel free to get creative. Here are a few things that worked for me:

  • Incorporating color. One of my most cherished possessions is a set of 72 Prismacolor colored pencils from architecture school. I pulled these out one day during the exam period and started marking up all of my notes with pretty colors, doodles, arrows, etc. This served two purposes: one, it was entertaining and kind of fun; and, two, it helped me understand the material in a different way. Win-win!
  • Think of legal questions as puzzles. It’s easy to get overwhelmed at all the material you have to learn, but I found if I could trick myself into thinking of a subject as a puzzle (sometimes with a mental image of me as a detective!) studying was more engaging. Suddenly I was thinking about how all the pieces fit together, instead of just being bored and annoyed.
  • Make it a game. This is great for motivation, if you have a particular type of brain. Say I needed to do 50 practice multiple choice questions, or read 30 pages of a casebook. Instead of just slogging through it, I’d keep track of short bursts of time (how long did these 10 questions take?) or results (how many did I get right on each topic?). For some people this kind of tracking would be stressful (if that’s you, don’t do it!), but for me, it let me focus on improving my time, or my results, which got me lots of mental gold stars and kept me motivated.

If you think I’m crazy, I’m not alone! Other people think play is important for lawyers, too!

What About Focus?

Hey, what about focus? Stay tuned, out of time! Next time.

Got questions? Leave them below and we’ll chime in with answers.

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About Alison Monahan

Alison Monahan is the founder of The Girl's Guide to Law School, which helps law students and prospective law students get in to law school, get through, and stay true to themselves. Alison is a graduate of Columbia Law School, where she was a member of the Columbia Law Review and served as a Civ Pro teaching assistant. You can find her on Twitter at @GirlsGuideToLS.

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