When winter break – that glorious four weeks between semesters – finally arrives, you’ll probably be worn out from final exams and ready for some rest and relaxation. You’ve earned a break, so don’t hesitate to set law school aside for a few days (or weeks) and enjoy yourself. Of course, winter break isn’t just about getting caught up on your Netflix queue; it’s also a great opportunity to reflect on the fall semester and think about how you want to approach the spring semester. If you’re wanting to improve your academic performance, critical self-reflection is a key part of the process. It involves evaluating what you learned, how well you learned it, and what adjustments need to be made. Although self-reflection often occurs intuitively, it’s worth taking a few minutes to explicitly and honestly evaluate your performance. Here are a few questions you need to consider as you’re evaluating your fall semester:
1. Do my Results Match my Expectations?
You likely don’t know your final grades yet, but you may have completed some other formal assessments that give you some idea of how you’ll fare. Did you take any midterms? Quizzes? Practice questions? If so, were the results surprising or were the results what you expected given the amount of effort you put in? Similarly, did you feel confident when you sat down to take your final exams only to be confused or panicked by the exam questions? If you felt like you studied sufficiently for the task but were surprised by your result, you’re probably not using effective study techniques and will need to implement a new strategy for the upcoming semester. If your results did match your expectations, (whether on the high end or the low end), there will still be areas where you can improve and be more efficient.
2. What Worked Well?
While self-reflection often focuses on fixing things that went wrong, it’s also important to note what went right. Try to think of at least three things that worked well during the last semester so that you can continue to implement them in the future. Maybe you attended class consistently, or found that creating flow charts was helpful, or had an ideal study location. It can be anything, whether big or small, that was successful for you. Once you’ve identified some positive take-aways, consider how you can implement them in the spring semester to maximum efficiency and productivity.
3. What didn’t Work Well?
Take a critical look at your class preparation strategy, exam preparation strategy, exam performance, and time management skills over the last semester and be frank about what didn’t work. Whether it’s procrastination, insufficient practice, disorganization, or something else, everyone will have a few areas where they struggled. Once you’ve identified some things that went wrong, it’s absolutely essential that you attribute those disappointments to correctable causes. Take responsibility for what didn’t work, but also know that any perceived failures are not because you aren’t smart, or capable, or qualified. Once you accept that any failures can be corrected through personal action, you’re ready to start figuring out how to go about correcting them.
4. What Changes do I Need to Make?
Self-reflection not only requires you to identify what needs to be fixed, it also requires you to create a plan to make changes. In doing so, avoid generalities and come up with specific actions and changes you’ll make for the next semester. For example, if you identified that waiting until the end of the semester to create an outline was a problem for you, don’t simply plan on completing your outline sooner. Instead, commit to starting your outline by the third week of school and updating it on a specific day each week. As you’re defining the specific changes you want to implement, be sure to plan ahead for those moments when you’re tempted to procrastinate. Think about some strategies that will help you get back on track when you’re motivation wanes so that you’re prepared for this possibility.
5. What Specific Skills do I Want to Improve?
In addition to evaluating what worked and what didn’t in terms of study strategies, you should also ask yourself what skills you want to improve during the upcoming semester. Consider your long-term career goals and isolate the skills you’ll most need in that position. For example, if you’re interested in litigation, you may want to focus on your persuasive writing, whereas if you want to do trial work, you’ll need to have strong oral argument skills. Set a goal related to the skill you want to improve and strategize as to how you’ll achieve it.
6. What are my Priorities During the Next Semester?
After reflecting on the last semester, you can start planning for the upcoming term. Create a to-do list of all the things that need to get done during the spring semester, which may include securing a summer job, implementing new study strategies, auditioning for moot court teams, taking the MPRE, etc. Prioritize your tasks and plan ahead to help make your spring semester as productive as possible.
Once you’ve sufficiently recovered from finals, it’s worth your while to spend some time over winter break engaging in critical self-reflection. Self-reflection doesn’t have to be a long or onerous process, but it does require introspection and honesty. Take a few minutes reflecting and strategizing during your winter break, and you’ll set yourself up for a successful spring semester.
Check out these articles for more helpful advice:
- Podcast Episode 76: Making the Most of your Law School Winter Break
- 5 Ways to Make Your Winter Break Productive
- Did You Work on Your Resume During Winter Break?
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