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Law school is challenging. Not just because of the kind of things that are daily required and expected of you, but because of the things that you must do to survive the marathon that is an entire semester’s worth of material. So, what’s a law student who wants to succeed to do?
As discussed in this article, preparing for class alone is not enough. You need to incorporate key tasks after each lesson, chapter, and (ultimately) semester in order to survive and ultimately thrive in law school! By planning ahead, you will improve your performance throughout your entire law school career.
Short Cuts You Took Before Law School Will Not Work
Before law school, the materials you studied in high school and college may have just come naturally to you. Perhaps you didn’t read before class (or at least every class), because you picked up everything you needed during class lectures. Maybe you wrote papers the night before they were due or began studying for a test the night before, knowing you’d inevitably knock it out of the park. Possibly, you never outlined any of the chapters you covered throughout a semester, because things “just clicked” for you.
Because we here at the Law School Toolbox want you to do well, it is critical for you to realize now (i.e., before your first test or paper is due) that these kinds of actions will be your downfall if you don’t nip them in the bud. The bare minimum is not going to cut it. Only through engaging in deep thinking activities and incorporating long-term preparation strategies will you be able to do your best.
Prepping For Class Is Essential, But Alone It Is Not Enough
To state the obvious, your professors expect you to be ready for each and every class. Not only because you could be cold called on at any moment due to your professor’s use of the Socratic Method, but also because it can be nearly impossible to understand the class discussion if you don’t understand the legal framework of the topic being discussed. Prepping for class requires you to, at a minimum, do the reading assigned. Unfortunately, many students stop here thinking that reading alone will be enough to survive the class. Again, to state the obvious, it’s not.
In addition to reading the materials, you should be creating a written brief or book brief of the cases contained within the assigned pages before class. Your briefs will contain legal rules that will be discussed in class and which will ultimately find their way into your outline.
To learn more about preparing for class and the five common mistakes students make (and should be avoided), check out this helpful article.
Be An Active Listener And Notetaker During Class
Class lectures are the time for you to apply what you’ve read prior to class to new and evolving hypotheticals discussed in class. It is also the time for you to learn more about what interests your professor, how your professor sets forth the tests and rule statements, and what legal concepts dominate class discussions (Hint: topics that dominate class discussions are those most likely to appear on a test!). Class lectures are not the time to chat on your phone or your computer, check your email, or shop online (although you may be tempted!). The more involved you are during class, the easier it will be for you to incorporate the lectures into your incredibly important outline.
As discussed further in a helpful article on class notes, the five critical things to include in your class notes are: (1). black letter law, (2). areas of ambiguity, (3). notes on how to apply the law, (4). policy arguments, and (5). your professor’s quirks and areas of interest.
Create An Outline And Update It After Closing Out Each Area Of Law Discussed
It is imperative that you create an outline throughout your semester for each and every one of your classes. Generally speaking, you should try to update your outline after you close out each and every chapter, which means that creating and updating an outline is an on-going process that lasts throughout an entire semester. Outlining in this manner will help you put the material together when it is fresh in a way that you can understand and remember months later when it becomes time to study for finals.
Waiting until the end of the semester to begin outlining is a recipe for disaster. For the skeptics out there, one reason why waiting until the end of the semester is a bad idea is because you may have forgotten certain legal principles that you would have otherwise memorialized correctly if you created an outline for that lesson immediately after you learned it! Second, creating outlines for all of your classes at once is going to be an incredibly time intensive and laborious process (assuming you even remember all of the law correctly, which is highly unlikely). Finally, you need to use the remaining time at the end of the semester to engage in deep thinking activities (like taking practice tests), which will be nearly impossible to do if you are trying to get your outlines in order.
Engage In Deep Thinking Activities
Finally, one of the best activities you can do is take practice exams. Fortunately, practice exams are in abundance! Many professors have old exams on file and may be willing to review your answers during office hours. Your law school library may have a Cali subscription (which will give you access to interactive tutorials and questions that cover numerous topics of law) or various supplements or bar review materials that contain sample questions. Finally, you can take practice tests using a tutor (we’ve got great ones!) or through your school’s academic support staff.
By using your time valuably throughout the entire semester, you can prepare yourself for law school success.
Would you like to learn more about the topics discussed in this article? Check out some of our other great articles and podcasts, including:
- Plan Ahead to Improve Your Semester
- Podcast Episode 65: How to Make a Useful Law School Outline
- How to Practice for Exams in Law School
- Podcast Episode 62: Surviving the Socratic Method in Law School Classes
- How to Brief a Case in Law School
- Top 5 Mistakes Students Make Preparing for Class
- How to Turn Your Class Notes into an Outline
- How to Practice for Exams in Law School
- What Can Your Law Library Offer You?
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.
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