A student came to my office this week to ask for help. She is one month out from finals and hasn’t started outlining. Even worse, she doesn’t know how to start outlining let alone how to take practice exams.
Now, I doubt that she is alone. I think many students may be in a similar position.
They are in their second semester of law school and perhaps didn’t do as well as they had hoped in their first semester. Although they promised this semester would be different, so far it has not been.
Now they are staring down the road to finals and are frozen because they don’t know what to do. They are in crisis mode.
All is Not Lost
Well, I don’t think all hope is lost. I think that with some very disciplined and dedicated work you can actually save this semester and get ready for finals.
Will your outlines be as good as if you had been working on them for months? No! But does that mean that you shouldn’t try? No!
Here is a plan of attack for students who are in crisis mode:
- Pull out a calendar and start making real deadlines for yourself. Although it may be daunting, you need to get out a calendar and set some realistic deadlines. How many days do you need to complete that Contracts outline? Five? Write that down. Then, how many days for Property? Write that down. It is important to set goals and develop a plan to reach those goals.
- Make outlines, but do so in a practical way given your time constraints. Can you slowly go through the material, combing through all of your reading notes and class notes? Unfortunately, it may not be practical to do so because you are in crisis mode. So, think about how you can quickly get through the material to still track what your professor thinks is important.
- Start practicing now. You can’t wait until days before the exam to start doing any practice. As soon as you have that outline completed, you need to start practicing the writing. It is the only way to test if you understand the law and if your outline is working.
- Take that practice to a TA and to office hours to make sure you are writing in the correct format for that professor. If you do practice assignments early and often, it is likely you will have the opportunity to take them to a TA or a professor for review or discussion. This is critical! How else are you going to know exactly what is expected? (See my prior post on how to get the most out of office hours.)
- Ask for help if you need it. Many of your schools have resources you can reach out to, be it an academic support program or a teaching assistant program. Or, you can find a law school tutor. Or, you can start studying with your friends. But don’t go it alone. If you need help, ask for it!
And here is what NOT to do:
- Take your friend’s outline and put your name on it. This is so tempting to do. Clearly, we think it is important to build your own outline because it is your study tool on a given subject. Even when you are in a time crunch, you cannot substitute someone else’s work for your own. I had a good friend in law school who was a very smart guy. Second semester of our first year he taught me a lot about property (estates boggled my mind). So to thank him for all his hours of help, when he asked, I e-mailed him my Property outline I had built from scratch. I got an A in the class. Did he get an A too? Nope, he got a much lower grade. But we were both studying from the same outline. However, only one of us had gone through the learning process of putting that outline together. It really does make a difference.
- Decide things are hopeless. If you give up on yourself and this process, then you are guaranteed disappointing grades. You have already spent almost an entire year in law school. You have paid lots of money to be there. Decide you are going to give it your best! What do you have to lose?
- Spend time only outlining and not practicing. Practice, practice, practice. You can’t skimp on this part. That would be like a performer going on stage without doing a dress rehearsal. It just doesn’t happen! This must be a priority.
I know crisis mode is a scary place to be. But all is not lost. Get to work, work in a smart and deliberate way, and you can get through final exams!
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