Summer’s nearly over, and soon you’ll be back to school. It’s time to take stock of your previous year of law school – especially if you’re a rising 2L — and assess what worked, what didn’t, and what you should do differently this year.
Consider your grades.
Were they consistently high, consistently low, or varied? Unless you did well across the board, you should try to assess what led to disappointing results in certain classes. Putting aside obvious, unique circumstances, such as an illness affecting your final exam, did you do anything differently in classes where you did well or poorly? The idea is to identify behaviors within your control and seek to modify them. Here are some suggestions.
Review your spring semester exams.
By the time you received your grades, you were probably focused on your summer internship; you may have been distant geographically, as well as mentally, from law school. When you get back to school, review your spring exams, ideally with your professors. You may be rusty on the subject matter, but your objective isn’t to assess your substantive errors: it’s to assess your exam-writing skills. What can you learn from these exams that you can apply to your next round of finals? Focus on such aspects as organization, depth of analysis, use of facts, and responding to the call of the question. Assessing all your exams, including those where you did well, can reveal patterns, such as weak rule statements, failure to consider counterarguments, or not supporting legal conclusions with facts.
Did you take practice exams?
How many? If the answer is “none,” that’s a mistake you mustn’t repeat. There is no single strategy more likely to improve your performance than taking practice exams. The best practice exams are those released by your professor, accompanied by sample answers. Locate these at the beginning of the semester to get a sense of the endgame. Does your prof expect you to include policy arguments? Then put them in your outline. Is your prof big on role-playing? Then think about hypotheticals from various perspectives (advocate, law clerk). The best way to practice is with a small group. You can each write out an answer, then discuss or critique each other’s work. If your professor has released only a few old exams, save them for late in the semester. If she has not released any exams, try to find some from other profs who teach the same subject at your law school. You can also find practice questions in supplements, or released bar exam questions online.
Did you study alone or in a group?
You don’t need a formal study group, but it’s helpful to have a friend or two from each of your classes with whom you can review course material and work through practice exams. If you studied alone last year and were disappointed in your grades, reach out to classmates this year.
Did you go to office hours?
If not, you should resolve to do so. If you’re not sure about a concept and want to discuss it, or if you’re confused about something that happened in class, go visit your professor. But be sure to research the question first, so you can discuss it knowledgeably.
Were your class notes effective?
Note taking is not about transcribing lectures. It’s about distilling important points, clarifying your understanding, and identifying questions for follow up. If your notes did not accomplish these goals, find guidance here.
Assess your outlines.
Did you write your own outlines? If the answer is “no,” that’s a problem you can correct. More likely, you created outlines that weren’t effective. Ineffective outlines tend to be either over-inclusive or incomplete. If your outline was over-inclusive, you need to step back and focus on the big picture (fundamental rules and the facts that trigger them) without getting bogged down in minutiae (irrelevant details from the cases). If your outline was incomplete, what was missing? Probably the triggering facts. Put them in next time.
Reconsider your supplements.
If you relied on a supplement (such as Emanuel, Examples and Explanations, Nutshell, or similar sources) and didn’t achieve good results, consider switching to a different line. There are many to choose from based on personal preference and learning style. If you found a commercial outline confusing, try a narrative text instead. If you got bogged down in an overly detailed text, try a simplified flowchart. If you had trouble memorizing basic rules, try flashcards, commercial or homemade.
Did you manage your time effectively?
Time management is a crucial factor in law school performance. This year, create a study schedule and stick with it, as explained here.
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