So let me take you back to a few years ago (okay, more than a few) when I was a 1L in law school. I went home for the Thanksgiving holiday (because I could drive, and it was only about 4 hours away from where I was in school). Now, my parents are lawyers, so they fully understood the need for me to study for my exams. My first exam was Torts and that was coming up within two weeks of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Listeners of the podcast may already know this story, but when I was sitting at the dining table, my mom started asking me questions about my exam prep.
Mom: “Have you been working on your outlines?”
Me: “Sure.” Now those outlines were LONG and full of pretty colors and formatting. Because I thought that was what was important (palm to face).
Mom: “Have you been memorizing for your exams?”
Mom: “Oh great, then tell me the rule for the special duty for landowners.” (To be honest I don’t remember exactly what rule she asked for, but it was something like that.)
Me: (Rambling.) “Uh, well, I mean I know the rule, but I don’t know exactly what I would write …”
My mom gave me a very serious look and began explaining to me that I was not at all prepared for exams, and I needed to get my act together as soon as possible.
I had fallen into the same trap that so many 1Ls (and even 2Ls, 3Ls and bar takers) can fall into. I got caught up in the busy work. I thought if I “studied” enough, meaning, that I spent enough hours in the library, why wouldn’t I do well? I was always busy! I was spending hours and hours making outlines. I was going to class, doing reading for class and even meeting with my study group. What was I doing wrong?
Well, after years and years of helping law students, I wish I could go back and have a conversation with myself about the mistakes I was making. My grades that first semester would have been better. I would have been less stressed out. And I would have been able to answer my mother’s questions at Thanksgiving!
What should I have done?
I should have been doing deep work to make thoughtful outlines (not super long unhelpful outlines) where I had concise rule statements and notes about the law that I could actually memorize. (You know what? I even could have included flow charts or pictures to help with memorization! I could have (gasp) not typed my outlines so I could have been more flexible with the format of them!)
I could have been taking time regularly to practice applying the law to facts. This is one of the most important things that I wish I had done – not saved practice tests to the very last moment.
Realized that study groups have their limitations and at a certain point you must be accountable for your own work. Sometimes, study groups are just not getting you where you need to be, and you need to do something different to learn the law and get ready to apply the law to facts (since taking an exam is a solo project).
Get feedback! I should have been doing practice exams and getting feedback on them from TAs, professors during office hours, academic support or even from a tutor (like us!). Then I would know if I was attacking exams in the way the professor wanted and doing a good job writing in IRAC (or whatever style the professor desired).
Want to hear another “fun” exam prep story from my first semester?
My school used to host practice exams on the weekends where they would open up one of the big classrooms (where we had our large lectures and eventually would take the exam) and proctor a practice exam for our 1L classes. The first practice exam was Civ Pro. I showed up with my overly long, somewhat-copied-from-someone-else’s-outline on Civ Pro. The proctor started the time clock, and I read the exam question. Then, I sat there not moving. And I read it again. And I looked at my blank computer screen. I had nothing to say. I didn’t know where to start — how to plan my essay — how to organize it — nothing. So after about 5 minutes, I got up and left. I took a walk around the building and made my way to the library. What I learned in that moment was that I had a LOT of work to do. I needed to shift how I was working. And luckily, I had enough time to change my preparation, actually learn and memorize material and start applying it to fact patterns. And I did okay. Second semester I started learning and applying the law earlier and (to no one’s surprise) I did much better.
Now what if you are reading this and thinking, “Oh no, Lee! I am making the same mistakes!”
That’s okay. This month we are going to share a lot of content to help you get ready for your exams, even if you are in a triage situation. There is still time to right the ship, focus on productive deep work and feel more prepared. Trust me, it will take work, flexibility and being honest with yourself — also a growth mindset when things get hard. But you can do this! We will help. And remember, if you don’t think you can do it alone, our tutors are here to help you figure out how to best use the rest of your semester. You can sign-up for a complimentary consultation with Alison or myself, and we will discuss our recommendations for how best utilize your time.
Now every month I like to share some of what I have been reading (or that I have found interesting). Here is what I am thinking about and reading (or let’s be honest, listening to because I don’t have a lot of time to read) this month.
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.