The first semester of law school brings about numerous changes. New friends. New professors. New campus. Maybe a new city. New subjects. New study techniques. It can be daunting. And, by the end of the first semester, you might be simply trying to catch your breath.
But, how do you know that you’ve had a successful first semester? And, if you haven’t achieved your goals for your first semester, then how do you readjust?
Review Your Study Habits
My first semester of law school, I was newly 21 and in a big city unlike the small town where I had come from. I wanted to take advantage of all that my surroundings had to offer. And, I wanted to make new friends. I spent so much time working through undergrad, I didn’t have a ton of close friends by the time I graduated. I wanted law school to be different.
After the first few weeks, I realized I was going to study groups where we did more talking than studying. Then, the same group of students would gather at one of the local bars, eat dinner, and have a few beers. After dinner we might try to study some more, or we would simply hang out.
By the time the night was over, it was too late for me to go all the way back to my apartment without calling a cab in the middle of the night, so I would crash on friends’ couches who lived closer to campus. I would wake up groggy in the morning not anywhere near ready to hit the books again.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this routine was not going to help me graduate let alone excel at law school. I had to make some tough choices, and that included turning down invitations for dinner and drinks and setting up a routine I could live with. As a morning person, that meant getting up early to study and workout. I also realized that I could focus more easily on my notes when I studied by myself.
My first semester was a bit of a train wreck, a huge trial-by-fire kind of experience. I caught on quickly and adjusted, but if I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be able to write “esquire” after my name now.
One way you might be able to honestly assess your first semester is by re-reading posts on advice for getting started. Then, ask yourself, did you follow that advice? Were your study habits as focused as they could be? Did you study in ways that played to your strengths (like working alone)? Did you re-read your notes after class? Did you outline as you went through the semester or did you wait until the final exam study period?
How Do You Think You Can Do Better?
Once you take a real look at whether you achieved the advice doled out at the start of the semester, you can begin to make adjustments.
For example, I realized that I needed to mostly study by myself. I also learned that I needed to incorporate more kinesthetic learning techniques into my note review. And, I figured out that taking notes via my laptop actually made it harder for me to focus and review my notes later on.
After I came to these conclusions, I sought out study partners only when I needed them or only towards the exam review period. I developed quirky ways to outline my notes and review them. This helped me remember the information better than the standard outlining methods I’d been taught. And, I switched from typing notes to writing them long-hand.
The fact is that unless you have had a lot of practice already studying in law school, you most likely are going to have to make some adjustments in your study habits after the first semester. We all do. The key is to be honest with yourself so that you can make the kinds of changes that you truly need to make.
Once you identify the areas where your studying can improve, make new goals for your second semester. I realized after my first semester that because of my poor study habits, I didn’t make the time to outline my notes until just before my final exams.
By my next semester, I was much better at studying throughout the whole semester, not just cramming at the end.
As you grow and change over your law school career, you’ll find that study aids you needed in your first semester become unnecessary in later semesters. Assessing your study habits throughout the course of your time in law school is important. Different classes, different professors, even different classmates around you can cause it to be necessary to alter your study habits a bit to get the most out of your law school experience. Take the time to review your study habits along the way, and you’ll be that much more successful in the long run.
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