Now that we are all sheltering in place and keeping a responsible social distance from the rest of humanity, perhaps it is time to make a little tasty lemonade out of COVID-19’s nasty lemons. Step away from binge-watching your favorite streaming shows, ignore all those meaningless quizzes on social media, and buckle down (a bit earlier than usual) to be prepared for final exams. It may be more critical than ever to end the semester strong now that law schools have been forced into the distance and virtual learning spaces.
It’s Never Too Soon to Start
Even under normal circumstances, it’s a fantastic idea to avoid procrastination when it comes to exam prep. There is so much one can do to prepare, even from the beginning of the semester. For example, a strong outline can start with the course syllabus and case book on day one. Reading ahead and drafting case briefs can bolster preparation for the dreaded Socratic method and cold calling. Getting an early start with an eye towards exams can provide the edge needed to excel on the exam.
Start Outlines Early
I always started the rough outline for my courses when the syllabus was posted, and I got my hands on the text. I am an awful procrastinator, and this helped me to fend off those demons because I had the framework in place; filling out the rest of the structure was relatively quick, easy, and painless. There are so many great methods to build effective outlines, but of course, it is critical that the outline be scalable. A fifty page outline a week before finals is less than helpful. The sooner one begins the outlining process, the more useful it will become at the end of the semester.
Let the Syllabus Be Your Guide
Law school is fast paced, and the demands are often overwhelming. It is easy to fall behind for class prep, which in turn puts even the best-intentioned law student behind in exam prep. Case briefs are not just a good idea, they are critical to success on exams. Playing catch up on briefing cases can help put you back on track. The earlier you engage in this process, the better prepared you will be for the big show at the end of the semester. While stuck inside at least six feet away from your roommates, go back and brief those cases you missed the first time around.
Circle Back and Revisit
While quarantined, or just in the early weeks of the semester, it is best to resolve confusion early and often. Circle back to those concepts, principles, or structures that you were unable to fully comprehend the first time through the material. Letting those mystifying concepts sit untouched can lead to a snowball of confusion that grows with each new case or statute. Law professors teach the law like the builder constructs a building: he or she begins with the foundation and builds upon that structure. If the foundation of the area of law you are learning is riddled with insecurity and confusion, it is likely that the rest of the information throughout the semester will be applied erroneously. This, of course, can spell disaster on a final exam. Fix the gaps and correct the errors earlier than later for greater success on exams.
Don’t Forget the Other Resources
I am not a fan of study groups or commercial study aids. That said, I did manage to find two other people with whom I found it particularly helpful to study with, not throughout the semester, but just in the weeks and days before exams. However, to get a jump on exam prep earlier in the semester, connecting with your study buddies to compare notes and outlines could be helpful. The earlier you connect, the easier it might be to come together closer to exams. The commercial study aids can represent a double-edged sword. Rely on them too heavily and you miss the opportunity for a lot of critical learning. On the other hand, they can be another great starting point for exam prep early in the semester. Both study groups (virtual perhaps) and commercial aids can help jumpstart exam prep early in the semester.
Selfcare is Critical
Mental, emotional, and physical health is always critical during the semester. Taking care not to overextend oneself too early in the semester is important. Get an early start on exam prep but be mindful of overburdening yourself. You have plenty to read, study, and learn without putting too much pressure on yourself to begin exam prep too soon or too intensely. Start early but treat the endeavor as a marathon not as a sprint.
Study Plan More Important Than Ever!
Let your outline be your roadmap to exam success. Create a study plan early so that you can know your destination and the route you will take to get there. Furthermore, by having a sketch of the way forward, it is easy to identify the rough patches along the way. All of this can be accomplished almost from the commencement of the semester. The point is, know where you are going and how you plan to get there. It is never too early to begin this process. You can do this.
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