If you’re a transfer student, congratulations! Hopefully, you are enjoying your new law school. Even if you are, though, sometimes settling in can be difficult. It might feel like you have concluded one challenging chapter, only to turn the page to something even harder.
You may have left your study group behind, or feel like a stranger amongst your peers. Maybe you’re even a 2L taking a 1L class because your credits didn’t fully transfer. If you’re the new kid on the block this semester, here are some things to consider as you approach your first round of exams.
Your GPA Matters Even More Now
In a metaphorical, perhaps even literal, sense, your GPA will start afresh this semester. For this reason, it is more important than ever to ensure that you are doing your very best. You performed well enough last year to transfer, so hopefully that means you have developed some strong study habits. That said, though, most law students don’t transfer laterally, they transfer up. That might mean that the curve or grading policies at your new school are much more stringent. Make sure you know what they are so you can prepare accordingly.
Upperclassmen Are Still Not Your Competition, and Might Even be Your Friend
Even though your lecture hall may seem to be sea of relatively unfamiliar faces, remember that the students ahead of you at your new law school may still be willing and able to help. See if you can find any 2Ls or 3Ls who had your professors before and did well. Ask for their outlines. Get their advice. It can’t hurt to ask. The worst they could say is no, which won’t disrupt your status quo at all. It’s worth a try!
Talk to Your Professors
There is no better way to figure out what your professor thinks is important than to ask. Obviously, you shouldn’t just storm into office hours or raise your hand in class and demand what is going to be on the final. It won’t work, and it will make you look ridiculous. But you can hunt for clues. Are there any topics your professor seems to think are unusually intriguing? Has he dropped hints about how a person might want to attack a particular topic or organize a specific type of answer? Does she want to see case citations? What about using IRAC? Is policy important to discuss in an essay? You can gauge some of this off of lecture by tracking what your professor focuses on, but you should also try going to office hours and just asking.
Sometimes, especially if you’re a transfer student, the professors at your new school may be intimidating, or even famous—which can be anxiety-provoking. My Wills and Trusts professor was none other than John J. Osborn, Jr., the brilliant Harvard Law graduate who wrote that terrifying classic law school novel, The Paper Chase. He had actually created one of the most intimidating and iconic practitioners of mean and sarcastic Socratic dialogue of all time. Was he himself just another Professor Kingsfield, though? Nope! He was a fantastic teacher and turned out to be a fascinating person as well.
I remember showing up to office hours one rainy day and I was the only student there. I asked about the difference between burdens of proof in some of the statutes we had covered because I could not seem to figure it out on my own and had gotten some conflicting information. His explanation ended up making all the difference in my understanding, and the conflicting info. turned out to be a typo in my supplement! No wonder it was so confusing! And you know what? Those exact burdens of proof made a very well-received debut in one of the short answer questions on the final exam! And, as I found out later, almost no one else knew what to write—because they weren’t in office hours that day. If you think your professors take time in lecture to catch everyone else who wasn’t in office hours up to speed, you’re most likely wrong, they almost certainly do not.
Get Past Exams … And Practice on Them
Whether it is directly from your professor, from the library, or an exam bank at your university, seek out as many past exams written by your professors as you can. Practice on these and keep a list of similarities. A student told me the other day that he had managed to track down 7 past exams written by his Criminal Law professor, and every single one of them included a full essay on homicide.
In this case, guess what, there’s a good chance his final will too. If your professor frequently tests the same topics, make sure you get exceptionally good at them. If your professor writes model answers, pay close attention to how he phrases rule statements. Memorize these. Does she follow a particular organizational structure? If you’re not sure, getting clarification about these issues can be a great jumping-off point for office hours discussions as well.
Don’t Throw Out What Has Worked for You Before
I talked to a transfer student the other day who said that he made attack plans last semester at his previous school and they had worked brilliantly for him, but for some reason, he had decided not to follow suit at his new school. Things had been moving quickly, he had fallen behind on outlining, and the competition seemed a lot more intense now. All the more reason to stick to the tools you know from past experience will help you do your best!
Another student recently told me that she always loved flash-carding to help her memorize in undergrad., but that she felt it would be “too elementary” a tactic for law school. If flashcards are what gets you to memorize the law, then use them! Same thing goes for flowcharts, saying the law out loud, writing out rule statements, and drawing diagrams. Just because you’re at a different school now doesn’t mean you should give up on the stepping stones that got you there.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- Flashcards or Flowcharts: What’s Best for Studying?
- Avoiding Office Hours? Go, and Get Something Out of It!
- Need More Time? Study Smart Before Your Law School Class
- Time Management Tip: Think of Law School Like a Law Job
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