As I rush into our student kitchen to grab a bite before class, I run into my teaching assistant and ask him whether he too feels the mid-semester slump.
“Definitely,” he admits. “But if you feel it, it’s a good sign. It means you’ve been working hard,” he says.
His response is a testament to the need for positive thinking, even during those moments when you think you cannot read another page.
It’s normal to feel unmotivated, especially as the professors increasingly mention exams and your brain starts to lose its edge. When these moments happen, there are a few things that have helped me.
Shake up the Routine
Find a new study buddy
Be daring. Just walk up to someone who appears to know that material slightly better than you and ask them to meet after class to go over only that day’s material. I tried that last week, and it gave me a big boost to know that I had to not only prepare well for class, but also to prepare for our study meetings because I wanted to look smart. It turns out the person who I thought was on-top-of-it in class was struggling as much as I.
Change your daily habits
For example, if you’re used to going to the gym after class, try going in the morning, or trying out that kickboxing class you’ve been curious about. The trick is to infuse excitement into your life through other routes, like treating yourself to that bottle of fancy mango-coulis salad dressing to brighten your daily salads or listening to a funny new podcast on your way home to keep your mind active in different ways.
Since you’ve surely already been listening to the Law School Toolbox Podcast (obviously), try something quirky with Dear Hank and John. From John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars and his scientifically minded brother, their nerdy banter and dubious advice always tickles a smile out of me even as I’m exhaustedly driving home.
Have a Game Plan
An academic advisor once reassured me much of my feeling lost was only a need for organization. See my previous post on how to get organized with Evernote. Figure out what you have, and maybe you’ll find you’re not missing as much as you thought. For example, if you take good class notes, you can trade with someone who takes good reading notes. Also, making a spreadsheet helped both my motivation and organization as explained below.
If you’re more of a Google calendar user, create calendar events and invite a few committed classmates to a weekly study group on Friday afternoons when you’ll review each chapter covered up till then. For example, if the syllabus is already on chapter 8 in class, go back to chapter 1, and continue meeting each week until the weekly session chapters catch up to the class reading. With half of the semester still left, this review plan is still doable but it requires sticking to a detailed schedule. Try mapping one out with colors and dates to keep everyone accountable.
Spreadsheet Case Lists
Excel is usually spurned in the land of law school where Word reigns supreme. I find excel intimidates me far less than 70 pages of jumbled class notes on Word. The layout of having to fill empty boxes is motivating, and I promise it doesn’t involve formulas or numbers.
Simply go through the table of contents of your casebook and write down every case you’ve covered in class so far. Separate them by chapter or topic, and maybe color-code them, such as how I did by making pro-defendant cases green and pro-prosecution red. Then start filling in the blank rows with a few keywords to remind you of the key facts. Then I would just search within my class notes, on Quimbee case briefs, and in supplements to fill in the blanks. This post gives more information on how to outline with supplements. I highlighted cases I truly could not understand to remind me to schedule a meeting with the professor to speak to him about them.
It becomes like a game. I give the important cases up to four rows, but I try to keep it at one row per case. When printed, I was able to fit an entire semester’s worth of cases into only about 15 pages in landscape.
Hint: set the layout to landscape for the printer lines to appear. I find these are helpful reminders to keep my holdings, and facts brief.
You can also include rules that correspond to the cases to the right of the printer line so it prints on a separate independent page, but is viewable in unison.
Aim to Be the Best Student in the Room:
During a two-week phase of doubt my first semester, when I felt like I was the most lost person in the classroom, I found myself admiring the best student in that class. The person who stood up confidently and yelled out the answer. The person who flipped the Socratic method by asking the professor thought-provoking questions. I wanted to be her. But then I challenged myself: what is she doing, that I can’t do?
Just thinking, “I want to be at the top of my class” was never a motivation for me, as it feels too intangible, too unrealistic. Whereas thinking “I want to be like her” is something I can see and can make happen. For each class, I thought of the best student and told myself I would catch up to them. I tried to analyze what they were doing. Some had memorized the important rules we had covered in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure while others had done the extra problems from the Examples and Explanations and could anticipate the questions the professor would ask.
What I did was far simpler: I chose one class at a time to focus on and took careful notes as I read the assigned cases and problems so that I could quickly volunteer the answer. Having the notes made me feel confident, and the problems helped reinforce my knowledge. I also started doing Cali lessons for the material before learning it in class. Here are additional tips on class participation.
Within two weeks, classmates and professors were starting to congratulate me outside of class for my good questions and comments. Once you achieve a few little victories, they trigger an addictive motivational cycle that inspires you to study harder.
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Other helpful posts:
- Time for a Mid-Semester Reality Check
- You’re Half Way Through the Semester, Now What?
- Mid-Semester Law School To-Do List (podcast)
- Your Mid-Semester Law School Reality Check
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