Much like the lawyers they’re training to become, law students have a lot of different projects, tasks, and responsibilities that they have to juggle. But when you’re mired in the day-to-day struggle to stay on top of you’re reading, attend class, work at your internship, and manage all of life’s other daily requirements, it can be easy to lose sight of the long-term deadlines. But given the way law school classes are graded, with essentially your entire grade based on one final exam or research paper due at the end of the term, you can’t afford to miss the forest for the trees.
While it’s extremely important to accomplish all your routine assignments like reading and briefing, it’s just as important to get started on your long term projects and ongoing tasks at the appropriate time during the semester. To reduce your stress level, discourage procrastination, and ensure that you’re partaking in the methodical preparation needed to really excel in law school, make sure you plan ahead. Think what needs to get done and when you need to get it started, so that deadlines don’t sneak up on you and so that you don’t find yourself cramming for exams at the last minute. To help you plan ahead this semester, here are a few recommended start times for ongoing and long term assignments.
Creating a course outline is an ongoing project that you should work on consistently and frequently throughout the semester. Your outline will likely end up being your primary study aid as you prepare for final exams, so it’s absolutely essential that you devote enough time to creating a useful and accurate outline. To get the most benefit out of your outline, it’s also important to have plenty of time to review it and practice with it, rather than scrambling to create it in the week or two before final exams. To that end, it’s best to outline early and often. I recommend starting your outline about two weeks into the semester, a month at the absolute latest. This will ensure that have enough material to actually start an outline but you haven’t covered so much that you’re overwhelmed by it. Update your outline regularly throughout the semester (at least weekly) and aim to have your outline completely finished by the first day of the reading week. This will leave you plenty of time to review and memorize the law and use it to work through hypos.
Speaking of hypos, completing practice questions is one of, if not the, best ways to prepare for final exams. Practice questions give you an opportunity to evaluate your comprehension of the law, work on your analytical skills, and determine your strengths and weaknesses. Working through practice problems on your own will also be one of the closest ways to replicate the final exam experience, which will require you to apply the legal rules to a hypothetical set of facts in writing, not brief cases or respond to your professor’s verbal questions like you do in class each day. You can and should start working through practice problems as soon as you’ve completed your first major topic in the course, which you’ve usually done by week three or four of the semester. I suggest that you aim to complete at least one practice problem per week. Start with short, simple practice problems and work your way up to longer, more complex, multi-issue problems as the semester progresses. If your professor uses multiple choice questions on their final exam, be sure to practice with these types of questions as well.
Legal Writing Briefs and Research Papers
If you’re a 1L taking your introductory legal writing class or if you’re a 2L or 3L taking a seminar that requires a lengthy research paper, you need to keep these deadlines in mind. These assignments always take significantly more time and effort than students anticipate, so you don’t want them to sneak up on you. Make sure you have these deadlines on your calendar and be sure to schedule in a start date and various checkpoints throughout the semester.
Finals Prep and Exams
Preparing for final exams really starts with consistent class preparation, outlining, and practice problems. But, as far as exclusively studying for your final exams, you should plan on devoting the entire week leading up to exams for preparation. You need plenty of time to prepare because you will likely have to take several exams in a short period and you’ll need to memorize (and comprehend) a large amount of information. And don’t forget to review the final exam schedule and calendar all of your test dates – you don’t want to be that student who has to cancel their non-refundable plane tickets because they didn’t realize they had an exam on the last day of the finals week.
Putting some thought at the beginning of the semester into when you need to start your ongoing projects and tasks will save you from stressing and cramming later on. Take a few minutes before the first day of class to plan ahead, and your semester will go a lot smoother!
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