During 1L year, one of the most time consuming and intimidating tasks is preparing for class. It takes a large majority of your time, and the prospect of random cold calls (which of course, will probably happen on that one day that you feel the most confused) can make it seem far more stressful than it needs to be. It can also be one of the most difficult things to adjust to when starting law school, because almost no one has had to handle such a large volume of difficult reading before. Fortunately, there are some things you can consider doing to help you develop an efficient class prep routine.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Prepare
We’ve talked before about the importance of scheduling your time, and the vast majority of that scheduled time will likely be spent preparing for class. You’ll probably need more time than you actually think you do, especially at the beginning – so be sure to be realistic. The conservative rule of thumb seems to be that it should take you about 2-3 hours to prepare for each hour of class. This may vary depending on your reading speed and note taking style, but erring on the side of caution for planning purposes will be beneficial, especially at the beginning. Fortunately, you’ll probably get better over time and can start moving along more quickly. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to sit and read for 3 straight hours, so don’t forget to schedule in time for short breaks too!
Don’t Fall Behind on the Reading
In order to be prepared for class, it is imperative that you keep up with the assigned reading. The volume and difficulty of reading in law school is probably denser and far more complex than the reading in most undergraduate disciplines, and falling behind can quickly make it impossible to ever catch up. Additionally, in many of your courses the concepts will build on each other as you move through the semester. If you miss one or two assignments, it may not only be hard to catch up again, but it also may be more difficult to effectively learn the current material that your professor is covering.
Limit your Distractions
Again, the assigned readings are going to be dense, and require your full attention. Scheduling a few hours for yourself to complete the assigned reading won’t do you any good if you are checking you phone or email every few minutes. Instead, turn off the electronics and put them away all together. Think about it, do you really want your three hours of reading to turn into 5 because you kept getting distracted on the internet? Probably not. If you must take notes or brief cases on your computer, close out of any distracting tabs or anything that will send you notifications while you’re working. Or better yet, use an app that will block certain distracting websites for a set amount of time. If you need further incentive to focus, and you particularly enjoy the psychological benefit of being able to “check” something off (or color something in), you may want to try utilizing The Circles.
Take Notes while you Read
Yes, taking notes while you read definitely adds time to your class prep but it is valuable for so many reasons. First, you can’t transcribe the entire reading, so taking general notes or briefing the cases forces you to condense the information you’re taking in into a few key points. This forces you to actually think about what you’re reading- as opposed to passively reading, closing the book when you’re done, and forgetting about it a few minutes later. Second, having notes or a case brief can help add some structure and organization to your in-class notes. If you already have main points written down before you get to class, it might be easier to hone in on the things that relate to, support or clarify those points. Finally, having a brief set of notes in front of you will be a helpful reference if you get called on. It can be difficult to locate things quickly in the casebook, but if you’ve put together a brief you’ll have an easy way to locate the main points from the case.
Review your Notes Before Class
Reviewing your notes before class can help you to feel more prepared for a potential cold call, and help you to more easily follow the discussion during class. Because 1L year requires you to take so many demanding courses at once, it isn’t uncommon to have a little bit of trouble recalling exactly what you read for a given class. There was probably a lot of reading assigned, it was probably very dense, and it definitely wasn’t the only class you read for. Taking a few minutes before each class to read over your notes and refresh your memory can make a difference in how prepared you feel, and how well you can follow the discussion.
Preparing for class can be one of the more difficult tasks to adjust to when starting law school. But, with a little time and patience, you’ll develop a class prep routine that works for you.
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