We are living in unprecedented times. Especially when it comes to education. For the most part, it appears everyone responsible for helping students navigate this new normal is making a good faith effort to help them succeed. But guess what, this is not a one-way street. Students, especially those who are further along in their educational journey, must take some initiative to insure they adapt to the new vehicles of learning.
Recently, many students have been informed of decisions by their law schools to convert all classes to Pass/No Pass, or to give students the option to convert their current classes to a Pass/No Pass model. I believe these actions are being taken out of a concern for fairness to their students who are now being forced into hastily organized online classes. Online classes usually take some time to develop and are often run by teachers with a great deal of technical expertise on how to provide useful content using online platforms. That cannot be said of every law school professor at this moment in time.
So how do driven law students stay motivated when the only reward at the end of the semester is a “P” on a transcript? First of all, it is completely natural to feel less motivated when the grade you are likely to receive will have no impact on you or help you raise your current GPA. Try looking at the big picture, however, not just what you see from your dining room table.
1. Remember, the Bar Examination is Pass/No Pass
Remind yourself there are no letter grades given for the bar exam. In fact, if you are notified that you passed, you are not even given your score to see how well you did compared to all the others who passed. It is only when you fail the bar exam that you get to see a score.
If you are in your final semester of law school, do you really want to set a new standard for yourself that causes you to sit back and relax because all you have to do is pass? Is that the attitude you want to carry into the bar exam? It’s hard to break habits, even if they are new ones. It is better to maintain the existing habit of working hard to achieve more than a passing grade. That will only help you on the bar exam.
2. Studying for the Bar Examination is Benefitted by an Already Existing Understanding of the Substantive Law
If you are in the middle of your law school experience, this is not a good time to take your foot off the proverbial gas pedal. Remember, once you graduate from law school, you will only have, at most, a couple of months to review all the bar subjects you will need to know cold to actually pass the bar exam.
It is easier to review a complex topic than it is to learn it for the first time. Don’t fool yourself that knowing the basics of every subject will be enough. It is the nuances or the details surrounding the availability of an exception that separate the “A” student from the “C” student, and those who will pass the bar versus those who barely miss passing. Consider a situation where you remember that nuance and just have to get it solidly back into your head, versus having to learn when that nuance or exception is triggered in the first place. How long did it take you to understand the real difference between character evidence and evidence of habits, the different ways hearsay exceptions apply, and if the same rules apply in criminal cases or in civil ones?
3. Have Your Study Habits Really Been Set Yet?
If you are in your first year of law school, please don’t think this is a gift. Almost anyone who has successfully completed law school will tell you that the effort they put into their first full year, in part because they felt they could flunk out at any point, paid dividends for the rest of their law school careers. Many students who successfully make it past the first semester of law school, end up flunking out because they ease back on their efforts in the second. Keep that drive and attention focused. Just because your class will now be graded on a Pass/No Pass basis does not mean the actual grading will be any easier.
Don’t develop bad habits now. You are still perfecting your “craft.” The rest of your law school career is possibly filled with opportunities for internships and clinical work. Some schools have academic standards in place that may prevent a student from participating in those outside activities if they fall below a certain academic standard.
Keep focused on how you learn complicated topics and put in the time you normally would to get an “A or B” rather than a “Pass,” which is really just a “C.” The benefits to the big picture of your future legal career will be greater than any benefit provided by this short term hurdle in all our lives. Isn’t that motivation enough?
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