It may feel as though the semester just started, but believe it or not, law school midterms are around the corner. At this midpoint, it’s a great time to re-evaluate whether your current routine needs some modifications so you can buckle down for exams. For example, if you have been mostly doing work from your couch, what changes can help you get super focused come exam day? If you are finding you have a lot on your plate, how can you make the most of your time?
Below are some ideas for creating your personal study strategy for midterm success.
1. Start with how much time you have
Calendar your exam date, and add in all other personal, academic, and work obligations and deadlines. Working backward from the exam date and factoring in all other tasks will give you a clear idea of exactly how much time you are working with. For example, it may look like you have a lot of time to prepare, but if you have obligations for the clinic you are volunteering in, a deadline coming up on a research project, or a job or fellowship application to complete— then you may be working with less time than you think.
If you are currently working, consider whether you can reduce your hours or move around deadlines away from exam week. If changes are not possible, consider doing work upfront so that it does not fall too close to your exam date. Importantly, communicate your exam schedule with people you work for and with so that they can be mindful of your workload and availability.
2. Study environment
The study space you regularly use to brief cases and outline (a bed desk counts!) may need some adjusting so that you can increase focus for midterms.
Some of the best advice I have read on a perfect study space, is that there is none. Instead, it is more important to just get started and to remain flexible as waiting for the perfect conditions may prevent you from doing work. I used to relocate numerous times trying to find the perfect environment and ended up wasting valuable study time. Find a space that works for the task, organize yourself in the best way possible, and adjust accordingly.
Knowing what kind of environment works best for you is helpful, but don’t be afraid to try something new. For example, I eliminated studying in a library early on but once I gave it a try, I was most productive in a super quiet setting. Alternatively, if you stick with at-home studying, consider how to make your home workspace more focused. For example, create a work-station using room dividers or a noise cancelling device to limit distractions.
3. Make the time you have count
The key to exam success is making the most out of the time you have right now.
Strengthen mental focus
A wise professor once showed me the apps she uses to stay on track, such as “Focus Keeper” and it has since helped me through midterms, finals, and bar exam time management. Such apps can help you stay focused for a set amount of time and help you make progress with your study material. Focus Keeper led me to understanding the benefits of the pomodoro method which breaks up study time into smaller intervals with breaks. The breaks are an important aspect to training your brain for increased focus and agility. Breaks are healthy and necessary. You can use this time to stretch, grab coffee, nap, eat a nutritious snack—whatever it is, make sure it re-energizes you and forces you to step away from the laptop!
Dealing with distractions
You may discover that your time management is great so long as you aren’t receiving emails, notifications, texts, and calls. You might want to consider a text or internet blocking program, or even easier—turn off your phone or put it on airplane mode. It may be easier if you treat your study time as the actual exam day where cell phones must be turned off. These efforts may seem drastic, but they will make exam day feel easier while also allowing you to progress without unnecessary distractions.
Cover testable material
Using the course syllabus and/or textbook table of contents are great starting points for creating a checklist to ensure you cover the testable content. Importantly, seek out resources to get exam practice such as an exam bank that your school may maintain, or a practice exam from your professor. Be sure to take mock exams as opportunities to test your knowledge and simulate testing conditions as closely as possible. Additionally, if you purchased an e-version of the textbook, it may come with supplemental study material. My personal favorite was using free supplemental materials through a subscription my school offered through West Academic Study Aids. Create an account to see if your school has a license allowing you free access.
Sticking to your personal study strategy for midterms reaps benefits in the long term as you will increase study efficiency for your law school studies and for the bar exam.
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