Do you want to get good grades this semester? Well guess what, that needs to start right now! Getting good grades in law school can happen for a variety of reasons, but time and again, it all boils down to just one thing: writing practice. If you are studying in other ways besides writing out full hypos, that’s all fine and good, but it’s not enough. If you want to succeed this semester, here’s a list of things you should stop doing ASAP:
Stop Writing Class Notes into the Void.
Your class notes are only as good as your review of said class notes. If you’re not taking out your lecture notes and reading through them in detail at least once per week, you should. Don’t just read them either. That’s not sufficient. You need to really dissect them. Annotate them. Tear them apart with a red pen and turn disjointed rule statements into numbered elements. See where you have questions, mark them, and ask your prof. in office hours. You will learn a lot more if you debrief your class notes in this way starting now. Don’t wait until the end.
Stop Putting Off Outlining. Really.
As with class notes, the whole point of outlining is to figure out what you do and don’t know. If you leave outlining until the end of the semester, it’s too late to patch up all the holes. Students often find that creating an outline for a topic shows them very clearly how far off base they were in their understanding. This is a scary realization to come to a week before exams. Don’t let that happen to you! The goal is to figure out all your shortcomings now so you can fix them in time.
It’s midway though the semester, which means you have definitely covered some topics in full. Any topic on your syllabus that is over and done with is ripe for review. Whether you have open-book or closed-book finals, whether your in-class understanding feels okay or not, outline anyway. Focus on condensing what you’ve written in your class notes into short statements of black letter law you can apply on your exam. Doing this now will make practice a lot easier.
Stop What You’re Doing and Write a Hypo—Right Now if Not Sooner.
I don’t care if you feel wildly underprepared, write a hypo anyway. I don’t care if you don’t know a single rule yet. Do it open-book. Do it untimed. Just do it. The first one is always the hardest. I promise you that writing out hypos on the topics that could come up on your exam is the very best thing you could be doing with your time right now. Whatever else feels more important—it’s not.
Yes, you should keep reading for class, and yes, you should turn in your legal writing brief, of course, but when it comes to preparing for exams, hypos should be your top priority. Year in and year out, we’ve seen that this is the biggest determining factor in how well a student will perform. Let that sink in: The more hypos you write out, the better your grades will be. If you take away nothing else from this post, take that. If you want to write a hypo with us, you can do that here.
Stop Wasting Your Own Time.
I know finals probably seem pretty far away at this point, but they’re really not—not when you think about all the work you have to do. If your final were tomorrow instead of in two months, there are some things you probably wouldn’t dream of doing: Spending hours online, texting while you’re trying to read, staying up late watching TV. If you wouldn’t do these things during finals, don’t do them now!
I’m not saying you have to be a total shut-in who doesn’t have any fun. What I’m saying is: You’re the only person who can control how you spend your time. If you want to get good grades, you need to stop doing all the things that are wasting your time. Wasting time isn’t hurting anyone but yourself. So go ahead, set limits on your social media use—maybe one hour at night. Turn off the notifications that ping you throughout the day while you’re trying to work. This kind of constant distraction will make it a lot harder to focus. Don’t worry, all of your updates will still be there when you’re done for the day.
Look, you can do whatever you want, you’re an adult, but you have to figure out what matters to you. If being an Instagram rock star or the first person to like or comment on everything your friends post is your highest priority, by all means, do that—it’s probably a lot easier and more fun than law school. But, if you really do want to do well and get grades you’re happy with, take a hard look at how you’re spending each hour in the day, and make some changes if needed. You might be thinking to yourself: These things aren’t mutually exclusive, I’m good at multi-tasking, I can deal with little distractions. But unless you already have a 4.0 and time to spare, now is not the time to start experimenting. Do yourself a favor and limit the time sucks in your life.
Memorize Now, Not Just Later.
The rules you need to memorize are stacking up more and more every day. If you can start chipping away at this mountain even just a little bit each week, you will be doing yourself a huge favor when it comes time for exams. I’m not saying you can’t memorize everything at the end of the semester, but you just won’t know it as well as if you start now and work little by little for the next couple of months. For every topic on your syllabus that is already over, take these two steps now:
(1) Turn the topic into a list of short rule statements. This will probably take a while. Cull through your class notes. Ask your prof. questions if you’re not sure which elements are right, or what wording to use. Remember, a short rule is a lot easier and more useful to you than a long rule, so condense them down and make them perfect.
(2) Then, and only then, set aside some time a few times a week to work on memorizing. Learn your rule elements by heart until you know them cold. Get them stored in your long-term memory so you’re not just cramming them in at the end of the semester. This will help you write your exam a lot faster than the people who don’t have the rules condensed and memorized. Again, though, practicing this writing, is how to make sure you’re doing your best on exam day.
Stop Thinking in Little Details and Focus on the Big Picture Instead.
Say you’re studying Evidence and your prof. assigns a bunch of Federal Rules to read. So, you take detailed notes on all of them to understand them in time for lecture the next day. They’re confusing, they’re long, and you’re not sure what to do with all your chicken scratch notations. Stop. Get out of the details! Start thinking big picture.
See if you can get the bottom-line point each rule is trying to tell you. Is it about which kinds of evidence are good enough to get into court? Is it about ways that evidence can be unreliable to the point of worrying the judge? Ask yourself what these rules mean in a broad sense and write that in one sentence in plain English. Then, go to lecture and see if your understanding was correct or not. If it wasn’t, fix it.
Listen carefully to the “buzzwords” your prof. keeps using in class when he or she describes each rule. These are probably important elements you need to incorporate into your own rule statements. Put each rule into your outline in just one sentence. Ask yourself how these rules could be tested on a real exam, and then write some practice hypos on them.
Start seeing your final exam as the end result—not just tracking along in class and taking a bunch of notes. You’re not being tested on how well you did in class. You’re being tested on the end result—the big picture—how you learn and apply these rules on the final. Start seeing the forest for the trees. And don’t worry if that’s harder than it sounds. This might take daily reminders to yourself. Anytime you get too bogged down in details or take hours of reading notes, stop, reassess, and ask yourself what is really worth writing down. Make sure you’re spending your time where it counts.
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