Monthly Archives: May 2014

Making the Most of Summer Law School Classes

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many law students choose to take classes during the summer because (a) they want to graduate in less time, or (b) to reduce the number of classes they have to take in future semesters. Students often believe that summer classes will be “easier” because they are only taking one or two classes instead of five. Although there is definitely a benefit to taking fewer classes at one time, the drawback is that summer classes generally last half the time. Instead of lasting 14 or 15 weeks, the entire course is usually crammed into 7 weeks.

How can you make sure that you obtain the greatest benefit from taking summer classes and set yourself up for academic success? Here are four tips for making the most of your summer law school classes:

1. Create a study schedule, and stick to it. It can be tempting to take a relaxed approach to your studies in the summer, as there are so many distractions: summer movie series, outdoor activities, longer days . . . you get the picture. You should definitely make sure you take some breaks and enjoy your summer, but you still have to take a disciplined approach to your studies. The best way to do this is to create a study schedule for the summer semester. You don’t want to get behind in a class that only lasts 7 weeks.

2. Start outlining early; don’t wait until the last minute. Students often wait until several weeks into a semester to start outlining. If you take this approach in the summer, the outline will never be finished. Outline each topic as you finish it in class, and you will be better prepared for the final exam. Even though it’s summer, you still have to do the same things you need to do during the rest of the school year to be successful.

3. Don’t miss class unless you absolutely have to. Missing one class during the summer is often the equivalent of missing a week during the rest of the year. When a class has a condensed schedule, it can be difficult to get caught up if you miss even one class. Save class absences for true emergencies, and have a plan for getting quickly caught up if you have to miss class.

4. Learn from the past; don’t repeat it. Make sure that you review your exams from Spring Semester. If you did not do as well as you hoped in a class, set up an appointment to go over your exam. I’ve also discussed how to get the most out of past grades here and here. Use those past final exams as a basis for how to approach future exams.

Taking summer classes can contribute to your overall success as a law student if you approach them in the right way. Make the most of your summer studies!

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Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Study Tips

Accountability Creates Motivation: Studying for the Bar Exam, Part 3

It’s now only two months before the July Bar Exam, and everyone should be busy studying at this point. At times, it can be hard to find the motivation to study, especially when the exam date still feels like it’s far away. Your commercial bar prep program may seem a little monotonous, as you seem to do the same thing every day: watch a lecture (whether in person or online), study the outlines and supplemental materials, complete the practice questions, repeat. It can be tempting to watch TV, play computer games, or do something else when you should really be studying. Keeping yourself motivated at this time is key, and one way to motivate yourself is to establish some type of accountability system.

What do I mean by accountability? Sometimes it is easier to not focus on what we need to be doing when we feel that no one will know about our lack of progress on our studies. If your bar review course gives you the option of attending lectures in person or watching them online, attending them in person may help you to be more accountable for your studies—the people around you will notice if you are missing. It can also help to set up some type of accountability system with a friend who’s also studying for the bar exam. It may be that you just touch base with each other every couple of days to make sure you are each on track with your study goals, or you may actually schedule study sessions where you quiz each other on material that you have just finished reviewing. Another way to create accountability would be to reach out to someone in charge of Academic Success or Bar Skills programs at your law school. Explain what your study goals are and that you want to create some type of accountability system to keep you on track.

When you know that someone cares about your achieving your study goals and will know if you don’t achieve them, you will be more motivated to stay on focused on your studies. Accountability creates motivation!

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Countdown to the Bar Exam, Step 2: Creating the Right Study Environment

Photo courtesy of Apolonia/freedigitalphotos.net

Photo courtesy of Apolonia/freedigitalphotos.net

One important element of studying for the bar exam is creating the right study environment. You can have the best intentions, but the wrong environment can derail your entire study plan. One key to effective studying is a location that allows you to study efficiently and without distractions.

Here are some things to think about as you decide where to study for the bar:

What were the things that distracted you from studying when you were in law school? If you are constantly tempted to turn on the TV, then studying in your living room may not be for you. If studying in the law school library meant that you visited with friends rather than getting work done, then the same might hold true as you study for the bar. Some people prefer the background noise of a coffee shop, while others find themselves listening in to every conversation at the tables beside them. Be realistic in your assessment of what distracts you, and choose a study environment that avoids those distractions.

What do you like to do when you take breaks from studying? If you want to be able to take a short walk, then setting up your study station at the local coffee shop may not make sense—you won’t want to have to pack up your stuff every time you take a break. On the other hand, if your idea of a great break is checking your email and spending 20 minutes playing computer games, then a more public location may not be an issue. Just make sure that your study location is conducive to taking study breaks.

What space do you need to study? Some people prefer to study at a desk or table, where they can spread out their materials and have plenty of space to work. Others prefer to sit on a comfortable couch, overstuffed chair, or even the floor. Think about what type of space makes you feel most comfortable when you are studying—you’re going to spend a lot of time there.

Do you want to be able to eat or drink while studying? This is an important consideration, as many people like to have snacks and drinks available as they study. If you want endless amounts of coffee or periodic snacks of pretzels, fruit, etc., a library with a strict food and drink policy may not be the place for you. Likewise, if you are on a tight budget this summer, an expensive coffee shop may not work as well. Choose a study location that fits with your snacking habits.

Finally, do you like the routine of studying in the same space all the time, or will you need to change things up periodically? For some people, maintaining the same routine every day—studying at the same place at the same time—works best. For others, a little variety in the order and location of the routine helps them to stay focused. Depending on your own preferences, you may find that you want to change up your study location sometimes. Periodically reassess your study environment and make sure it still works best for you.

The perfect study environment is a very personal thing—experiment and find out what works best for you!

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Making Sense of Law School Grades: Three Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Final Grades

Now that the semester is over, the wait for final grades has started. But even once those grades are released, law students don’t always know what to do with them. If your grades are good, of course you celebrate—and if they’re bad, you may be depressed. But what do these grades really mean? How can you make sense of your law school grades and get the most out of them?

Exams are really just a means of assessing how you communicate information that you learn, and grades are one component of that assessment. I’ve previously talked about how you can use grades to get more out of graded assignments. Here are three more ways to get the most out of your law school grades:

  1. Grades can be a way of calibrating your own perceptions of how you perform on exams. Did you do as well (or as poorly) as you thought you did on your exams? If you didn’t do as well as you thought you did in your classes, you should consider whether you were overconfident in your approach to your exams. You may need to rethink your approach to studying and/or attacking the exam in order to obtain the grades you want. In contrast, some students beat themselves up about how they did right after each exam ends, but in reality they performed much better than they thought. Regardless of which type of student you are, you can use grades as a way of adjusting your own understanding of how you perform on exams.
  2. Grades can help you better understand your strengths and weaknesses in taking exams. Look for patterns in your final grades. Did you do better on multiple choice exams that you did on essays, or vice versa? How did you do on exams in which time management was more important? What are the common aspects of exams that you did particularly well on versus those on which you did not perform as well as you had hoped? Understanding these patterns can help you create a plan for how to approach exams in the future.
  3. Grades can help you to evaluate particular test-taking strategies that worked (or didn’t work) for you. Sometimes students will do something during one exam that they didn’t do in other exams, and they get different grades based upon those different approaches. For example, did you outline before you started writing in some classes but not others? Create a checklist for one class but not the others? Hand write versus use your computer? Use highlighters to break down essay questions on only one exam? Think about any differences in how you approached exams from one class to the next, and see if there are any corresponding differences in grades.

One trait of successful people is that they are able to learn from past experiences and apply what they have learned to their future endeavors. Take an active approach to learning from your final grades, and you will be on the path to success!

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Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams

Why Law Review?: Five Ways that Serving on a Law Review Contributes to Academic Success

It’s that time of year in law school when 1Ls (now rising 2Ls) are completing law review writing competitions, hoping for the invitation to join the journal of their choice. Sure, working on a law review staff is a lot of work, but there are also many benefits. For those of you who are on the fence about whether to join a law review, I thought I would put together a list of five ways that serving on a law review can contribute to your overall academic success in law school. Here it is:

1. You will gain an in-depth understanding of the BlueBook. No longer will you hesitate when trying to remember how to abbreviate case names, when there is a space after a period in a citation versus when there is not, or when it is proper to use “see” as a signal. Your newfound confidence in your Bluebooking expertise will serve you throughout the remainder of your law school days, as well as in law practice afterwards.

2. Working with good (and bad) writing helps to make you a better writer. The more writing that you read and critique, the better your own writing skills get. As you read and edit other people’s writing, you will become more conscious of your own writing. Of course, you will learn more about grammar through this process, but you will also learn about what it takes to write effectively—in other words, to communicate precisely, clearly, and concisely.

3. You will learn how to manage your time more efficiently. It is no secret that working on the staff of a law review requires significant time. And time is already in short supply in law school, as you discovered during your first year as a student. Juggling your journal work with your studies will inspire you to develop even better time management skills.

4. You will find new mentors. One of the greatest benefits to working on a law review is that you will develop new relationships with upper-level law students. During your 1L year, you take all of your classes with the same people, who are all 1Ls as well. Once you are a 2L, your classmates will be more diverse. Working with upper-level students on law review is a great way to make connections with some of those new classmates. They can be great resources for you, as they have more experience.

5. You will learn how to collaborate better with others. The law school environment tends to be pretty competitive, but law review is one place where you quickly learn the benefits of collaboration. The people skills you learn by working on a journal will help you not only in getting issues to press but also in classes where teamwork and cooperation is often essential, such as Negotiations, Mediation, and Trial Practice.

Only you know if working on a law review is the right thing for you—but, as you can see, there are a lot of hidden benefits to journal service!

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips

Countdown to the Bar, Step 1: Introduction to Studying for the Bar Exam

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Congratulations to all of those 3Ls out there who have just graduated or are about to graduate! You have made it through law school! It’s a great accomplishment, and you should definitely celebrate with friends and family. It doesn’t take long though for the realization to dawn that the bar exam is looming in the distance. That’s why it’s a good opportunity to talk about how to approach studying for the bar exam.

In reality, you have learned most of skills you need for bar exam success during your years in law school. Although studying for the bar exam is a pretty intensive experience, if you continue to apply the types of techniques that contributed to your success in law school, you should be on your way to success on the bar exam as well. With that in mind, here are some suggestions as you begin the countdown to the bar exam:

First, if you have not done so already, sign up for a commercial bar review course, such as BarBri, Kaplan, or one of other state-specific bar prep courses. Most law students take a bar review course, and it’s been my experience that students who do not take one tend to not pass the bar exam. Although these courses cost a significant amount of money, that money is a good investment in your future. It is much more costly not to pass the bar and therefore not be able to practice law. You should research your options and determine which bar review program works best for you. It should be specific to the state where you are scheduled to take the bar exam, and you should consider your personal learning preferences, need for structure and discipline, etc. in deciding whether to take a course in person or over the internet. Most of these courses begin in the next week or two, so if you have not chosen a course you should do so quickly.

Second, treat studying for the bar exam like a job. Regardless of whether you take your bar review course in a classroom, view videos online, or study solely from workbooks and other printed materials, you should schedule your study time each day. Set a specific schedule for yourself, just as you would during the school year during law school. Get up at the same time each day, set specific times to go over new material or review material already covered, and set aside specific times that you will take practice exams or go over practice questions.

Third, don’t forget to take good care of yourself during the next few months as you study. It’s important that you eat well and get a good sleep every night so that your brain functions at its best and you don’t wear down your immune system. Take regular breaks from your studies, and don’t forget to get some exercise. Studying for the bar exam is not a sprint, but a marathon—you have to take care of yourself for that journey.

Stay tuned to this blog over the next few weeks, as I continue to give you tips about studying for the bar exam—let the countdown begin!

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Sleep for Success: Stealing Time from Sleep Doesn’t Help You Do Better

The other day I had a student tell me that he planned to stay up all night studying for his next final exam. His statement brought back memories of my own years in law school, studying in a coffee shop early in the morning before the Civ. Pro. final as some of my fellow law students–those who had stayed up all night studying–either crashed with their heads on the tables or drank gallons of coffee in a desperate attempt to make their brains function. One of my friends once told me that, during one of her finals, a student fell asleep in the middle of the exam. Other students sitting around him surreptitiously tried to wake him up without causing a disruption to the rest of the class.  My friend looked over again about 20 minutes later, and he was once again asleep.

At the time, staying up very late–or even all night–may seem to make sense as you are studying for your final exams. The final exam period is a very stressful time, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day for studying. Law students may have four or five finals during a 10 to 14 day period, and often the entire grade for each course hangs in the balance. If you didn’t get your outlines done before the semester ended, you may still be scrambling to synthesize course information and memorize key concepts. If you don’t sleep less, then how will you get enough time to study before finals?

The problem with this reasoning is that sleeping less does not necessarily mean a better outcome on the exam. You’ll be more tired, have a harder time focusing on what you are doing (either studying or actually taking the exam), or even fall asleep at critical moments, like the law student in my friend’s class. Just because you study longer doesn’t mean you’ll do better. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived students don’t perform as well as those who get enough sleep, and they’re more susceptible to getting sick. It’s also important to remember that you are not just trying to learn this information for a short period of time–you are studying legal concepts that you will be tested on again during the bar exam.

So what should you do instead? Ideally you should study for your exams throughout the semester by outlining and creating flashcards. If you spread out your studying throughout the semester, you will not feel as much pressure during the exams period. It will be easier to balance studying with sleeping and taking good care of yourself by eating healthy and exercising.

At this stage though, you are already in the midst of exams. Lectures about the perils of procrastination aren’t going to help you with your immediate problems. Instead, you should take stock of where you’re at with each of your classes and how much time you have left before the final exams. Triage your studying. What are the most important things that need to be accomplished for each class? For example, it won’t be possible to create an entire outline for a course in 48 hours. A more productive approach at that point may be to start by creating the one-page checklist of topics I have described before, but this time drawing from your class notes and casebook table of contents. The checklist is a master list of the topics that could be tested on the exam. Once you have the checklist, you can evaluate which topics you feel pretty comfortable with versus those that you realize need more work. By consciously evaluating each course, you will be able to spend your time on those topics you’ve identified as needing more work, rather than on reviewing information you already know. Triage studying may not be a perfect solution (less procrastination would be better), but it is a better option than stealing time from sleep.

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Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Study Tips

The “Best Answer” Dilemma: How to Succeed at Law School Multiple Choice Exams

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of nongpimmy/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the reasons why law students often dread multiple choice exams is that questions may have more than one possible right answer. In fact, many multiple choice questions instruct the student to choose the “best” answer. There’s nothing more frustrating than choosing a seemingly “correct” answer but still getting the question wrong.

So how can you resolve the “best answer” dilemma and achieve success on your multiple choice exams? Here are some tips for approaching these questions on law school exams:

  • First and foremost, always approach law school multiple choice questions by eliminating the wrong answers first rather than looking for the right answers. This may seem counterintuitive. But eliminating obviously wrong answers gets rid of answers that are distracting and may lead you astray. It also improves your chance of choosing the correct answer if you are not able to determine which answer is best and have to guess.
  • Second, don’t just choose the first answer that seems right. Instead, make sure that you evaluate all possible answers and determine whether any other answer could also be correct. It’s hard to decide which one is the best answer if you don’t evaluate them all.
  • Finally, if you narrow your options down to two possible answers, both of which seem right, then you should analyze which answer is best. One way to do this is by asking yourself which answer is more specific. If one answer is fairly general but the other is much more narrow in its application, the narrow answer is usually the better answer. If one references a general rule of law but the other incorporates very specific details from the question’s fact pattern, the detailed answer is probably the better answer.

Ultimately, the key is to be methodical in your approach to evaluating the answers. Approaching each multiple choice question in the same way will help you solve the “best answer” dilemma.

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Racing Against the Clock: Time Management Techniques for Law School Exams

Image courtesy of Winond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Winond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Anyone who’s ever been in law school has had this experience: you’re writing or typing along on your exam, fingers cramping and back stiff from sitting in the same position for too long. All of a sudden, you look up at the clock and realize that you only have five minutes left before the exam is over. The problem: you have at least 30 minutes’ worth of material to cover before you will complete the final essay question. All you can do is rush to get as much of it crammed in as possible. The end result is that your essay ends in jumbled confusion, and your grade is lower than you had hoped for.

Time management can be a challenge for many law students, even when they have studied hard before the exam. Many law school exams are intentionally designed to take more time than you will actually be given. In order to succeed on those types of exams, you need to not only be prepared for the content of the exam but also have a strategy for how to tackle the exam. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for developing your own time management strategy:

  1. Always allocate time by the number of points or percentage of grade that each section of the exam is worth. For example, maybe your exam consists of two essays and 30 multiple choice questions. Each essay is 1/3 of the total exam grade, and the multiple choice is 1/3. The exam is scheduled for 3 hours. You should allot 1 hour for each of the essays and 1 hour for the multiple choice (each multiple choice question getting two minutes). Time should almost always be allotted according to how much that part of the exam is worth. Once the exam starts, calculate your end times for each part of the exam—and most importantly, stick to those times! Don’t be tempted to “borrow” time from one part of the exam to have more for another.
  2. If you have control over which part of the exam you take first, think carefully about your plan of attack. When the exam consists of both multiple choice and essays, students invariably want to tackle the essays first because that is where they feel the time constraints the most. But when you tackle the essay first, there is a temptation to “borrow” time from the multiple choice section if you aren’t done with the essay when the time allotted for that section runs out (see suggestion #1). To avoid that temptation, I recommend taking the multiple choice section first. If you have extra time left over once you complete it, you can save it for a later section (or for reviewing the multiple choice one more time), but you will make sure that you give the multiple choice the time that it is worth.
  3. Finally, outline or chart your essay answers before you start writing. So many students start right in on writing their essays without organizing their thoughts first. There is a temptation to do this when time gets tight because students know they will not be graded on that outline. But effective outlining proves more efficient in the long term, as it allows you to determine what issues you want to cover in your essay and what facts relate to those issues. You will see which issues are minor and don’t deserve as much time in your essay versus those issues that have numerous relevant facts and will be worth more credit. By jotting down facts that go with each issues, you also create efficiency because you will not have to go back and read the fact pattern again and again as you write your essay.

The key to managing time in law school exams is creating your time management strategy before the exam even starts, and then sticking with it. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish in a limited amount of time!

 

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Filed under General, Grades, Law School Exams, Outlines