Tag Archives: procrastination

Playing Catch-Up When You’ve Fallen Behind

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of jesadaphorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By this point in the semester, most law students are in the final stretch of what seems like a very long race. Final exams loom ever closer on the horizon, and you’ve probably realized that you have a lot to get done in the next several weeks. Law school can feel stressful enough under normal circumstances, as writing assignments are coming due and professors are trying to cover the course materials prior to finals. But if you’ve fallen behind in your studies, you most likely are feeling even more pressure.

Law students fall behind for a variety of reasons. Maybe you’ve been sick and missed several classes, and, because you were feeling so poorly, you didn’t keep up with the reading. Maybe you’ve participated in the on-campus interviewing process and have spent more time working on job applications than you’ve spent studying lately. Maybe you’ve been overcommitted to extracurricular activities or focused on other priorities and haven’t had enough time for your studies. Or maybe you just weren’t taking law school as seriously as you needed to, and you now realize that you’ve got a lot to do to earn the grades that will let you achieve your long-term goals. Whatever the cause, you’re realizing that you have to do something now to catch up.

If you’re one of the students that have fallen behind, don’t just give up. If you get started now, you can get your studies back on track before final exams begin. Here are four tips to get you caught up when you’ve fallen behind:

Don’t delay: The longer you wait to attempt to catch up, the harder it will be. Make a commitment to a plan now so that you have the time to do what you need to get done to be successful in your classes.

Don’t give up: Students who fall behind often decide that it is easier to quit trying to catch up than do the hard work necessary to get back on track. They may decide to rely on commercial outlines rather than creating their own outlines or utilize commercially prepared case briefs rather than reading the cases themselves. While this strategy may seem like it gets you caught up much quicker, you will not know the material as well. When you go to apply the law to new hypothetical examples in the final exam, you may not understand the law well enough to be successful in your efforts. It is also important to remember that many of these courses are going to be on the bar exam. You need to study effectively now, so that you have better long-term recall of legal concepts.

Don’t neglect new assignments: Don’t allow current assignments to suffer because you are trying to complete past reading. Sometimes students think they must go back to the place where they got off track in order to get caught up, and they neglect current assignments in the process. Make sure that you first schedule current assignments before adding in the time you need to get caught up. You will get more out of each class if you have done the reading for that class in advance.

Make a plan: Most importantly, you need to make a plan. Getting caught up will take deliberate effort; it will not happen on its own. You need to make a schedule and stick to it. Revisit the study schedule strategies that you had at the beginning of the semester. Map out the remaining reading and writing assignments for the semester, making sure that you’ve scheduled enough time to complete each of those assignments. This schedule should cover the remainder of the semester.

Once you’ve scheduled all forthcoming assignments into your study schedule, you should then create a list of your backlogged tasks. On that list, estimate how long you think it will take you to complete each task. Go through the list and decide which tasks are the highest priority, then the second highest, third highest, etc. You will realize that some tasks are more immediate in terms of importance because you cannot complete your outline until those tasks are done, or because a current topic in a class builds upon the law covered in the backlogged reading. Once you have prioritized your list of backlogged tasks, begin inserting them into the remaining time in your study schedule. Don’t forget to allow time for outlining these assignments as well.

You won’t necessarily be caught back up by the end of the week (unless you were only behind a class or two), but, if you stick to your new study schedule, you will be in a much better position by the time you enter the final exam period. A good study plan can not only keep you on track on a daily basis but also help you to catch back up if you’ve fallen behind.

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Study Tips

Skipping Class in Law School

In recent posts we have explored some of the important academic skills students need for success in law school, such as reading and briefing cases, taking effective class notes, and outlining. As important as those skills are, law students can easily undermine their study efforts by missing too many of their law school classes. In fact, many students who struggle academically in law school also have a significant number of class absences—it is difficult to do well if you aren’t consistently in class.

Let’s explore some of the reasons law students give for missing class:

  • “The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”
  • “My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”
  • “I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”
  • “I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”
  • “I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”
  • “I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”

In reality, these types of reasons are rarely an adequate justification for missing class in law school. Here are some explanations for why this is the case:

“The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”: Your syllabus may list a maximum number of absences, but that doesn’t mean that you have that many “free” passes to miss class. Each time that you miss class, it puts you further behind in the course. In some cases, you may never recover the information you lost from not being in class. Students commonly skip too many classes early in the semester, and then if something happens later in the semester, such as a family emergency or major illness, they end up penalized for too many absences.

Sometimes students decide they can skip classes late in the semester because they still have absences available. This is a bad choice for two additional reasons: (1) in the last few weeks of the semester, your professor may provide specific guidance about the final exam, and you will miss that information; and (2) you may not have enough time to make up what you missed, especially if the professor is playing catch-up and covering a lot of material in each class.

“My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”: Vacations are really never a good reason for missing classes in law school, for the same reasons that I explained above. Put your family and friends on notice that any vacations will have to be scheduled around your law school schedule. You are investing a lot of time and money into becoming a lawyer; keep your priorities in focus.

“I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”: You should never “steal” time from one class to do something for another. Keep in mind that each of your classes is important—you will earn grades in all of them. It takes much more time to make up what you have missed from a class than to go to class in the first place, and you will end up taking that time from yet another class or another priority if you aren’t careful.

“I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”: This excuse is usually just about poor scheduling, poor prioritization, or procrastination. As I explained above, “stealing” time from one class to do something for another is never the way to go. Work on creating a study schedule that builds in time to complete Legal Writing assignments and other assignments that will take a lot of time, and stick with it—don’t wait until the last minute!

“I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”: Unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that you should never to go into class if you are tardy, you should still go to class. It will be easier to make up the five minutes that you missed than it will be to make up an entire class. Just make sure that you are careful about how you come into the classroom so that you reduce the amount of distraction you create for your professor and fellow students.

“I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”: Like the previous excuse, you should go to class unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that prohibits attendance in this circumstance. You won’t get as much out of class if you haven’t done the reading, but it is still a better choice than missing class entirely.

The alternative: Treat Law School Like an Important Job. Here’s the thing. Law school is your job right now—a very important job. So treat it like one. People who have important jobs don’t “skip” work. There can be really good reasons for missing work or class (such as serious personal or family illnesses, emergencies, child care issues, job interviews, etc.), and it’s ok to be absent for those reasons. But don’t let “skipped” classes become an impediment to academic success.

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

Taking Charge of Your Own Learning in Law School

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most empowering aspects of law school—as well as one of the scariest—is that you are in control of your own learning. So what does that mean? What can you do to take charge of your own learning in law school?

Law school puts you in the driver’s seat.

For example, you will have reading assignments for each class meeting—often those assignments take several hours to complete. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. You make the choice—you stay on top of your assignments each and every day, or you don’t do the reading and do something else instead, such as go to the movies or watch that TV show that you love. Doing the reading is the first step on the path to understanding the law. In contrast, skipping even one day’s reading makes it even harder to understand what is going on in class, and getting multiple days behind decreases your ability to be successful on later assignments and exams. You often won’t feel the consequences of your decisions immediately, but your choices will affect your long-term chances of academic success.

As the semester goes on, you will have additional choices to make about your studies. Will you devote the time to synthesizing course materials to further develop your understanding of the law and its applications, creating outlines, mind maps, flow charts, and flashcards? Or will you attempt to take a shortcut through that process, relying on a past student’s outline or a commercial outlines instead of creating your own study aids? Once again, your choices will have long-term consequences for your understanding of the law you are studying, your grades, and your ability to recall what you have learned after the course has ended (an important consideration, since many of the subjects you will study will reappear on the bar exam in a few years!).

Successful students make conscious, positive choices about their own learning.

Understanding that their choices affect their academic success and long-term goals of being an attorney, successive students are not passive in their approach to legal education. Instead, successful students take positive actions to improve their educational opportunities—establishing regular study schedules, avoiding procrastination, taking advantage of opportunities to improve their academic and legal skills, and keeping their academic, professional, and personal priorities in focus. They avoid taking shortcuts that make things easy in the short term but don’t improve their understanding of the law. They develop their own methods of holding themselves accountable for what they learn. Successful students aren’t perfect, but they learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them. In short, successful students don’t just focus on learning the law—through their efforts they learn to be better learners as well. These traits help them to become better students . . . and also better future attorneys.

Stay tuned for related posts about how successful law students approach these topics—I will be blogging more about things that you can do to take control over your learning in law school over the next few months.

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Filed under General, Grades, Pre-Law, Study Tips

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