Tag Archives: stress

5 Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) during Law School Final Exams

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

As law students head into final exams, here are 5 tips for surviving (and thriving) during the final exam period:

(1) Take care of yourself. Law school exams are not a sprint but a marathon. Make sure that you get plenty of sleep each night – if you stay up late (or all night) trying to get ahead on your studies, your brain will not function as well afterwards. The next day, it will take you longer to accomplish tasks that would normally be easy, and lack of sleep also has a negative effect on memory. A tired brain does not contribute to academic success in law school. It’s also important to not skip meals – brains need food too! And make sure that you take regular breaks from your studies. Take a walk, or do something else that gets you up out of your chair. After each break, you will go back to your studies refreshed and ready to tackle your outlines!

(2) Create a study plan. Students commonly spend most of their study time on the first exam or two, and then they run out of steam before the end of the exam period. Print out a blank calendar, and divide up your days so that each class gets a reasonable portion of the remaining study time. You will realize that you need to rotate your schedule to give each class its due. For some students, maybe assigning one subject per day makes most sense; for other students, studying two subjects a day may work better. The important thing is to be intentional – if you have a study plan, you know exactly what you should be doing each day to stay on track and maximize your studying.

(3) Identify your priorities. Students often study for exams by going through their outlines over and over again, from cover to cover. Although that approach may work for reviewing course material throughout the semester, it is usually not the most efficient way to study in the days leading up to your final exams. Instead, create a checklist of issues for each subject (instructions for creating a checklist can be found here). Once you’ve created your checklists, start each day by printing out the checklist(s) for that day’s study subject(s). Go through the checklist, evaluating if you can comfortably discuss the law for each issue.

(4) Develop road maps. After you’ve created your outline, think about how you would actually use the information on an exam. If you identify a particular legal issue in an essay exam question, what would you do first? What would you do next? Some students create a flow chart that shows the analytical process they would use in their essays, while other students list a series of steps (kind of like following a recipe). The form is up to you, but try to do much of the thinking about how you would organize your analysis for each legal issue before you get into the exam. If you do, you will spend more time writing during the exam, and less time thinking. And your essays are likely to be more focused and better organized. The process of developing a road map also helps you to identify topics that may need more review.

(5) Take practice exams. Sometimes your professors have released old exams or practice questions. If they have, there’s an opportunity to better understand what your professors are looking for in the exam answers. One way to use a practice exam is to simulate the actual exam experience. Find a quiet, distraction-free place to take the practice exam. Time yourself, so that you write for the amount of time that the professor would allow for that question during an actual exam. If the exam is closed book, don’t look at your notes. Taking an exam, even if you only do one essay, can be a great way of assessing how prepared you are for the exam. You can then spend more time reviewing the areas of the law that seemed too vague or fuzzy. If you feel that you don’t have enough time to write out complete essays, you can still use a professor’s old exams to test your ability to spot legal issues and make sure that you know the law for those issues.

Following these tips can help you make the best use of limited time in the days leading up to final exams. Good luck on your exams!

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Filed under Law School Exams, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Staying True to the Course During Final Exams

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Final exams can be a stressful time for law students. Much, if not all, of your grade for each course hinges upon how you do on the exam. There’s a lot of pressure, and it can be easy to become distracted by what is going on around you. If you study at the law school (or even follow your law school friends on Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media), you will hear students talking about how stressed they are. The more you listen to them, the more stressed you find yourself as well!

One of the things that law students often do is compare what they are doing to prepare for exams to what others are doing. One student will talk about how he is studying so hard that he has quit taking showers—basic hygiene simply takes too much time! Another student claims that she is surviving on gallons of coffee, candy bars, and four hours of sleep a night. You hear two others arguing over who has more supplements for Torts, or Evidence, or Secured Transactions . . . and when you look at their table in the library, it looks like they have accumulated an entire bookstore of supplements! You begin to feel that, in comparison to these other students, you just aren’t putting enough effort into your studies.

Or maybe you are still trying to study with your study group, and you find that the study sessions quickly deteriorate from a productive environment to a gossip session or gripe fest. Or, when you finish an exam, some of your classmates immediately start going through each part of the exam, trying to figure out what they got right and what issues they might have missed. Listening to them, you convince yourself that you must have failed—it doesn’t seem like they are even talking about the same exam as the one you just completed! Rather than turning your attention to studying for the next exam, you spend your time wondering if you should use the holiday break to come up with an alternative career plan.

If you resemble any of the students I’ve described above, you’re not alone in your feelings. Each semester, law students go through the same experiences, and it can be particularly stressful for students just finishing their first semester. But it is important not to let the stress, the comparisons, and the other distractions prevent you from accomplishing what you are capable of on exams. As you make your way through your finals this semester, keep in mind the following tips for staying true to the course:

  • Surround yourself with the right environment. If the law school is becoming too distracting, find a coffee bar, public library, or other location to study. If your law school friends are complaining about exams too much on social media, limit the time you spend reading their tweets and posts. If the study group isn’t working for you any more, take a leave of absence from it until next semester.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other students. Everyone has a different approach to outlining, studying, and memorizing information, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Furthermore, what you hear other students talking about may not be working for them either! A lot of times students get caught up in comparisons that are more related to quantity rather than quality—those types of comparisons are rarely accurate or helpful.
  • Don’t relive each exam as soon as it’s over. Resist the urge to revisit the exam immediately after you’ve left the classroom. Students rarely remember the exam accurately in its aftermath, and that type of discussion only leads to increased stressed and distraction. Close the door on that exam, and focus forward on what comes next—whether it is another exam or a well-deserved holiday break. You’ll have time enough next semester to meet with your professor to review how you did on that exam, and that review will be much more beneficial than any speculation about exam results right now.
  • Take care of yourself. Law school final exams are a marathon, not a sprint. It is important to eat well, get exercise, get a good night’s sleep each night, and build small breaks into your study so that your brain comes back to things refreshed.

Stay true to the course, and good luck on the rest of your exams!

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Socratic Method Survival Guide

Today’s post is about how to survive—and even thrive—in a Socratic Method classroom. One of the most stressful parts of the first several weeks of law school is that many of your professors will use Socratic Method. If you’re an introvert, you may find that it’s even harder to make that feeling of dread go away. When a professor uses Socratic Method, the student is in the spotlight. You can’t always predict what the professor is going to ask you (or when you will be called on!), and, if you are a new law student, you are still trying to figure out what is expected of you and may feel a bit overwhelmed by everything that you have to learn.

Here are some keys to surviving (and growing from) the Socratic Method:

Prepare: In some ways this is the obvious one, but it’s really important and worth repeating. Preparation is the foundation to all success in law school. You have to consistently do the reading, brief the cases, and review your case briefs and class notes if you want to be successful at anything in law school, including the Socratic Method. It will be almost impossible to answer the professor’s question without putting in the hard work first.

Listen: Another key to tackling Socratic Method is active listening. It can be easy to tune out what is going on when your professor is focusing his or her attention on someone else. Often professors will transfer a line of questioning from one student to the next. If you are listening closely to the dialogue that preceded yours, you will often have a better context for the questions you will face.

It is also important to listen carefully to what your professor asks you, and how he or she responds to your answers. Sometimes we tune people out once we think we know where they are going with their questions—we start thinking about our answers instead. It’s important to make sure that you hear the professor’s full question though so that you can respond to exactly what has been asked. Especially as a new law student, you will most likely not predict where the professor is going with the questioning if you do not focus on what is being said.

Engage: Not only should you listen to the questions your professor is asking of other students, but you should actively engage with those questions. Ask yourself what your response would be to the questions that the professor is asking and compare your answers to the other students’ answers. Not only will engaging help you to understand the context of the questions if you are called on next, it is also a great way of practicing Socratic Method without being the student on the “hot seat.”

Anticipate: Part of what students find so stressful about Socratic Method is the fear of the unknown. Especially as a new law student, it often seems impossible to predict what your professor might ask you about what you’ve read. Although you may not know exactly what your professor will ask you, there are things that you can do to anticipate at least some of the possible questions. First, many professors will ask questions about specific parts of the cases you have read, and creating a good case brief for each case will help you to anticipate and answer those types of questions. Second, when you have read multiple cases that relate to the same legal issue, a professor might ask you questions about that relationship. If you think about those relationships before you come to class, you will be better prepared to answer those types of questions. Third, the notes after cases often set up additional hypotheticals—professors will often use those hypotheticals, or other similar hypotheticals, as an inspiration for Socratic Method questioning. Work through the hypotheticals from your assigned reading in advance, and you will be better able to anticipate possible questions in class.

Review: Not all questions come from the current day’s assigned reading—sometimes professors will ask you to consider how a case from today’s assignment relates to or compares to something that you read a week (or a month) before. As you read for each class, ask yourself if there are any aspects from that reading that relate to previous cases that you’ve read. If you identify anything, make a note of it in the margin of your case brief so that you are prepared if the professor asks this type of question. Even if the professor doesn’t ask, the time spent reviewing in this way will not be a waste—identifying these types of relationships will help you to organize course materials for your outlines and exams.

Simulate: Finally, for students who get really stressed about being called upon and having to speak in class, it can help to simulate the Socratic Method experience outside of class. This is where having a study partner can really come in handy. After you both have read for class and created your case briefs, you can take turns quizzing each other as if you were the professor. Sometimes the experience of having to give your answers aloud to someone else, even if it doesn’t involve the same pressure that you feel in the classroom, can help you get used to being put on the spot and speaking confidently about what you have studied.

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Filed under General, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Time Management and Law School Success

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One quality that successful law students have is effective time management skills. Time management is important not only because you have to be able to manage your time in order to get everything done in law school but also because it can help to reduce your stress and keep your priorities (both academic and personal) in focus.

Regardless of whether you are a full-time or part-time student, you should approach law school as a job with regular hours. Create a schedule for yourself. The schedule should allow you to see what you need to be doing hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and month by month, throughout the entire semester. Some students choose to keep an electronic planner, accessible on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Others use hardbound organizer or academic calendar.

Whether you choose an electronic calendar or hard copy organizer, here are some things to keep in mind as you create your schedule:

  • Set aside time for everything you need to do during the day: your classes, work schedule, and any other commitments that you have outside of law school. Don’t forget about time traveling to and from school as well, especially if you have a significant commute.
  • Block out study time for each of your classes. The general rule of thumb is that you should spend approximately three hours outside of class studying for each hour that you spend in class. For example, if you have Torts on Mondays for one and a half hours, you will then need to schedule at least four and a half hours to read and brief cases for that class. As a new law student, you may find that it takes you even longer at first to get through your assignments, as you are still learning some of the foundational things you need to be successful in each of your classes. This is very different from most students’ experience in undergrad, where assignments could usually be completed in much less time. If you do not schedule enough time to prepare for each of your classes, you will fall behind in your studies, and it will be difficult to catch back up.
  • As you schedule time to study, ask yourself: “When is my brain most alert? Do I remember things better first thing in the morning, or am I rejuvenated and ready to tackle difficult reading for several hours in the evening after I go running or go to the gym?” Schedule your most difficult tasks for the times that you are freshest, and you will maximize your use of your time.
  • Don’t forget to set aside time in your schedule to take good care of yourself. Set aside time for meals, exercise, and breaks. You will come back to your studies refreshed and much more ready to tackle the difficult cases if you schedule this type of time into your day.

Make sure that you periodically reassess your schedule. You may find that your reading in certain classes goes faster than others, or that there are weeks when you need to schedule in more time to work on a Legal Writing assignment. Tweaking your schedule will maximize its effectiveness.

 

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Keeping Priorities in Focus When Starting Law School

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In only a couple more months, many of you will be heading off to law school for the first time. As we have discussed previously, your first semester of law school will be an intense, demanding experience. When we are extremely busy, it can be easy to lose sight of the things that are our greatest priorities—especially if we have not made conscious decisions regarding what our priorities actually are. Regardless of your background and experiences, the summer before you start law school can be a great time to evaluate your priorities and make sure that they are front and foremost in your mind as law school begins.

So what do I mean when I talk about “priorities”? Priorities are the things that we value the most. They can include personal goals we have, such as financial goals, educational goals, or other things we want to achieve. They can include relationships—friendships, romantic relationships, and family relationships. Priorities may include things like our physical and mental health, religious beliefs, or other tangible or intangible things that have value to us. Priorities are very personal—the things that are most important to you may not be the same for someone else.

While we may have a number of general priorities, usually there are four or five priorities that are most important to us. Moreover, sometimes priorities change over time, and it is a good idea to evaluate priorities periodically to make sure that they still reflect what is most important to you. This summer, take the time to decide what your highest priorities are.

Once you have made deliberate decisions about what your priorities are, keep them in mind as you start law school. When you are creating a schedule of what you want to accomplish, make sure that your highest priorities are not edged out by activities that don’t contribute to those priorities or are less important. When you are deciding whether you should commit to something else in your busy day, such as a club or other extracurricular activity, measure it against your priorities to see if it will support them. Make sure that one priority does not eclipse other things that are important in your life.

If you have consciously identified your most important priorities, you can use them as a compass to keep you on the right path when life gets busy. Keep your priorities in focus as you get ready for law school in the fall!

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Law Student Voices: Finding Balance in Law School

 

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One of the most difficult tasks for a law student at any stage of law school is to find balance. It is easy to succumb to the many long hours of studying and school-related activities. However, focusing on law school to the exclusion of everything else can be a recipe for disaster. One key ingredient to law school success is taking affirmative steps to care for your mental and physical health.

In our first year legal writing class, we were taught the importance of incubation. Incubation is a period of time, after saturating your brain with research, when you go do something non-law related to allow your brain to make the subconscious connections that cannot be made while actively thinking about a problem. Allowing your brain to quiet for a short period of time can lead to that pivotal moment where the solution to your problem becomes clear. Personally, I took this advice and applied it to all aspects of law school. When life gets overwhelming, I do something active—usually running—in order to re-group and recharge. I also run one mile with a friend before every exam. This helps us to get out some of our physical anxiety and gives us a few minutes for mental preparation. Each person has to choose an activity that fits their life. Even though running is what works for me, for others it may be meditation, yoga, creative writing, reading for pleasure, going on a date with your significant other, seeing a movie, etc.— anything enjoyable that is not law-school related. Obviously, this technique will not work if you let it take away from your studies. But allowing yourself a short break will keep your brain sharp and fresh, ready to dominate the mental gymnastics of law school.

It’s also important for law students to pay attention to their sleep and diet. Busy schedules and dedication to excellence can lead to poor eating and sleeping habits. These two things are very important to mental health. It will be more difficult to pay attention in class or create outlines if you are exhausted. You will spend your energy trying to stay awake rather than absorbing the material. Sleeping enough and eating well will keep your energy up and provide the endurance to keep pushing forward on your law school journey.

My colleagues frequently ask how I have time to run with all the demands of law school. My answer is always the same, how can I not? I know I owe it to myself to take care of my body and my mind, so I find the time. This is my challenge to you: Take care of yourselves, make the time!

This post was authored by Amanda M. Fisher, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

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Taking the Terror Out of Oral Arguments

It’s that time in the semester where law students are preparing for oral arguments in legal writing and appellate advocacy courses or moot court competitions. Students often tell me that they are terrified of oral arguments. Although oral arguments can be intimidating at first if you don’t have much experience–especially if you don’t enjoy public speaking–there are things that you can do to reduce the stress associated with oral arguments and maximize your academic success.

First–and I’m sure you’ve heard it from your professors already–the key is preparation and practice. There is no substitute for preparation, no magic pill that helps you to skip to the front of the line. You must be the “expert” on your oral argument viewpoint. After you have prepared, practice your oral argument until it feels natural. It can also help to practice with friends, asking each other hard questions to simulate the oral argument experience.

Second, imagine your worst case scenarios and develop an action plan for how you will address each challenge if it happens. For example, students often ask me, “What should I do if the judges ask me about a case I have never heard of or haven’t read?” To address this challenge, you might develop an answer like this: “Your Honor, I haven’t had the opportunity to consider X case in light of the issues presented here. I would be happy to submit a supplemental brief in response to this question if Your Honor desires it.” Anticipating possible challenges and determining in advance how you will respond in those situations can reduce stress, take away the fear, and help you respond appropriately if that situation does arise.

Finally, for students who feel intimidated by the judges, it can help to reframe how you think of oral arguments. Think of oral arguments as a type of conversation. Questions are an opportunity for you, not something scary. The person asking you the question is giving you guidance about what information he or she needs to make a decision. If you think about questions using this approach, they become less intimidating–instead, they will be a helpful tool for accomplishing your goals in your argument.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

Surviving Law School Bullies

Today I want to talk about one of the uglier aspects of the law school experience–law school bullying. We’ve all had experience with bullying, whether as a victim, a witness to bullying incidents, or even as a bully yourself. The competitive law school environment can feed bullying. Students are targeted by bullies for a number of reasons, including their academic strengths or weaknesses (real or perceived); physical appearance or characteristics; race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or ethnicity; physical disabilities; learning disabilities; mental health; or any other of a host of reasons. As we’ve learned from media coverage of issues related to bullying, such as Anderson Cooper’s documentary special, The Bully Effect, on CNN, the consequences of bullying can be devastating. Bullying can demoralize, humiliate, and isolate its victims. It can affect your mental health, motivation to be in law school, confidence in your own abilities, and desire to interact with those around you. I’m not saying that you should not feel upset or be affected by bullying–your feelings are valid and important. But there are things that you can do as a law student to survive–even thrive–despite the bullying. So if you are bullied by your law school classmates, what can you do about it? Here are a few (nonexclusive) suggestions:

First, understand that you are not alone. You are not the only law student who has been bullied. There’s a reason why I felt that writing this post was important, and that’s because so many students experience it. Moreover, it’s important to understand that not everyone is against you. Bullies are vocal and, as a result, tend to make us feel like everyone thinks the same way about us. But, in reality, bullies are a minority. They don’t speak for most students. Be careful not to adopt an “everyone is against me mentality.”

Second, help is out there. You don’t have to go through bullying alone. There are people at your law school who will support you if you reach out to them–professors, deans, academic support professionals, counselors. We don’t want our law schools to be a climate in which bullying is acceptable, and we will do whatever we can to support you and stop the bullying. But we’re not always in a position to see bullying firsthand. Give us the opportunity to help you and others by letting us know what is going on. We also know of additional resources that may be helpful to you if bullying affects your ability to focus on your academic success and mental and physical wellbeing. We want you to succeed–not just in law school but in life. Take advantage of our willingness to help.

Third, remind yourself that, although bullying is very personal to you (of course it is–how can it not be, when you’re the one feeling its effects?), it often reflects the bully’s personal insecurities as well. Many bullies try to feel better about their own insecurities by putting other people down. In that way, they are really signaling to you how they feel about themselves, rather than how they feel about you. Although it may not make bullying any more pleasant, and it certainly doesn’t make it any more acceptable, that understanding can help you to maintain a sense of perspective so that you can move beyond the bullying experience and focus on your own academic and professional success.

I also want to speak to those witnesses of law school bullying. Don’t stay silent when you see bullying taking place. Speak up! Don’t tolerate bullying among your fellow students. You are our future lawyers–if you do not stand up in these types of situations, who will? And even if you do not feel comfortable speaking out, at least reach out to fellow students who have been bullied and show them that they are not alone.

Finally, a word for law school bullies: Bullying is not acceptable for anyone, but certainly not for future lawyers. It does not reflect the personal character demanded by our profession.

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Predicting the Future

Law students hear constant reminders about the need to outline their courses. Often students approach outlining as a chore that must be done, but they don’t understand why outlining is so valuable. As we’ve discussed previously, outlining helps law students to gain a deeper understanding of the law and synthesize various course materials. Today, I want to talk about how to use outlining to predict the future. Most law students don’t realize that they can use a well-developed outline to predict the types of legal issues that will appear on the exam.

So how can you do this? In “Perfecting the Law School Outline,” I stated that the first step to creating a strong outline is to organize it around legal issues rather than cases.  I also described the various categories of information that should be included in the outline. For purposes of prediction, some of the most important categories of information include: policy arguments; competing approaches to the same legal issue (such as majority vs. minority approaches, or common law/Restatement/Uniform Commercial Code); legal issues where there are a range of cases and hypotheticals illustrating complexity in how courts apply the law; and observations about how one legal issue relates to other legal issues in your outline (for example, for your section on the tort of negligence, you might note that defenses and other legal concepts such as contributory/comparative negligence, joint and several liability, vicarious liability, etc. may also apply).

Professors like to test the nuances in the law—areas where there are competing approaches, shifting outcomes based upon facts or policy approaches, and fact patterns that require students to recognize how a series of related legal issues must be addressed in the essay. If, when you create your outline, you look for those nuances for each legal issue and include relevant, focused information about those categories of information, you will be able to identify possible exam topics. Questions will be less surprising to you, and you will have already thought about that legal issue in a context that will be more applicable to the exam. Specifically, you will have organized the law in a way that allows you to more easily access it for exam purposes (in other words, anticipating part of the IRAC/CREAC/TREAC format for legal analysis). The result of outlining in this way is less time thinking and organizing once you are in the exam, giving you more time to demonstrate your understanding and ability to apply legal concepts.

In the end, a good outline is a way of taking more control over your learning process. Doing the hard work during the outlining process translates into less stress and better outcomes.

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