Tag Archives: study schedules

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.



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

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.




Filed under General, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

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