You all have been successful students as undergraduates (otherwise you would not be here). Law school often brings new challenges and strains requiring you to call upon a different skill set than you may have used before. You can adapt and succeed by starting off with a good plan.
Success in law school begins with knowing how to effectively and efficiently learn a large amount of, often new, material. Once you learn the material, it is necessary to organize and apply, through practice, the material. To achieve both it is vital to:
- Maintain balance
- Be prepared for class
- Attend class faithfully
- Review course material regularly
- Consider joining an effective study group
- Visit your professors and academic success fellows
- Create your own study tools and outlines
- Take practice exams
- Manage your time wisely
- Seek help if you need it
You can no longer take your physical or emotional health for granted. Although you will be spending most of your time on classes and studying, you need to set some time in your schedule for family, friends and other important outside activities.
- Do not cut down on the amount of sleep you need to feel good.
- Eat wisely and regularly.
- Make sure you have health insurance.
- Schedule time for fun.
- Make time for exercise.
Be Prepared For Class
You should expect to spend two to three hours of time outside class for every hour you spend in class. You may find the material very difficult and confusing at times, but this does not mean you are stupid. After struggling with the material, ask for help from your professor and from your study group. If, after spending three hours on an assignment, you are still very confused, it is time to move on; do not sacrifice your other subjects or your sleep time. You will probably never feel completely prepared for any class. No matter how well you have prepared, a good professor will be able to challenge you further with new approaches. You are being taught, among other things, to tolerate ambiguity.
- Read the assignment closely.
- Brief cases (don’t use canned briefs as a substitute).
- Watch those note cases.
- Review your briefs right before class.
Go To Class
The student who has a pattern of missing classes is in trouble. As an undergraduate, you may have been able to cut class and still do well. Law school is different. Class discussion can give you insight into how the professor approaches key concepts, what the professor thinks is important, and what you might expect to see on the exam.
- Most students do better to sit in the front half of the room; if you can’t (or prefer not to) sit there, be especially careful to keep yourself focused.
- Take effective notes. Try using a laptop to take notes. (No playing solitaire!)
- Contribute thoughtfully to class discussion.
- Listen actively.
- Hang out for a few minutes after class if the professor stays to field questions
Many students skip this vital step. You should build the review process into your study schedule. Some students find it helpful to update their course outlines on a weekly basis as well. The important thing is not to leave your review process until the end of the semester because there is so much complex material to master that you simply cannot cram for exams. You may think that you do not have time for this step, but time spent on review can make your regular studying go faster because you will understand the subjects better.
- Take time each day to review the notes you took in class that day.
- When you are preparing for class, take a few minutes to review the topics your professor just covered before moving on to study a new topic.
- At the end of the week, take time for to review what you did that week in each class.
Consider Joining a Study Group
Even if you have always studied on your own until now, you may want to try studying some of the time in a group during the first year of law school.
- Try to keep your group small: two to four members is plenty
- Do not worry whether the other members of your group are “smart” or “dumb”
- Look for partners that will contribute a proportionate share of the discussion
- Look for partners who are compatible with you in terms of academic goals and work habits
- If a group is not working for you, leave
Visit Your Professors And Academic Success Fellows
Each of your professors, and their respective academic success fellows, will announce office hours. Take advantage of this opportunity to increase your understanding, especially if you are having trouble in a particular class. Although at times you may wish you could fade into the woodwork, the fact is that getting to know your professors—and getting them to know you—outside of class can help you in many ways. When you go to see a professor, try to come with fairly specific and well-formulated questions. The process of trying to formulate your questions will prepare you to get more out of the conference.
Create Your Own Study Tools; Use Commercial Study Aids Wisely
Although your completed outlines serve as an excellent study aid, the greatest benefit of an outline is the process of creating it. In the course of creating the outline you must take the chaotic and voluminous course materials and reduce them into an organized and concise study tool. It is through this process of manipulating the course material that you learn. While canned outlines and briefs can offer you an “easy fix” and a surface level knowledge of the material, you are cheating yourself out of the in-depth mastery of the material you need to ace the exam.
Take Practice Exams
Most professors put prior exams on the LRC website. Make copes of these prior exams for each of your professors, and take these practice exams. The more practice exams you take, the more comfortable you will be at exam time because you will have written on the issues before, gauged how much time it takes to address certain issues, and developed a plan of attack for the essay exams.
- Take the exams under exam conditions. (You can start by practicing under untimed and open-book conditions to gain confidence.)
- Critique your practice exam answers; exchange answers and discuss them with a study partner
- Watch for additional practice exams materials from academic success fellows
Manage Your Time
Put law school as a top priority during your first year so you can focus on doing well academically. You will have more time for outside activities during your upper-division years.
- Make a study schedule and keep to it.
- Use scheduled study time effectively—get rid of tempting distractions.
- Don’t miss a deadline—it will cost you. (Late penalties can result in a low grade in Legal Writing and Research I and II.)
Seek Help If You Need It
Don’t wait! At the first hint that you’re struggling, seek help. Don’t be brave and silent! Ask for help from: the Academic Support Program, your professors, your academic success fellows or mentors, and the USD Counseling Center. You have many resources available to you—use them!
Please email Kiyana Kiel, call (619) 260-6876 or stop by Warren Hall, Room 206.