DO THE READING. Do all of the reading assigned for your courses. Do not fall behind; you may never catch up. Do your reading at times of the day when you are most alert. Also, do your reading in a location where you will not be distracted or tempted to do something else. Otherwise, you will find that it takes you far longer than necessary to prepare for class.
BRIEF THE CASES. Take notes while reading. For each assigned case, write down the legally significant facts, the holding of the case, and the rationale for the court’s decision. This is what is referred to as “briefing” cases. Your case briefs should be just that-brief.
REVIEW BEFORE EACH CLASS. Review your reading notes (case briefs) right before class. That way, the cases will be fresh in your mind, and you will substantially increase your ability to follow the class discussion (not to mention avoid the embarrassment associated with being unprepared when called upon by the professor).
GO TO CLASS. Most professors cover some material in class that is not discussed in the reading, so failure to attend class will put you at a big disadvantage when you take the final exam. Also, you will receive an “FW” if you miss more than 20% of the sessions of a course. This is factored into your grade point average as an “F” and is never removed from your academic record, even if you retake the course.
PAY ATTENTION IN CLASS. Some misguided students use class time to shop on the Internet, play computer games or catch up on their e-mail. You are paying a substantial amount of money for tuition. Do you really want to spend your tuition money “surfing the net” or playing computer solitaire instead of paying attention to the class discussion?
PARTICIPATE IN CLASS. Students learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process.
TAKE CLASS NOTES. Do not, however, get so caught up in trying to take down everything your professor says that you are not actively engaged in the class discussion. Review your class notes before starting your next reading assignment and analyze how the new cases you read affect those cases you already have reviewed in class.
PREPARE AN OUTLINE FOR EACH OF YOUR CLASSES. Outlines prepared by more senior students or commercial outlines are not acceptable substitutes for making your own outlines. The analysis necessary to prepare a course outline helps you determine the rules of law applicable to the subject matter of the course, as well as determine how the rules relate to one another. If you do not go through this process, you are less likely to master the subject matter. Also, not all professors teach a subject the same way. In fact, many professors do not even teach a course the same way from one year to the next. The only way to get an outline tailored to your course is to make it yourself. Do NOT wait until the reading period to prepare your outlines; you’ll never get them done in time. Some students like to outline once per week, others once per month. Still others prefer to outline whenever a topic is completed. Pick whatever schedule works best for you and stick to it.
CONSIDER FORMING A STUDY GROUP. Study groups can be a valuable learning tool. Talking through material with classmates can increase your understanding and retention of course material. You also can obtain helpful study tips from your peers. If you decide to form a study group, seek out other students who are well-prepared for class and have similar academic goals. Do not let your study group meetings become social or gossip sessions. Also, do not use study groups as a way of sharing the workload. Lastly, if you find that you are not benefiting from your study group, resign from the group.
REVIEW, REVIEW, REVIEW. Just because you don’t have an exam until the end of the semester does not mean that you should wait until the reading period to begin your review. This is not undergraduate school. You cannot cram right before finals and get good grades. Therefore, make time for frequent review over the course of the semester.
ATTEND REVIEW SESSIONS CONDUCTED BY YOUR PROFESSORS AND/OR THEIR ACADEMIC FELLOWS. Some professors and/or Academic Fellows hold review sessions prior to exams. This is a great way to clarify the issues about which you are confused without having to stand in line outside your professor’s office. Moreover, helpful tips regarding how to write your exam answers in a way that will earn you the most points are often shared during review sessions.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FEEDBACK FROM YOUR PROFESSORS. If your professor distributes a practice question and says that she will review your answer if you submit it by a certain time, DO IT! This is a great opportunity to get your professor’s input and make any necessary adjustments before your performance is graded.
ATTEND THE WORKSHOPS CONDUCTED BY THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT CENTER. These workshops cover a number of topics such as outlining, time and stress management, and how to prepare for and write law school exams-skills essential to success in law school.
TAKE PRACTICE EXAMS. Lots of them. Exams previously administered by your professor are preferable. This will help you determine how your professor drafts his or her exams. The Fowler School of Law Library maintains a number of prior exams prepared by law professors. Whenever possible, select a prior exam for which there is a sample answer on file. This will allow you to check your answer against the sample and evaluate your performance. If there is no sample answer on file, ask you professor if he/she will review and comment on your answer. Do not, however, wait until right before finals to ask your professor to review your answer. The earlier you ask, the more likely your professor will have time to review your answer.
CREATE A STUDY PLAN. Many students complain that they do not have enough time to brief cases, prepare outlines and/or take practice exams. They’re wrong! By planning your time in advance, you will have enough time to meet all of the demands of law school and have time to enjoy some outside activities. If you need help managing your time, see Professor Faulkner.
DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO PREPARE YOUR LRW PAPERS. Again, this is not undergraduate school. You cannot throw a paper together the night before it is due and expect to receive a good grade (or for that matter, a passing grade). Good legal writing takes time and lots of editing so start working on your LRW assignments as soon as possible.
REVIEW YOUR EXAMS. Meet with your professors to review your exams after grades have been posted. This is the best way to determine what you did well and what you need to improve.
MINIMIZE YOUR STRESS. Law school can be stressful, but there are a number of steps you can take to keep stress to a minimum. Humor is a great stress reliever. Make time for exercise-carrying 100 pounds of law books every day doesn’t count. Eat fruit, vegetables, and whole grain foods on a regular basis-a diet Coke and a package of Ding-Dongs are not a balanced breakfast. Don’t overdo your caffeine intake; drink lots of water instead. Get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Maintain a life outside of law school. You don’t need to give up all of the things you enjoyed doing before you went to law school; you just won’t be able to do them as often. Finally, if you think that your stress level is getting out of control, talk about it with your significant other, a family member, a close friend, a faculty member, one of the law school Deans, or Professor Faulkner.
DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE COMPETITION ASPECT OF LAW SCHOOL. Face it. Only one student can finish at the top of the class. So instead of setting Numero Uno as your goal, focus on doing your very best. Also, be supportive of and respectful to your classmates. It will make for a more positive law school experience for you and your peers.
GET HELP IF YOU NEED IT. It is not uncommon for students to be confused about the substantive law covered in their classes, how to prepare for class, how to study for exams, how to manage their time or how to take law school exams. Indeed, it is the rare student who does not have questions about these subjects from time to time, particularly during the first year of law school. If you have questions, there are a number of resources available to you. Every professor holds weekly office hours. The Academic Fellows for your courses also are available to help you, as is Professor Faulkner. Please visit us if you have any questions. We’re here to help.