One of the biggest problems with being a new law school student is that you rarely have a chance to truly gage how you’re doing in your courses until the end. Of course, some professors offer midterms to help you understand what’s going on, but that’s not always a given. Additionally, you not only have to worry about mastering the topics, but more importantly you have to learn how to analyze, i.e. that elusive “thinking like a lawyer” thing.
My 1L year, by midway through, I felt really confident in my classes. I thought I was understanding the topics and could follow along with the discussion—I thought things were great. Then I took my exams and the results were not great. Aside from feeling like I was being kicked in the stomach, I felt major confusion. I understood the info, or so I thought, so what was the deal?
For me, it was the analysis portion. I hadn’t mastered IRAC and it made it difficult to lay out my arguments in a cohesive way that professors need. Don’t learn the hard way–understand that studying in law school is two-fold: the content and the assessment. You can’t excel without figuring out how to do both.
How can you ensure you’re working on both these skills during the semester so you’re not cramming a few weeks before finals?
Understanding the content is the first step. Evaluate yourself to make sure you understanding the elements for torts, the tests used in Con Law, etc. I’m going to offer a really obvious piece of advice that we usually don’t take and that is to understand the topic you need to actually listen in class. Shocking, I know because so many play it cool and surf the internet instead of paying attention. Don’t do that! Really listen to what the professor is offering and commit to memory the important stuff. Here is where I emphasize the importance of handwriting your lecture notes rather than typing…
Of course you don’t win anything just because you pay attention in class. Rather, are you actually understanding and picking up content from your readings while you study? It can be a struggle (and frustrating!) to get through a few pages. You may read a few pages and then realize you have no idea what you read. womp womp. Take the time to stop and assess during your study time. Ask yourself if you somewhat understand what’s happening before moving on to the next assignment. If not, take a break to reenergize and then start over. This is why case briefing is good for some people–it makes you pause and really assess a case before moving on.
Finally, figuring out how to present your answers is vital. Learn IRAC (or whatever your profs prefer). Go to study groups, visit TAs, take mock exams whatever it takes for you to master how you should formulate your answer because that will ultimately make a difference in your exams. If you can go into finals knowing how to present your argument, you’re halfway there.
I know finals seem far away, but law school is a marathon, not a sprint. Work on increasing your skills slowly, but steadily now rather than trying to learn everything the last few weeks of the semester.