To succeed in law school, make use of all of your resources: physical, psychological, emotional, social, financial, and educational. We have provided some resources and advice for getting into such a mindset.
Tips for Mastering Rule Application
Reaching the correct conclusion in the law depends on interpreting statutory language (rules) and applying those rule to the facts given. A common mistake is not going deep enough into the analysis by failing to be explicit in your writing and thinking.
1. Read carefully
Be sure you are considering what each word means (and what it doesn't mean) and how it relates to the rest of the rule.
2. Words are important
Many statutes provide definitions. If a statute defines its own terms, be sure to notice, understand, and apply that definition.
Connect the facts to the rule. Do not take anything for granted; even if something seems obvious, you need to use the facts to prove it. If a professor puts certain facts into a question, they are likely meaningful.
You should start with the most determinative fact in your case/hypothetical—something that would be used by a court in its holding— and explain why that fact matters.
4. Show your work
Your professor cannot award points for something that you didn’t write. Be sure you “show your work.” Remember, the conclusion is not as important as how you got there.
Show the reader how the facts at hand compare to the facts in the precedent: comparing facts to facts.
Don’t over generalize—strive for precision.
5. Practice & Assess
If you want to get better, be sure to do plenty of practice questions and take the time to self-assess what you are doing well and what you can improve.
Positive Self Talk
We all talk to ourselves! But it's what we say to ourselves that really matters.
Make a point of building yourself up and not putting yourself down. When you talk to yourself, ask yourself if you would talk to a friend in the same way. It’s always important to remind yourself of other tough things in life you have dealt with—and overcome.
Motivation, Routines, and Distractions
Metacognition involves understanding what you know and do not yet know in order to allow you to understand and monitor your own learning. Be aware that, just like in law practice, the same strategies do not work every time and in every situation. Experiment and reflect to figure out what works best for you. The more approaches you try when learning, the better, because each approach creates more connections in your brain, thereby strengthening the pathways that move information into your long-term-memory.
Because the practice of law is ever-changing, successful lawyers must be self-regulated learners. Similarly, the key to efficient and effective studying requires continuous engagement in the self-regulated learning cycle.
This means you need to be:
flexible (don't be afraid to try different strategies),
Planning & Forethought
Plan early for what bar prep will look like. This will free up time and energy to focus on studying.
set realistic goals,
develop strategies early on, know what to expect,
come up with a workable routine that has enough flexibility to work for you and meet your other responsibilities
This is the "doing" stage where you are engaged in active studying by putting the plan into action.
Reflection can come in many forms, including keeping a learning journal or spreadsheet. It is imperative to continue to continue to compare performance to model answers, and identify the reasons for your performance. It there are shortcomings, make adjustments to your learning strategies.
When engaging in self-reflection, take the time to determine the cause of the outcomes.
Continual self assessment will provide ongoing opportunities to make adjustments and improve.
Time is a limited resource. Lawyers charge for their time, often billing clients in six-minute increments, so it is important to make every minute count beginning in law school.
Time management is a very individualized process. Some people work best in the morning, others in the evening. Some people can concentrate best on tasks by shifting back and forth between tasks for variety; others require sustained blocks of time to concentrate on one subject. Some of us require more sleep than others; some have family or community responsibilities. The bottom line is that time must be managed according to individual needs and goals.
It is common for law students and bar takers to immerse themselves in study. They feel as though they are walking, talking, sleeping, eating, and breathing nothing but the law. Many highly motivated students neglect to take time off. The inevitable result for all but a few is burn out! Make time for yourself. Your legal studies and bar prep demand a lot of your time, but they do not require ALL your time.
Time Management in Law School
Be realistic about the intensive time demands of law school. For every credit hour you are enrolled, you should spend 2-3 hours outside of class. At first, you should schedule more hours (3 hours for every hour in class) because preparing for class will take longer as you learn to efficiently read cases.
Planning your time:
Start with 168 hours in the week
allocate 16 hours to your class time
33-45 hours outside of class on school work for reading/review/practice
56 hours of sleep per week (8 hours/night)
This still leave 51-63 hours of free time
Still, when planning your time in law school, you need to be flexible. You may build an "ideal" schedule, but things inevitably change. Over time, you will become better at estimating how long tasks take. Every student is different. Based on your unique skill set, you may require more or less time than other students.
In the first weeks of law school, much of your time will be spent on "preparing" for class, such as reading and briefing. As the semester progresses, you will prioritize other activities like outlining and practice questions. It doesn't mean that you will spend more hours as the semester progresses, only that you will become more efficient as you get more comfortable.
Track your time:
No matter how much you plan, you may not be spending your time the way you think.
Clockify is a free time tracking tool to easily keep track of your time.
While there are many benefits to take-home exams, they can be difficult to master, so it is important to take a strategic approach. In order to maximize your chances of success, here are some strategies for take-home exams.
1. Know the Material.
Success on law school exams is about more than memorization. You need to show not just what you know, but how you can apply the law. Work on demonstrating your ability to make excellent arguments by doing practice questions in advance.
Although you will have more time, this does not mean you can leisurely deconstruct an area of law you do not understand while the clock is ticking. You will not have time to “figure it out” or “study” if you do not know an entire sub-topic on the exam. You will not have time to read and understand the entire semester’s materials or watch entire lectures.
Still, take-home exams are open book, open note, open universe. You should use your study time to approach these exams strategically. Plan to use your tools in ways that will help you. If possible, set up multiple screens in your home to look at your notes, the exam, PowerPoints, and more, all at the same time. If the casebook publisher had a deal allowing you to download the book for electronic viewing, take advantage. This allows you to search for keywords in the book on your computer. You will also have access to everything on D2L, including the lectures—so if you’ve taken good notes you may even be able to fast forward through lectures to find exactly what you need.
Take the time to organize and synthesize your materials in advance to avoid wasting time you should be using for analysis searching for a rule, or worse—finding yourself in a situation where you cannot find what you need during the exam. Test your ability to quickly, locate the rules and concepts you will need by practicing using the same materials you will use during the exam.
2. Follow the instructions.
Know the honor code and any administrative rules—and adhere to them. Know the expectations of the exam. This includes the Honor Code (are you allowed to talk with your classmates, professors, or do internet research?), logistics (How many hours are given for completion? What page limits or format requirements apply? How do you turn in your exam?), as well as the instructions in the exam questions individually (i.e. answering the call of the question asked).
You are not likely to receive bonus points for spotting issues that were not asked about, and you may lose points if the grading rubric includes the ability to sort relevant from irrelevant facts.
3. Do not expect it to be easy.
Students often make the flawed assumption that take-home exams will be easier. Research has shown that students perform better and retain information longer on in-class versus take-home exams. A 2003 Virginia Tech study showed when faced with uncertainty about what would be tested on in-class, closed-universe exams, students prepared more thoroughly, whereas the take-home exam group spent their time searching for the answers.
Because there is less time pressure, professors will expect a deeper understanding of the material and a demonstration of your legal analysis competencies.
4. Just because you have more time does not mean you need to use it.
Professors draft exams with specific issues in mind. Even though they are grading pass/fail, they still do not want to spend time finding a needle in a haystack because you included everything you learned in the course rather than answering the specific question asked. As a reminder from #2, be sure you adhere to any word limits in the instructions—with more time, staying within the word limit can be challenging. Be warned that some professors (and judges!) stop reading at the word limit; others deduct points, so never underestimate the importance of adhering to the rules and limitations of the exam.
5. Keep Track of Your Time
First, avoid procrastination! The more time you have to worry, the more pressure you will put on yourself. Time goes by quickly, even if it seems like you have more than you need. If given a long window to complete your exam, you should not wait until the last moment to get started. Avoid falling into the thinking that you “have two days” mentality. If technology (or something else) goes wrong, you will suffer for your procrastination. Getting an early start may also provide extra time to review and edit your answers.
Time Management is key. When you begin your exam, create a schedule for the time allotted. Be sure you are realistic. You will not perform at your best if your schedule requires you to work for 48 hours straight. Make a time chart for the exam that matches the time allotted. For example, if you are given two-hours to complete 60 multiple-choice questions, you should check in every 20 minutes or so to be sure you are only taking 2 minutes per question. If you are given a lengthy period to complete the exam, your time chart should include time for eating, sleeping, and breaks. Divide the remaining time proportionately among the total questions, taking into consideration the format of the exam.
6. Reduce Distractions
Try to find a quiet place with minimal distractions and set boundaries with your roommates and family by ensuring they know the importance of the exam. Try using a “signal” like hanging a piece of colored paper on your office door to communicate with your family or roommates that you need uninterrupted time for concentration.
Ensure you have everything you need to get through without interruption. This is not the time to trouble-shoot your technology, figure out how to search for words in your notes, or realize that textbook you couldn’t figure out how to download would in fact, be useful (see #1).
Reduce distractions. Leave your cellphone in the other room and turn off the Netflix that you sometimes have playing in the background. Avoid your social media and internet—if you cannot resist temptation, download a free website blocker or ask a friend to change your passwords until after the exam. Take time to clear physical distractions. Likewise, you should clear your workspace in advance. Arrange your work area to minimize distractions. Physical clutter can lead to decision fatigue every time you reduce the urge to get up and clean. So, take steps to ensure your pile of laundry is not calling your name in the middle of your Property Exam.
7. Focus on the benefits
Mindset and emotions can influence your ability to learn. As much as you can, focus on the positives rather than the negatives to increase your chances of success. There are many benefits of take-home exams. Among them, you have the benefit of being able to read your exam answer aloud to clue you in to how your writing sounds, help you catch critical grammatical errors, and might jog your memory in a new way. You might have a more relaxing, private environment that may provide fewer distractions than a busy exam room. You may be able to schedule your exam time around the best distraction-free time for your productivity. You have the ability to study in the same environment that you will be taking the test, which might create visual cues to trigger memories during the exam. Finally, you are getting practical experience—this type of exam replicates what attorneys do in practice and will give you practice looking up laws, identifying issues, and evaluating facts in light of applicable rules without having to memorize the rules.
8. Self-care is key to exam success
Exam period is no time to skimp on self-care, especially when take-home exams can add the additional pressure of unlimited time to overthink your answer. Be aware of your health and well-being. Be sure you get enough sleep, as it is directly related to memory and cognition. Sleep improves focus, attention, and decision-making, so you are not doing yourself any favors missing sleep before an exam. Fuel your body with healthy foods that will give you sustained energy rather than a sugar crash mid-IRAC. Be sure you are drinking enough. Not alcohol—water. Take short breaks if you need to (and do not feel bad about it—research shows that short breaks between longer working sessions results in an improvement in mental awareness and focus). Be sure to get movement and sunshine every day. This primes your brain for learning and reduces anxiety. Taking a 10-minute walk around the block at the mid-point of a lengthy exam can help keep your brain more sharp for the rest of the exam.
Do not forget to continue with your self-care after exam time, as you will not be able to take care of your future clients if you do not take good care of yourself.