I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester Of Law School. What Should I Do?
I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester Of Law School. What Should I Do?: So you didn’t do well in your first semester of law school? That’s okay! Think of law school as a marathon, not a sprint. No one expects you to practice like a seasoned attorney after one semester. You still have plenty of time to develop and hone the skills necessary to succeed in the legal field, and thus you should not panic if you feel you’ve fallen behind your peers. However, you should use this first semester as a learning experience and evaluate what went wrong so that you can make changes for the upcoming semesters.
The format and pressures of law school are very different than what most experience as an undergraduate. It is completely normal to need some time to adjust. Success in law school can be heavily tied to the strength of one’s outlining skills, reviewing skills, and discipline to practice exams, but unfortunately many come in to law school completely unsure how to succeed.
I Didn’t Do Well My First Semester Of Law School. What Should I Do?
If you didn’t do well your first semester of law school, see if any of these apply to you:
1. Did you use a poor outlining strategy?
It is quite possible that a poor outlining strategy was the culprit. Maybe you started outlining too late and ended up scrambling by the end of the semester to finish. This leaves you with very little time to review and absorb the material.
It is important to remember that in a time-sensitive exam situation, you can’t afford to waste precious time flipping through your entire outline looking for the answer to every question. The process of making your outline is designed to help you learn the material, ideally to the extent that you don’t even need it at all on exam day. If you’re frantically outlining up until the last minute and don’t get the chance to review and process what you have written, then the outlining process hasn’t served its objective and you won’t be as prepared for the exam as you could have been. And with your exam score making up nearly all of your final grade, another practice that is likely unfamiliar to many, the consequences of a poor exam are severe.
If you felt crunched for time leading up to the finals period, try starting the outlining process earlier in the semester. After all, the earlier you start outlining in the semester, the earlier you can start learning your outline.
Starting early will give you enough time to produce a quality outline while still allowing you time just before the exam to review. You’ll feel confident walking in on the day of your test, which can do wonders for your score in itself!
2. Did you not prepare effectively each day?
It is important to remember that outlining on its own is not enough. If you didn’t do well in your first semester, maybe you need to put more effort into preparing for class each day. You cannot expect to learn an entire semester’s worth of material just in the time you spent outlining. After all, it’s not just one final exam you are preparing for – it is four, sometimes even five! That is far too much information for your brain to process in a short period of time. The outlining process is meant to be a refresher of concepts you’ve already learned during the semester.
Keeping up with the pace your professors have set for the class might seem nearly impossible, but they are trying to expose you to everything you might see on the final, and they recognize the importance of keeping you actively involved. You are much more efficient at outlining when seeing a concept, or a phrase triggers a memory of what you already read and learned. Perhaps you remember your professor’s funny example, or a case with facts that just seemed so outrageous. Regardless, your outline becomes simpler because you will already understand the law. You don’t have to duplicate every detail that was in your notes or your book; it’s already stored in the most important place – your brain!
If you are unsure of what to put in your outline, please see this post on an in depth guide to outlining.
3. Did you not complete any practice exams?
Whenever we hear the complaint “I didn’t do well my first semester of law school” it is almost always true that the student did not complete any practice exams!
Many students make the mistake of only working on learning the material prior to the exam rather than working on exams. It is important, of course, to know the material cold. But what separates the “A” students from the “B” students is that “A” students practice exams early and practice often!
If you practice exams, you will find that your professor’s exam is likely similar to past exams they have written. You will also become superior at issue-spotting and you will be able to better recite commonly-tested rules. Further, you will be less anxious when you walk in to take an exam because you will have already completed several exams by that time. So it won’t seem so “new” to you!
If you are looking for tips on how to take practice exams, please see this post!
4. Did you burn out?
Doing poorly in your first semester can just as easily be the result of too much effort than not enough. Maybe you worked yourself too hard, and you were burned out by the time you took your finals. The stress of this new experience can be extreme. You’re in unfamiliar territory with new people, new subjects, and more work than you think can possibly be finished! It is important to find a routine that works for you – one that allows you to keep up with your assignments while still taking time for yourself.
Some people like to begin outlining right at the beginning and continue as the semester progresses. This is generally what we recommend for reasons mentioned above. (Although you do not want to do it at the expense of falling behind in class!)
Some like to write out case briefs for each assigned case as they come to it. That also takes time, however, and maybe you would be better off “briefing” your cases in your book through highlighting and annotations (book briefing).
5. Find a strategy that works for you!
No matter what others are doing, it is important to find the learning strategies that work best for YOU. If you didn’t do well in your first semester, you just haven’t found the right ones yet. But don’t let that make you even more stressed out, there’s still plenty of time! Try something different this semester and see if that makes a difference. Don’t get discouraged – you made it this far for a reason! The path to your success in law school is out there, you just have to find it!
This post was written by Laura Sigler, who graduated cum laude from Wayne State University Law School in 2016.