How To Get Good Grades In Law School
You started law school, attended your first couple of weeks of classes, and are trying to stay caught up with studying. There is certainly no shortage of work to do! This begs the question, is all of the work you’re putting in now going to translate to success on final exams? In this blog post, we focus on how to get good grades in law school. Read on for some tips and tricks for law school success!
How To Get Good Grades In Law School
Be Aware of the Curve
No matter what law school you attend, you can almost guarantee that final exams during your 1L year are graded on a curve. This means that very few students will receive A’s, and it’s more likely that you’ll receive a B or C on your final exam. Keep in mind that the vast majority of law school students performed successfully during their undergraduate studies and did well on the LSAT. Not only are you a smart and hard-working student, but your peers are also smart and hard-working students as well. By studying smarter, you’re much more likely to get one of those coveted A’s on your final exam! We describe some smart study habits in more detail below.
Get Started on Legal Writing Assignments
With all of the reading assignments you have to do for your classes, sometimes legal writing classes become a second thought. Our first tip is not to procrastinate and give yourself plenty of time to complete your legal writing assignments. How can you prioritize your legal writing assignments? Try setting an internal due date a week before the assignment is due, and then work backward to see what you need to complete each week to meet that deadline. Working a week ahead will help ensure that you have enough time to finish the task and will allow you to avoid pulling an all nighter the night before the assignment is due.
What does sticking to a deadline that’s a week early help you to do? It ensures you have plenty of time to write and edit your assignment as well as visit office hours. For most students, legal writing is a new technique that requires some time to master so many first drafts require lengthy revisions. By giving yourself a due date that’s a week early, you will have enough time to substantially revise your assignment if needed. Depending on the assignment, the underlying legal concept may be difficult to grasp. By giving yourself some extra time, you can make some significant revisions after an office hours appointment in the event you’re on the wrong track!
Read Close to Class
As you plan your study schedule, it may be tempting to pick a day each week to complete the majority of your assigned readings. Be careful not to complete assigned readings too early. If you read and book brief your cases the morning of or the night before classes, the material will be fresh in your mind! With so many classes and different subjects to prepare for each week, it’s easy to mix up an evidence assignment with your civil procedure reading. By completing your reading close to class time, you’ll not only have the material fresh in your mind, but you’ll save the time of having to review material you read days ago before class.
Additionally, consider book briefing as you prepare for class. Many law students get so caught up writing full case briefs that they miss out on other core concepts. While briefing cases is a valuable skill that is worth perfecting the first couple of weeks of law school, it may be difficult to keep up with it as classes get into full swing. Instead, book briefing can be a faster method that still requires you to actively read class material and still helps prepare you for class and final exams.
How do you book brief a case? Using your case book, you can write notes in the margins, underline or highlight holdings and rule statements, and note portions of the analysis that will be useful should you need to reference the case at a later date. By taking notes in your book as you read, it is much less time consuming than compiling a case summary after you finish reading cases. We have a number of resources on how to book brief cases, so be sure to check those out!
Pay Attention in Class
This one might seem pretty obvious, but it’s still an important piece to helping you make the grade. Before we get into what to do during class, our single best advice is to make sure you attend class. It can be tempting to skip, especially when you otherwise feel overwhelmed with schoolwork or your clerkship position. With exams toward the end of the semester, skipping class might be easy knowing that it’s unlikely you’ll be missing out on a pop quiz or another way to earn points toward your final grade. Still, showing up to class is important!
Why is it important? Aside from helping you make sense of all of the reading assignments (and there are certainly no shortage of those!), professors use their own examples during lectures to provide insight into course materials. Since your professor also writes their own exam, it’s not unusual for in-class examples or some version of them to appear on the final exam! Attending class, paying attention in class, and taking notes that incorporate in-class examples will put you ahead come exam time!
Finally, when we refer to paying attention in class, we mean exactly that! If it’s more likely that you skim the latest headlines instead of focusing on your note-taking when using a laptop, consider handwriting your notes. If you find yourself scrolling through Instagram when your phone is near your laptop, put it in your backpack and out of sight. Make sure you’re taking the necessary steps so focusing and note-taking in class are your first priority!
Outline Outline Outline!
This tip will come as no surprise to those who regularly consult our blog or attend our prelaw and law school classes and seminars. We emphasize all of the time how important putting together an outline is and how it relates to success in law school. When it comes to outlining, we have two major pieces of advice: (1) put together your own outline and (2) start early.
Many students purchase commercial outlines only to find themselves using commercial outlines as their course outlines. Now, commercial outlines can be incredibly useful. They can help you make sense of certain rules or can help supplement course content. They are also an incredibly useful tool if you find yourself behind in class or significantly behind in creating your own outlines. That being said, the best outline to use for final exams is the outline that you create. After all, the outline you create is based on your class syllabus and notes. It will focus on what your professor discussed most in class and can include examples that your professor presented during lectures.
When should you begin outlining? Early! You can start incorporating your class notes and readings into your outline after the first day of class. If you incorporate outlining into your study schedule and craft your outline little pieces at a time, you will have an entire outline ready to go by the final exam reading period. This will allow you to focus your efforts on memorization and practice exams instead of trying to do all of this while still creating an outline.
Memorize the Law
Whether you are taking an open book or a closed book exam, this advice does not change! For a closed book exam, the reason why you need to memorize the law should be obvious. You need to be able to recite it on the exam, and you’ll have no resources available to you during the exam to do so.
For an open book exam, memorizing the law means that you’ll spend less time looking up rules which allows you to spend more time analyzing the fact pattern (resulting in a higher score). For an open book exam, remember that all students have time to look up rules and analogous cases. By committing rules to memory, you can score more points by identifying additional issues and providing a thorough analysis for each. Open book exams are tricky because professors are less impressed with any item you can simply “look up” during the exam. Instead, they want to see how you analyze the issues they present on the exam. Committing some rules to memory so you can spend more time issue-spotting and analyzing will help make you stand out on exam day!
Practice Makes Perfect
One of the best ways to know what to expect on final exams, and thus get good grades in law school, is to make sure you complete practice exams previously used by your professor. Where can you find practice exams? There are a few places to check!
Many professors provide old exams to students to use as a study tool as they prepare for final exams. These professors might pass them out to you during class or upload them on the course’s website or learning platform. Some professors make them accessible to students who attend review sessions. In any event, this is the easiest way to get your hands on practice final exams.
Some law schools also keep archives of professors’ final exams. These might be located in the law school library or another space provided by your law school. If your professor does not make prior exams available, check and see if they might otherwise be available using a different law school channel.
Using a professor’s old exams can be incredibly handy as you prepare for final exams. They are the best place to see how your professor approaches the class material on an exam, and you can also use them to help you with timing leading up to finals. Some professors include a few questions with long fact patterns. Others incorporate more short answer questions into their final exams. By practicing with old exams, you’ll know exactly what to expect as well as how to best prepare for final exams.
Do What Works Best For You
As you prepare for class, final exams, and life post-law school, be sure to figure out what works best for you and go down that path. Keep in mind that this might not be what others are doing! If you find study groups to be a waste of time, don’t go! You can catch up with friends over coffee or lunch. Feel like you’re the only student outlining at the beginning of the semester? That’s ok! You might not have time available to put together your outlines later on in the semester. Are students singing the praises of certain law school supplements but you don’t share the same concerns with the course material? Don’t buy them!
Each student who goes to law school has different obligations outside of law school. While some students can cram for class all night, others need a good night’s rest in order to function. Some students have family obligations that make taking time off from studying crucial while other students can study anytime they wish. Other students might be balancing class work with a mental or physical illness so they have to take additional steps to prioritize their health which impacts how they approach studying. The bottom line? Don’t be afraid to use techniques that work best for you in order to make the grade!
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