How to Improve Your Second Semester Law School Grades
The first semester of law school can be exhilarating, energizing, and exhausting all at the same time. Then those few weeks hit, where you’re likely spending time with friends and family for the holidays, but in the back of your mind, you’re just waiting to receive your grades from the first semester, eagerly waiting to see how well all your hard work paid off. The moment the grades come in may be filled with the feelings of “Wow, look at that! Maybe I can actually do this whole lawyer thing!” But for many others, the reality looks more like, “What?… How can that be?… I worked so hard!… I’ve never had a final grade this low before.” We’re here to tell you that scoring lower than expected on your first round of law school exams is not rare, and we’re here to help you improve your second-semester law school grades!
How to Improve Your Second Semester Law School Grades
Remember… you’re in law school now, and law school is difficult.
Law school has this funny habit of attracting people who are hard workers, committed students, life-long achievers, and folks used to high GPAs who graduated at the top of their respective classes. (Sound familiar?).
But law school exams are unlike most any other that students have been exposed to before law school. Most law school courses give you one shot, one single final exam, that determines your grade for the whole semester. Additionally, law schools typically grade on a strict curve, meaning even if you objectively score well, if a few other students score just a bit better than you, that can cause you to receive a lower grade. This means, that even those used to scoring very well are being graded in comparison to the performance of their fellow hard-working, high-achieving classmates.
This reality makes law school more competitive and, very likely, more stressful for students. The pressure of feeling like there is no margin for error and no room to try, fail, learn, and try again can sometimes short-circuit our critical thinking skills and sabotage us in the middle of exams. Law school exams are also typically several hours long, without breaks, covering an immense breadth of issues. The first semester of your 1L year is your first attempt at running a very long race, one that you likely haven’t had the opportunity to adequately train for. You may even be a first-generation law student, flying by the seat of your pants, figuring out this whole law school thing on your own with no real warning about what to expect for your first exams.
All this to be said – give yourself grace. You have at least 5 more semesters to take what you learned from your first-semester exam experience, build upon it, and improve your law school grades. Keep reading for tips on reflecting, seeking input from others, checking in, and resetting for the second semester.
What are you proud of from your first semester of law school? We’d nearly guarantee that, even if you’re disappointed or discouraged by your first semester grades, if you take a few moments to reflect on your first semester of law school you will be able to identify at least a few things that you’re proud of. Maybe there is a professor you really connected with. Perhaps you joined a law school organization that you really enjoyed. Maybe you didn’t feel the pressure when you were cold-called. While you may not have scored as high as you wanted to on your exams, maybe you did a g reat job keeping up with assigned readings or your outlines.
As cheesy as it may sound, pause right now. Get out a piece of paper or the notes on your phone and write down everything that comes to mind when you think of what you’re proud about after finishing your first semester of law school. . . it’s okay. . . we’ll wait. . .
. . .Great job! Keep these notes on hand, and as you build your plan for the second semester, come back to these items. Look for places where you excelled and you may find a theme. Look for what’s missing from your list, and you may find a good starting place to begin your adjustments to improve your second-semester law school grades.
How can you focus on improving your second semester law school grades? Your initial answer might be, “I want to, I need to, improve everything, for second semester.” Great! But that can feel overwhelming, and frankly be quite difficult to do well. We recommend you identify a couple of items where, in hindsight, you struggled the most your first semester.
- Type of class: Did you struggle with the doctrinal classes more than you struggled with your legal writing class? Or maybe you did better in your doctrinal classes, but your writing wasn’t as developed as professors expected from you at the end of your first semester.
- Type of exam: Compare your grades from the different types of exams.
- Duration – Did you do better or worse in the 4-hour exam compared to the 2.5-hour exam?
- Open/closed-book – Did you do better or worse on the exam that allowed you to use notes or reference your casebook?
- Time of day – Did you do better on the exam that was in the morning or in the afternoon?
- Order of exams – Did your score suffer for the exams that landed on the same day, or back-to-back days? Did you do better on exams you took first or the exams at the end of your line-up?
- Subject – Was there one or two subjects that you struggled to grasp more than others?
- Evaluate your schedule: Take a bit of time to review how you used your time during your first semester of law school. Did you take on too many extracurriculars? Consider whether you have room to build stronger boundaries with friends and family that allow you to prioritize your school work. Evaluate whether you had enough life-giving activities in your first semester (aka the things other than school that energize you).
- Outlining: When did you start outlining for your first semester courses? Starting your outlining early and outlining often is one of the best steps you can take to improve your grades in the second semester. And by “early” we mean EARLY! You can start outlining during your first week of courses! You will thank yourself as the semester comes to a close, and outlining throughout the semester will help you identify areas you’re struggling with when there is still plenty of time to iron out your understanding.
Once you’ve evaluated what went well and where you can improve, we recommend you start soliciting input and advice from others for a more succesful second semester.
Meet with your professors: Meeting with both your first-semester professors and your second-semester professors can be one of the most effective ways to improve your second-semester law school grades.
Before meeting with your first-semester professors, ask to see a copy of your scored exam response(s). Ask the professor if they have a scoring guide they are willing to share with you. Review the areas you did well and the areas you can improve. Your professor likely can help you with this. Meet with them to get feedback on what seemed to be your biggest stumbling block. Seek clarity as to whether your score was a result of improper issue spotting, inaccurate rule statements, improper reading of the facts, weak points in your analysis, or wrong conclusions. Ask if there were instructions you misunderstood. This can help you better evaluate your approach for your second semster exams!
As for meeting with the professors for your second-semester courses, this time can help you focus and better understand topics, issues, and nuances that your professor stresses in yoru courses. Through office hours you can also ask questions that you may not have had an opportunity to ask in class and get more one-on-one attention to work through matters you’re struggling to understand.
If you ask, many professors often will provide you with old exam questions or other practice questions. Practice questions from your current professor will give you not only an opportunity to see how your professor tends to write and frame their exam questions, but by actually writing out answers to the practice exams, especially under timed conditions, then reviewing your response with your professor is a sure-fire way to jump-start your exam preparation and refine your answers to match the expectations of that particular professor.
Meet with school resources: Most law schools have academic resources available to support students. These resources are often already included in your tuition so there’s no reason not to use them! In particular, academic resources can help you prioritize areas to focus on to help you improve.
Ask your classmates: It may not be the most comfortable thing to do, but you may consider asking your classmates how they performed on the exam. If you don’t want to chat about grades with your classmates, ask how they prepared for final exams. Learning what other students did (especially students who did well!) may give you new, and maybe even creative, ideas about what you can do to improve your grades in the second semester. Not sure who to ask? Try classmates that you have worked with throughout the semester, such as those in your study group. If you don’t want to chat with other 1Ls, try asking a 2L or 3L for some perspective!
Seek a personal tutor: Working with a tutor is also a great option. Tutors are able to come alongside you throughout the whole semester to give you tailored support and guidance. When all the options and tools to improve your grades in the second semester feel a bit overwhelming, a tutor can work with you to personalize an improvement plan and walk with you to see the plan through. We’d love to join you in your journey to improve your law school grades: JD Advising Law School Tutoring.
The second semester will go by quickly. And getting input at the beginning of the semester will give you the best opportunity to improve your grades. But we also encourage you to check in periodically throughout the semester to keep improving. Keep meeting with professors if you find it to be helpful. Check in with the academic success team. Stay up-to-date with classmates and study groups.
Finally, it is also important that you give yourself the freedom to reset. Your first semester of law school is a huge learning curve and it takes time to adjust. You finished your first semester. Let yourself release it – it is not necessarily foretelling of all that is to come.
Your second semester can be better. You can do this whole law school thing, and you can do it well!