Should I Study For Law School Exams Over Thanksgiving?
Many students wonder whether they need to study for law school exams over Thanksgiving, and if so, how much time they should study. The answer is fairly subjective based on your preferences and holiday plans. Generally speaking, however, you should spend some time studying but can (and absolutely should!) take time off to relax as well. Regardless of whether or not you go home for Thanksgiving, there are some key things that you can do to stay on track with your exam studies. In this post, we lay out our best advice for balancing law school studying and the Thanksgiving break—from whether to take any breaks to whether to go home for the holiday and from when to start studying to how to make (and stick to!) a study schedule.
Should I Study For Law School Exams Over Thanksgiving?
Whether to Take a Break for Thanksgiving
Law students face immense pressure to do well in their law school courses, particularly during the first year. Your grades affect your class rank, and your class rank contributes to job prospects both during and after law school. Good grades, and in particular, good 1L grades, are incredibly important and set the tone for your career. For this reason, many students feel guilty at the thought of taking a break, especially when exams loom close. Some are even tempted to not take any time off at all from studying over Thanksgiving. Most students fall into three schools of thought when it comes to taking a break:
“I can’t afford to take a break from studying.”
Many students feel too guilty about taking a break from studying over Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving weekend has a lot of extra free time that can be used for studying! While the temptation to utilize all of your free time over the long weekend can be tempting, remember that it is equally important to avoid law school burnout. Like most things in life, the key is balance. Thanksgiving break gives you extra time to study, but it is also perfect opportunity to refresh right before the exam period. Finding a balance between the two is key! We generally recommend taking at least some break time from studying over Thanksgiving to strike that balance.
“I don’t wait to study for law school exams over Thanksgiving.”
Some students welcome Thanksgiving break after a long semester of working hard and decide to not touch any study material from Thursday through to the end of the weekend. We recommend against this, unless you absolutely cannot make the time to study. Once you take a long break, it can be that much more difficult to jump back into your routine once Monday comes around. You also might return to your studying even more stressed that you took so many days off and feel as if you have “fallen behind” your peers who did study. If you are burnt out from the semester though, by all means, take the break! Studying for finals will be right around the corner as soon as Thanksgiving weekend is over!
“I have no time to study and cannot make any changes to my plans.”
If you absolutely don’t have time to study for law school exams over Thanksgiving, you can set yourself up for success in other ways:
- Ensure your outlines are up-to-date. Outlining takes time. We recommend that you start outlining at the very beginning of the semester to make it more manageable and help you study as your courses go on. If you need to take 3 or 4 days off from studying for Thanksgiving, you’ll need up-to-date, nearly complete outlines so that you are ready to jump back into studying once the holiday ends.
- Get extra studying done ahead of time if possible. No need to go over the top to make up for the time off (don’t punish yourself for taking a break!). However, if you happen to have an extra hour a day in the week or so leading up to Thanksgiving, and think you can fit in some more studying without burning out, do so! Many students take an entire day off during law school each week. If you typically take Sundays off, maybe you can study on Sunday this one time since you’ll have a few days off later in the week. Squeezing in some extra studying may help alleviate any guilt or stress over taking a break.
- Adjust your study schedule to accommodate the break. Creating a detailed study plan (read more below on how to create a final exam study schedule) will alleviate any stress and uncertainty over taking a break. With a solid plan in hand, you can go into the holiday with peace of mind—and actually enjoy and relax!
- Be ready to stay focused and efficient when you go back to studying. By taking time off, you may have a little less flexibility in your study schedule after the holiday. That doesn’t mean you are behind, but you should be prepared to stay on track to avoid falling behind.
- Avoid feeling guilty. Many people feel guilty about needing to take time off, but breaks are good for you and for your brain. They can rejuvenate you, motivate you, and give you the energy you need to conquer the rest of the semester. So, don’t waste any time feeling guilty, or you won’t reap the benefits of taking the break!
Whether to Go Home for Thanksgiving
Whether your family lives a short drive or a plane ride away, the thought of going home may be a stressful one. You are not alone. Many law students struggle to find the time to balance relaxing or spending time with family and friends with the demands of studying for law school exams. If you are the fence about what to do, keep in mind that many students do go home to visit family and friends for the holiday, but some choose not to, concerned about distractions from studying. So, do what works best for you!
How to Study for Law School Exams over Thanksgiving
- Take advantage of travel time. Do you need to take a plane or train ride home? Are you carpooling with someone who can drive while you squeeze in some studying? Instead of watching a movie or reading a book, utilize the travel time to get some studying in. You will feel more accomplished and efficient!
- Choose activities wisely. Consider whether you need to participate in all activities or plans while you are home. You should feel comfortable taking off the actual holiday (unless you desperately want to study on Thanksgiving). But other than that, pick and choose a few things to do or people to see. You want the break to be relaxing to rejuvenate you for the rest of the semester and final exams. It will also help you to study more effectively when you do sit down to study. So, don’t stretch yourself too thin overcommitting to plans!
- Set aside study time. We recommend you make a schedule of when you will study and what you will do. If you have set times to study and already know what you expect to get done during those times, you are much more likely to do it. Read on below for how to make a law school finals study schedule!
- Study early. The earlier you can make yourself get up to study, the better off you will be. There will be less distractions and you will have more flexibility later in the day to do fun things with family and friends without the need to still study hanging over your head. You will feel better and be more relaxed if you are able to wake up early and check items off your to-do list.
- Find a good study environment. There may be a good spot where you are staying to study. If you have people staying at your house or if you are a guest somewhere, and you find noise and other distractions hard to ignore, find a library or coffee shop nearby. Having a place to focus will be make your study time much more efficient and effective!
- Tell your family and friends your plan. Tell your parents, siblings, friends, and anyone else that you plan on taking a break and spending time with them but that you will not be spending every second of the day with them. If they know your plan, they can better avoid distracting you from studying!
- Be realistic. If you set realistic goals, you are much more likely to accomplish them. For example, don’t plan to spend 8 hours studying after Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t tell yourself you’ll take 10 full practice exams if you haven’t even started outlining yet. Don’t expect to fill in every single minute of your free time with studying. If you set an unrealistic goal, you may become discouraged and give up on studying altogether, or become too overwhelmed to focus.
When To Start Studying
You may finish classes before Thanksgiving, or you may still have a week or so of classes remaining after Thanksgiving. Either way, studying ramps up following the holiday, with just a few weeks left until exams begin. Many students think this is when the studying begins. Whether you realize it or not though, your studying began way before Thanksgiving!
Studying for law school exams consists of a few different components—outlining, memorizing your outlines, and taking practice exams. Ideally, if you’ve stayed on top of your studies all semester, you’ve started on each component before Thanksgiving even arrives.
Outlining: As Soon As Classes Begin
The best time to begin outlining is the start of the semester. Before you can memorize your outline or take practice exams, you need to actually have an outline. It also makes the process much less overwhelming if you are chipping away at it in small chunks.
Some students start outlining around Thanksgiving and others start outlining right before final exams. We cannot emphasize enough though that this is a mistake if your goal is to score high on exams. Your outlines should be started early, updated often, and completed well in advance of the final exam study period. Outlining late in the semester takes time away from memorizing the material and taking practice exams. These are both key components to getting a top grade on your exams!
Read more about why you should outline sooner rather than later here, and if you need help getting started, check out these tips for creating law school outlines!
Memorizing Your Outlines: Throughout The Semester
Having the rules and elements of law well memorized is crucial for success on your law school exams. It is going to be hard to recite and apply the law if you do not have it memorized. Since there is a lot of material to memorize, we recommend you start memorizing your outlines as you make them. Similar to why you want to outline early, memorizing early makes the process much less overwhelming! One of the best ways to tackle a large amount of material is to break it into smaller tasks.
Taking Practice Exams: Around Mid To Late Semester
If you start outlining for law school exams early, you will have time to take practice exams. Students who leave their outlining until the last minute have little time for much else. If you outlined throughout the semester though, you can start looking at practice exams early on—around mid-semester. The benefit to this is seeing how certain issues come up in fact patterns. This lets you know how your professor wants you to answer questions. Taking practice exams truly makes the difference between an “A” and a “B” (or a “B” and a “C”).
Check out this post on how to take law school exams and our guide to finding practice law school exams and model answers!
Making a Final Exam Study Schedule
Even though you will be studying throughout the semester, you may be wondering how you should spend your time during the final exams study period. A significant part of succeeding on law school exams is developing a finals study schedule to stay on track once classes end. Your finals study schedule is even more important if you are taking time off for the Thanksgiving holiday. Staying organized with a schedule helps ensure that you leave adequate time to study each subject after taking a break.
As discussed above, your finals studying should center on three key components: (1) outlining for each exam, (2) reviewing and memorizing your outlines, and (3) taking practice exams. So, your law school study schedule will encompass all of these, with a focus on reviewing and memorizing your outlines and taking practice exams. What you don’t want to do is re-read cases or otherwise waste your valuable study time. You also should focus on one class (or two) a day rather than studying all of your classes every day.