Without even engaging in the debate about whether the Socratic Method is a good method of teaching or not (that is a different blog for a different day), the fact is that it does cause a lot of anxiety in law students. This has both a negative effect on students who are actually called on by the professor and those who are nervous about being called on (but ultimately not called on).
As a student in the class, this anxiety inhibits your ability to understand and learn new information. Thus, having Socratic Method tips for being on call will help you not only answer questions better but also help to lessen your anxiety in class and therefore help you learn new information.
Socratic Method Tips – Tips for Answering Questions when you are On Call:
- Prepare. If you do not read and have no idea what is going on, you will likely be a lot more nervous while you are sitting in class! So become familiar with the cases. The more prepared you are, the less nervous you will feel. Note that we do not generally advise you to spend ten hours a day on cases (see this post on preparing for finals if you are wondering why) but preparing well, especially in the beginning of law school and especially for those professors who “cold call” without mercy, will help ease anxiety.
- Bring your casebook to class as well as any case briefs you have written or notes you have taken. You are allowed to (and probably encouraged to!) look at your cases to answer questions. Professors do not expect you to have everything memorized. Keep your expectations of yourself realistic and take advantage of this!
- Tailor your notes to what the professor likes to ask. Highlight and label the kinds of things that your professor likes to ask about. If your professor really goes through the facts, procedural history, etc., highlight those. If your professor always asks what each side argued, highlight the arguments made by the parties. Some students color-code their casebooks. (They will highlight the facts in pink, the procedural history in green, etc.). This can help you find answers to questions quickly without too much delay.
- Remind yourself that no one cares! No one is thinking about how well you do when you are on call – they are too worried about themselves! Remember that everyone in law school is in your position at some point or another. They usually don’t think about (nor do they care about) how well you do when you are answering questions on call. Keeping this in mind can help ease anxiety.
- Remember that your on-call performance it really makes no difference in your grade (for almost all professors). As long as you are somewhat prepared, you should not lose participation points. Even professors who award participation points don’t look at one single on-call performance; rather they look at the quantity that you volunteer. As long as you are not totally unprepared, you should keep your participation points!
- If you find yourself getting very anxious that you will be called on, try to reduce stress. Here are a few helpful techniques: (1) Sit in “power positions” (shoulders straight, hands templed) rather than curling up. Fake confidence until you make it! (2) Practice deep breathing. This can help relax your entire body. Make it a habit of taking five deep breathes when you start to feel anxious. (3) Try imagining (for 20 seconds, if you can) someone you trust giving you a hug. This will release oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces stress and anxiety.
- Read a supplement (e.g. Examples and Explanations guides) before class if you want to be extra-well prepared. This will help you understand the law and it will help you to answer hypotheticals that your professor asks about.
- Keep answers short and sweet. No need to say more than is asked of you! Don’t ramble on into your own hypotheticals or go off-base. Stick to answering the question your professor asks.
Hopefully these tips help you relax when you are on call and pay more attention when you are not on call. If you have any of your own Socratic Method tips, please share them in the comments below!