It is amazing that we are beginning the sixth week of the semester! Some of your professors may have started to speed up in class and cover more pages. You may be working on your first graded writing assignment for BLS, preparing for a practice exam, studying for a mid-term, or all of the above. What can you do to re-group after these first five weeks if you are feeling pressured by the workload or are worrying that you are already behind in your studying? This week's tips will provide suggestions on how to handle pressure.
- Do not stop reading for classes because you have other projects or assignments due soon. Carve out time for the projects around your reading for classes. If you focus on papers or projects and ignore class reading, you will then be confused in class and behind in your reading. If you are having trouble finding time for both reading and other tasks, make an appointment with the Director of Academic Success for help with time management.
When you supplement your course outlines this weekend, consider what graphics may work for you to help with the bigger picture, the analysis, and the synthesis of the material; some examples of graphics are:
- Tables with material in rows and columns
- Decision trees – flow charts with questions and yes/no choices to work through the analysis
- Tree diagrams – the main concept is the trunk and the sub-topics (and beyond) branch off
- Legal diagrams – the main concept starts in the center of the page and lines connect outwards to the sub-topics and beyond
- Balloon diagrams – similar to the legal diagram using balloons to hold concepts and sub-topics instead of lines alone
- Mind mapping – use pictures and shapes to brainstorm about the interconnections
- Venn diagrams to show the overlap between several concepts
- Time lines for chronological events
- Columns of material to show connections and progression
Do you have a writing assignment to complete but can't seem to find the focus to get the project started? Consider these tips for more focused writing:
- Make sure you understand the parameters of the assignment before you begin – ask the professor if you are unsure
- Brief cases that you will use; make notes on general reference volumes that you have found; consider how you will use each source for the paper or project
- Outline your thoughts and the supporting materials before you start writing so that you will be more focused and clear
- Divide the paper or project into smaller sections and focus on one piece at a time while you write
- Review what you wrote previously for a section before you continue writing that section at a later time
- Review other sections that inter-relate before you start to write a new section
- Keep a pad handy to write down reminders about thoughts you have on other sections (or other tasks entirely) so that you can re-focus quickly on your task at hand
- Edit in stages rather than looking for everything at once: grammar and punctuation; depth of analysis; logic; clarity; writing style
To improve your understanding and recall of the cases you read, consider these tips:
- Read your cases at the times of day when you are most alert and productive and save “lighter” study tasks for other times
- Read the subject that is most difficult (or that you find least interesting) first each day so that you are your most alert and finish it early in the day
- Create a context for reading the case through a quick survey before you read: what is the topic; what is the sub-topic; what court are you in (federal or state; level of appeal); what are the party categories (buyer and seller of land; buyer and seller of widgets); what is in dispute; what is the holding (now you know the issue and its answer); what questions has the casebook editor included at the end
- Divide what you are reading into small “chunks” – paragraphs on facts; paragraphs on procedural history; paragraphs on precedent; paragraphs about policy
- Ask yourself questions about the chunk as you read to keep yourself interested and to draw out the most important points
- Write margin notes to distill the chunk to the most important points
- Re-read only the chunk you are on if you lose focus
- Prepare a brief after you read the entire case to see if you understand the case AND the bigger picture of this case in relationship to other cases and the topic
Do you ever feel that you have put in time but do not understand or recall anything that you heard in class or read in your casebook? Do you ever “zone out” during class or study time? One of the most essential study skills is the ability to focus. Here are some general tips that you might want to consider:
- Get at least 7 hours of sleep per night so that your brain cells can be ready to work productively for you
- Take short 5- or 10-minute breaks every 90 minutes of studying
- Take a 30-minute break after you have been studying for 3 or 4 hours
- Take a short 5-minute break if you completely lose your focus and cannot get it back with more active study strategies: asking questions; reciting out loud; talking with someone else about the material
- Find a setting where you can study without interruptions or distractions
- Have all of your supplies and study materials gathered and ready for use before you sit down to study
- Eat a light snack before studying to assuage hunger pangs: an apple; a box of raisins; a handful of nuts; a granola bar
- Use ice water to keep you alert instead of coffee or sodas
Wow! You have already completed four weeks in the fall semester. Congratulations. As you've probably noticed, time passes quickly in law school. Before you know it, finals will be right around the corner. If you've kept up with your study schedule and your study tasks, keep up the good work. It will pay off. If you've put study tasks off repeatedly, you need to re-evaluate your priorities and get back on track for success.
So, what should you be focusing on right now? Here are three suggestions:
- If you haven't already done so, now is a good time to make a list of questions to ask your professors. Plan when you will go see your professors this week to get their assistance. It is easier for a professor to get you on the right path if you ask questions early and often.
- This weekend is the perfect time to get caught up on your outlines if they are still non-existent or barely begun. You should have enough material in most courses to be able to determine both the “big picture” of the sub-topics or topics and how the parts fit into that whole.
- Now is a good time to use a monthly calendar to write down all deadlines for papers, projects, mid-terms, or assignments. Plan over the next month when you will work on specific tasks for those longer-range deadlines.