We are already 8 weeks into the spring semester! Deadlines may be starting to pile up. Your beginning-of-the-semester optimism may have worn off. And, the weather bouncing between winter and spring does not help. Consider the following tips to obtain optimal learning:
- Keep a positive attitude to affect your learning positively. It is hard to keep your focus and perform at your best if a cloud is hovering over your head. Negative thoughts, grumpiness, and sniping at others all expend energy in unproductive avenues. Not only do other people want to avoid you when you exude negativity, but you waste your own time by moaning, groaning, and whining.
- Focus on manageable tasks to increase motivation. It is easier to get motivated to do small tasks rather than large projects. Decide to read one case when you do not feel like reading any of your Property cases. Decide to write two paragraphs when you do not feel like writing an entire paper draft. Decide to outline one sub-topic when you do not want to outline an entire topic. Decide to do 5 multiple-choice questions when you do not feel like doing practice questions at all. After you get started and finish one small task, you are likely to be ready to do another small task.
- Focus on what you can control rather than what is controlled by others. Reality is that you do not determine whether you will be called on in class, whether you will have a mid-term exam, whether your paper will have one or six draft deadlines, or whether you will have a multiple-choice or essay final exam. So, stop stewing about things you cannot control. Instead, focus on what you can control and take control of those things: your time management; your stress management; your timetable for review; your outlining schedule; your reading schedule; your schedule for practice questions; your asking the professor questions and more.
- Use the many services that are available to you to improve your situation. Ask questions during the professor’s office hours. If you are a 1L, talk to your Academic Fellow. Meet with the writing center to improve your grammar and punctuation skills. Make an appointment with Ms. Ballard for study strategies and tips. Meet with a University counselor if you have test anxiety, personal problems or other issues that are making it hard for you to concentrate on your studies. Go to the doctor if you are sick rather than self-treating and not getting better. Getting assistance keeps you from feeling so alone in your situation and begins the work of solving problems.
- Do not focus on your bad choices last semester, last week, or yesterday. If you have procrastinated or studied inefficiently and ineffectively or fallen into any of the other common student difficulties in studying, accept responsibility for those bad choices; but then, focus on today. You cannot change what has already happened, but you can change how you study today and tomorrow.
- Take advantage of your strengths and acknowledge your weaknesses. Evaluate the areas within a course: what areas do you understand and what areas are you confused about still. Then, spend additional time on the weak areas to improve your understanding while you review material that you know well.
- Do not blame someone else for your difficulties. It is not the professor's fault that you cannot do the practice problems if you did not study the material thoroughly. It is not the professor’s fault that you got a low grade when other students did better on the same exam. It is not your study group’s fault that you do not understand the material if you have not taken the initiative to attempt learning it yourself before study group. It is not your spouse’s problem that you are behind in your reading if you have not set up a structured study schedule that allows sufficient study time as well as family time.
- Stop resisting positive change. Ask yourself whether you are having problems because you are clinging to ineffective and inefficient ways of studying. You need to realize that nothing will change for the better if you refuse to make changes. Knowing that you need to change something and still not changing it will accomplish nothing positive in your life.
- Remember that you begin to earn your reputation as an attorney while you are in law school. Ask yourself whether how you are acting today will place you in a positive light with your classmates and professors. If not, then reconsider the behavior BEFORE you act that way again. Being difficult to work with on an assignment may translate into a reputation that you will be considered difficult to work with as an attorney later. Being lazy in law school may translate into a lack of referrals as an attorney because your former classmates will not be able to trust you to do a thorough job. Being mean-spirited or gossipy or arrogant in law school may translate into personal characteristics that mar your reputation later as a new attorney.
Dual degrees approved for Brandeis law students are: Master of Business Administration/Juris Doctor; Juris Doctor/Master of Divinity; Master of Science in Social Work/Juris Doctor; Juris Doctor/Master of Arts in Humanities; Juris Doctor/Master of Arts in Political Science; Juris Doctor/Master of Urban Planning; and Juris Doctor/Master of Arts in Bioethics and Medical Humanities. (More information is in the Law School Student Handbook.)
Several Brandeis students pursuing dual degrees have agreed to host an information session on Thursday, February 25, at noon, in Room 175. Dean Bean will also be on hand to answer questions. All interested students should plan to be there!
When created correctly, an outline will become your primary, and possibly only, study aid for exams. While law students create outlines in order to have an aid from which to study, it is through the process of creating an outline that you actually learn the law. Because outlining is a process that continues throughout the semester, you need to begin now. Why? If you wait to work on your outlines until the end of the semester, it is unlikely that you will have enough time to complete them prior to exams. Listen to your professors and to your colleagues that received A's and B's last semester - start your outlines early!
Here are some things to keep in mind as you work on your outlines for each course.
- View your outline as your master document for studying. Your notes and briefs go “on the shelf” once you have outlined a section. Your casebook is no longer your focus for completed sections.
- Make sure your outline takes a “top down” approach. The outline should encompass the overview of the course rather than “everything said or read” during the semester. Main essentials include: rules, definitions of elements, hypos of when the rule/element is met and not met, policy, arguments that can be used, and/or reasoning that courts use.
- Cases are usually mere vehicles for information unless they are “big” cases. Cases generally convey the main essentials that you need for your outline and are not the focus.
- Condense before you outline. If you include “everything said or read” in your outline, you will need to condense in stages to get to the main essentials that you actually need for the exam. If you condense before you outline a section, you will save time later.
- Use visuals when possible. If you learn visually, then avoid a thousand words when appropriate and use a diagram, table, flowchart, or other visual presentation for the same information.
- Review your outline regularly. You want to be learning your outline as well as writing it. The world’s best outline will not help you if you do not have time to learn it before the exam.
- Condense your outline to one piece of paper as a checklist. A checklist includes only the topics and sub-topics. Use acronyms tied to funny stories to help you remember the checklist. Write the checklist on scrap paper once the exam begins. For an open-book exam, the checklist should start your outline.
Are you planning to take the MPRE this year? The MPRE will be administered on the following three dates in 2010:
- Saturday, March 6, 2010 (late application receipt deadline 2/11/10)
- Friday, August 6, 2010 (application deadline 6/29/10)
- Saturday, November 6, 2010 (application deadline 9/28/10)
For applications received on or before the regular receipt deadline, the fee for the MPRE is $63. For those who apply after the regular receipt deadline but before the late application receipt deadline, the fee is $126. This fee entitles you to receive a copy of your scores and to have a copy sent to the board of bar examiners of the jurisdiction you indicate on your answer sheet on test day.
Applicants may register for the MPRE online or by mail. The online version of the 2010 MPRE Information Booklet and registration information appears at www.ncbex.org. Paper application packets are available from Ms. Kimberly Ballard, Room 212.
Being organized is essential to being a good attorney. Law school is a great place to learn better organizational skills. Here are some tips that can improve your organization:
- Keep all of your law school study materials in one place in your home rather than scattered in many areas.
When you have finished with study materials, return them immediately to that designated place.
- Before you go to bed at night, sort out the materials you need to take to school the next day and put them together.
- Keep student organization materials in folders or notebooks separate from your course materials.
- Keep materials for your part-time work in folders or notebooks separate from your course materials.
- Keep the syllabus, case briefs, class notes, and handouts for a course together in a 3-ring binder. Designate a separate 3-ring binder for each of your classes.
- If color helps you organize, use different colored folders or binders for school courses, work, student organizations, etc.
- Read your syllabus carefully; highlight due dates and transfer them immediately to your calendar.
- Always date your class notes.
- Have as many consistent abbreviations as possible to use in your notes and outlines for all classes. For each new subject, decide on special abbreviations for that class to use in your notes and outlines and stay consistent.
- If bold, italics, underlining, all capitals and/or font changes help you learn, use them consistently in your outlines.
- Have a consistent system to indicate material that your professor emphasizes in class. For example: insert a star, underline the material, highlight the material in a different color, etc.
- Have a consistent system to indicate material that you have questions about. For example: “Q”, “?”, red asterisk, red ink, etc.
- If flow charts help you, use a large dry erase board for formulating a flow chart before you finalize it on paper or on your computer.
- Regularly back-up your computer files on a thumb drive or CD.
Reminder: If you are planning to sit for the July 2010 Kentucky Bar Exam, your application must be mailed by February 1 (postmark accepted), to avoid a $200 late fee. Do not forget to have your application and the two authorization and release forms notarized. Be sure to make a copy of your application before mailing the original.
Time is a commodity that most law students lament during law school. However, there are some time management techniques that can really improve your control over your learning and your quality of life. Here are some suggestions on how to make time your friend instead of your enemy.
- You should manage your time on three levels: monthly, weekly and daily. Each of these three levels complements the other two so that you work effectively and efficiently rather than haphazardly.
- You can use paper templates to manage your monthly and weekly calendars or you can use Outlook or your own electronic templates. In addition, you can use a paper “to do” list for daily management. Monthly and weekly templates are posted on the Academic Success webpage http://www.law.louisville.edu/academics/academic-success.
- For weekly time management, here are the steps you should take:
- You will get more out of your reading if you do not do it on the day before class or the day of class. Instead, read for a class two days before you have class. For example, read on Saturday for Monday; on Sunday for Tuesday; on Monday for Wednesday; etc. This schedule allows you to read more carefully and to reflect on the material while reading; allows you time to review before class; and allows you to have Thursdays and Fridays for outlining, practice questions, time for papers or projects, review of your outlines, etc.
- Put your commitments in first: class attendance; structured study group sessions; work hours; study group times; sleep; meals; exercise; student organization meetings; non-law reward time, etc.
- Then, fill in your reading/briefing, review before class, review of class notes within 24 hours, outlining, practice questions, project time, review time. If you overdid it on reward time, you will have to designate additional study time.
- For most law students, 40-45 hours per week outside of class throughout the entire semester will mean reviewing near exam time instead of learning it for the first time.
- Include some blocks of “flex” time in case an assignment takes longer than usual or you were ill and needed to alter your schedule as a result. You then have additional times set aside when you can study and will not panic if you are surprised by an assignment or life event in a particular week.
- It will take 2-3 weeks to get a weekly schedule that feels comfortable and works consistently. As you evaluate what worked and did not work each week, alter the schedule to make better use of your “alert” time and your ability to concentrate in blocks. Include short breaks within longer blocks of studying so that you are able to focus and concentrate.
- The rewards for good time management are that your stress goes down, you are better prepared for studying for the bar, and you are better equipped as a new lawyer to manage a client load and work tasks.