By Shane Dizon, Assistant Dean for Academic Achievement
With November upon us, the specter of final exams looms large. Here are nine tips to ensure that your hard work does not go for naught come December, and that you are building the skills needed for consistent success on both law school exams and on the bar exam.
1 ~ Schedule and adjust
An expert law student wins the scheduling battle at the daily, weekly, and big-picture levels. Consistently create and refine a study schedule at the daily and weekly levels. Always assess the schedule at the end of each day and make the necessary adjustments. Not doing everything you planned is not per se a bad thing, but not adjusting after falling short is.
2 ~ Eliminate distractions
Block out uninterrupted time for long-term assignments (like Legal Skills papers), outlining, and practice questions. Put your phone on airplane mode. Add plugins to your laptop’s web browser that block social media and other popular sites (news, pop culture, sports, shopping).
3 ~ Review feedback
Immediately pick up/review any midterms that are unexamined. See if your professors will meet with you to discuss your performance.
4 ~ Use tutors
Continue to attend large-group and small-group tutoring. Our statistics in this regard are crystal clear: folks who stop going, stop succeeding. They then have to hunt down a time for review and skills development instead of having it built in. For an analogy: Ask the athletes in your midst what happens when you stop going to the gym. For the business-minded: Habits are productive, and it’s best to continue business practices that have already proven successful.
5 ~ Practice makes perfect
Practice questions deliver the single greatest payload of exam-geared practice. Do practice questions on a regular basis in each subject, at least one small set per subject, per week. Do this consistently, even before you think you’re ready, as this will identify weak areas where you can focus your future studying efforts. Practice questions will usually reveal exactly what you need to know for the exam, versus what might be wasted space in your outlines.
Ask professors for practice questions. Do the questions in the casebooks, the hypos from the lectures, and the practice exercises in any tutoring handouts. Visit the Lending Library for practice multiple choice questions – we have literally thousands of them, because we used our budget, from your tuition, to provide the best-of-breed in bar-exam grade multiple choice questions. Make sure the feedback from these practice questions “talks back” to your outline and sparks ways to make it better.
6 ~ Rely on yourself
Do not copy-paste another student’s outline. Under exam pressure, your brain wants your personal outline, not someone else’s. Don’t believe me? Clear everything off your desk. Tear off a blank sheet of notebook paper. Outline a quick overview of one of your subjects in five minutes, in pencil. That’s what your brain wants in an exam, and that’s where your brain will go.
If you have doubts about whether the outline is doing what it’s supposed to, you can meet with us in Academic Achievement and/or ask the large-group or small-group tutor for advice.
7 ~ Stay focused
Do not multi-task. Uni-tasking is the key to doing a given task well. Don’t believe us? The New York Times agrees with us.
8 ~ Clear your plate
If you haven’t already, please have “The Talk” with the non-law school folks in your life. They need to give you uninterrupted time and space to effectively prepare for exams. They are there when you ask them to be there, but not any other time. I hate to say it, but you need to be selfish. Many of you are in law school precisely because you *are* the responsible one in your circle. But exam time is not the time for you to be the superhero to everyone else. Can someone else take something off your hands: an extra dog walk or two, a meal prep, a grocery run, a bill pay cycle?
There are a lot of perfectly talented people who are not in law school any more, or who still haven’t passed the bar, because they could not clear their plates. They often felt guilty about asking others for help. Be seriously and thoughtfully selfish (as weird as that sounds) about your exam prep. This is a very important lesson to learn before finals, before the bar exam, and before the practice of law, so learn it now. If you can’t make those sacrifices for your own law school education, how will you convince a client that you will sacrifice enough to help him or her get justice?
9 ~ Be accountable
Pick a good “accountability” partner. If it were up to me, I’d want someone who would work silently with me during a practice exam, engage actively in debriefing it, be silent during any resource creation and outline fixing after that debriefing, and partake in a fun, destressing activity with me afterwards.
Contact Dean Dizon with academic support/exam prep questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.