By Shane Dizon, Assistant Dean for Academic Achievement
If you’re reading this, you’re about to look up your grades or already have. If you’re in the former camp, take a deep breath. Remember, you’ve accomplished a lot thus far, and you’re still the same good human being before or after. If you’re in the latter camp . . . well, do exactly what I just said anyways.
It occurred to me that I could just write some improvisation on the good old “7 Stages of Grief” – shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, hope – but that’s probably not why you’re here. So I want to honor your experience and try to modify that message to law school.
1 ~ React
First and foremost, please react. Venting must come before problem solving. You cannot blend the two. You will feel strongly about the grades – that is okay – because your work here in law school means a lot to you. A strong reaction is to be expected. Lean on your family, friends, and loved ones.
Be a bit more careful to whom you vent among your classmates, however: some may have it as bad as you, but some may be in better or worse shape. And comparison in this instance of venting isn’t helpful. Law school is hard, and if you are a 1L, this was the first time anyone asked you to solve problems in this way, then graded said performance on a curve. For some of you, these will be the first sub-optimal grades of your entire education, so you may have little or no frame of reference as to how to react to them. But react you must.
2 ~ Review your exams
When you’re ready to figure out what to do next, go visit your exams – every single last one of them. Compare your answer to the model answer. Note carefully what you did and didn’t do compared to it. Examine whether you managed time and energy well during the exam. Keep your “key exam notes” in a high-traffic place in your work resources or space, so you’re always reminded of what you need to work towards for the next exam period. Constantly ask yourself if every task you are doing when you are studying is helping you achieve these exam goals.
3 ~ Discuss exams with your professors
After you review your exams, visit your professors to discuss the exams, even if you did okay or great on them. They are eager to help you understand what went wrong and right and how to improve.
4 ~ Evaluate your study methods
Some factors to consider:
(A) Did you do all the readings? Brief every case? Go to every class? (If you treated your absence limit as a max to be fully used, you might not have the right mindset . . . just saying.) Take active notes? Condense your notes after each class?
(B) What did you do after that? Go to tutoring? Attend professors’ office hours? Visit with Academic Achievement? Did you start outlining after your major topic was done? Did you do your own outline? Did you start practicing questions right away? Did you create resources beyond your first outline? Did you start doing full-length timed practice exams more than a month before exams? Did you complete at least some of your practice exams closed-book?
(C) Finally, did you meaningfully manage your time at the daily, weekly, and monthly levels? Did you avoid distractions and overscheduling? Did you avoid having to deal with unforeseen hardship outside of law school?
Obviously, the more “no” answers you have, the more you will need to fix going forward. This is certainly achievable but will require hard work, persistence, and a willingness to seek advice from others (peers, tutors, Academic Achievement, etc.). If you are a 1L, academics become more challenging second trimester and in the upper division. If you are a 2L or 3L, bar preparation becomes even more intensive. We expect more of you (I know, how dare us to challenge you to play level 2 of the video game now)! What I mentioned above are foundational habits, so you should get them down now.
5 ~ Utilize the Academic Achievement office
Please visit Academic Achievement in the Student Center to discuss, broadly speaking, your next steps. You cannot simply resolve “to do better” without a plan. We can help you figure out what that is, regardless of where you are GPA-wise. And we can help sort myth from reality. The more specific a plan is, the more likely you will be able to see your progress throughout the semester and get the energy you need to continue working toward your goals.
6 ~ Affirm your purpose
Lastly, as you continue your journey through law school, remind yourself of and live these two things:
(A) Act with purpose as to why you are in law school. Again, I’m naively but hopefully correctly assuming that you still want to be here, so that you can advocate for others one day and also provide for yourself and your loved ones.
(B) Work hard, as *everyone* in the spring trimester is fighting for something: Law Review, Dean’s List, Large-Group Tutor consideration, prestigious summer internships or job placements, scholarship expansion or retention, just getting all the Cs off the transcript. For 1Ls, there is the fiercest fight of all for some folks – advancing to the upper division. Assume everyone is stepping up their game, as they should be, and step up your own.
7 ~ Remember the payoff
Keep in mind that the CWSL curriculum is challenging for a reason: we prepare our graduates to succeed. Sixty-five percent of CWSL graduates passed the California bar exam on the first try last July, an increase of four points from our July 2016 pass rate and well above the roughly 50% overall pass rate for July 2017. Put in the work now to refine your study habits and exam skills, and you will be better able to adjust to the demands of preparing for the bar.
Best of luck, and again, please remember that we in Academic Achievement are here for you.
Contact Dean Dizon with academic support/exam prep questions at firstname.lastname@example.org