The Legal Beat
It’s Finals Time Again: Make The Most Of It
Posted on Tuesday April 18, 2017
Dear Students (in particular 1Ls):
The very fact you’re reading this is a problem. Your mind is looking for a distraction to avoid the very unpleasant road upon which you’re about to embark: Preparation for final exams.
Preparing well for finals isn’t easy. Some believe wrongly that clinging to another person’s outline is the best way to study. Others will finally sit down and read the cases they should have read during the semester. The wise will have a system.
At the very least, you need a schedule. There will be scheduled times for reading, for memorization, for practice exams, and for group study. There will be times scheduled for eating, feeding any pets, exercise, sleep, and of course, to check for my musings on Twitter. Studying for exams is like disassembling a large piece of furniture and moving it into a different room. The panic is you trying to shove the unassembled piece of furniture through the door without breaking it apart.
Once you have a system in place, remember to tackle the hardest tasks first thing. Your most productive hours of study are the first hour and a half after you wake up. That is the time to tackle daunting challenges. You don’t want to tackle harder issues later in the day when your brain is fried. And you certainly don’t want to stay up all night, because that will just make you unable to learn anything the next day.
If you are in a study group, make sure your group actually studies and stays on task. I’ve been in study groups. I’ve heard study groups “study.” They devolve quickly into gossip, complaint, and lament. Just like your personal study time, study groups should have an agenda, a time frame, and an end point. There is no need for a five-hour study group session. Nothing will ever get accomplished after the first hour.
Do not try to study via osmosis. Remember, it is not what is on your study desk that suggests mastery of the topic. It is what is in your head and how you communicate that on paper. Sometimes, as I walk by student study carrels, I see an impressive display of books that suggests the student stole half the library. There is no way the student is going to look at most of those. Meanwhile, in class review, the student can barely remember a case discussed two days ago.
Do not talk to anyone who isn’t in your study group. The best way to make yourself crazy while studying is to talk to someone who is feeling as insecure as you are. When I was in law school, I used to call the discussions that took place in the halls the “ceremonial exchange of panicky thoughts.” They always went like this:
Student 1: How are you?
Student 2: Sigh… stressed. How’s it going?
Student 1: Okay. Just finished reviewing promissory estoppel.
Student 2: Gasp! I need to go back and look at that. I’ve spent hours on parol evidence rule.
Student 1: Gasp! I need to look at that!
Repeat times 10 and you see how those conversations have destroyed your study schedule and launched you into panic. Worse, there are people who loved to make people panic, roaming the halls trolling people.
Don’t just study one way. Memorize? Absolutely. Read? Sure. But also take practice exams. Time yourself. The more ways you’ve acquired and retained the information in your head, the better off you’ll be.
Finally, don’t panic. Okay, I know that probably caused some of you to panic. If you have legit anxiety disorder, then there are tools to help you. Even if you don’t, learn to be mindful of your thoughts, to breathe, to distract from the negative thoughts. You don’t want to be your own worst enemy while studying for finals.