I am not in the same position mentally as many of my classmates. I've been through hell and lived to tell the tale. This semester, while not a breeze, has not been the overwhelming Slough of Despond it could have been. I am truly grateful for the coping mechanisms. I still wish I had not gone through any of the things I went through and I am not one to be buoyed by silver lining bullshit, but there is something to be said for experiencing the real world before coming to law school.
So, having said all of that, and in the grand tradition of posting about methods of anything on a law school blog, here's my 2 cents about finals prep.
- Go to all your classes. 2 of my 3 substantive law classes are recorded, so those were the ones I tried to miss when I needed to deal with my real life. My 3rd class has an active discussion board and a professor who is terrific about responding by email, but I still only missed 2 of his classes. Still, catching up is hard work and wastes time. Listening to an hour-and-40-minute lecture might seem great because you can pause and go back etc. But it turns it into a 3-hour exercise instead. Waste of time.
- If your school, like mine, does the grade bump-up with mid-terms and class participation, take advantage. Profs can increase grades by one-third, if they see fit. They usually have criteria for doing so. They submit the names for bump-ups before you write the exam.
My Civ Pro class is my small section and it's easier to talk in class. Plus, the prof chooses a number of people to call on each class, so it doesn't matter if you volunteer. But you should. Civ Pro is a tough class, for me, and I asked tons of questions and used the class discussion board a lot. She counts that usage as part of the class participation. Also counted were 2 submitted exercises, which I did very well in. Then there was the mid-term, which I got an A in. So I feel much more confident about going into the final with a bump-up in the bag. I also took advantage of her review sessions and the amazing TAs she has.
For Contracts, we also have 2 areas of possible bump-ups: 2 VGs on any 2 of your 3 submitted memos and class participation. There are 135 people in K and Torts. In K, we are called on randomly; in Torts, according to the class list. K will probably get through the entire class, but not in Torts. K has a vibrant discussion board and the Prof is very aware of who writes and what she writes. Lots of people have popped up since the 2nd memo has been handed back and I'm pretty sure he's noticed who has never written before and are doing so all of a sudden. I know I would.
We were given no criteria for bump-ups in Torts, so the final is it. Do or die.
- Outline. The word is drilled into your head from even before you get to your first class and it is a confusing road to hoe. It's going to be at least 2 months before you actually begin to understand how outlining works and by then you're pulling out your hair for not approaching the work in a more comprehensive manner. Everyone is in the same boat. Commercial outlines have their uses, especially in separating the forest from the trees. I have several question and answer study guides which I find very helpful in working out concepts I have trouble with.
- Join a bar prep program. BarBri is mine and I cannot love it more. The lectures are amazing outlines in themselves and really gives you a comprehensive overview of the course. Use them, and the commercial outlines. Tailor them to fit your course and professor's leaning. It will make your life much easier. Do not rely on them exclusively. Your professor will have leanings, will not cover some areas etc. Don't be stupid and ignore your class notes.
- Go over class notes carefully. Re-examine all those hypos the prof threw out there. Looking at them again once you have a better grasp of the subject matter, tweak the hypo yourself and look at the outcome.
- Study group. Or even a study buddy. My Civ Pro study buddy has blossomed into a buddy for all the classes. She and I work very well together and very much complement each other. We lean on each other's strengths and help each other over the trouble spots.
- Past exams. My study partner and I have learned so much from these exams, it isn't even funny. And we are getting better as utilizing the time as well. I even got brave enough to ask one of my profs to post more exams for the class, which he did!
- Talk to 2Ls and 3Ls. Not just the A-earners. Many people told me what they thought their mistakes were and how I can learn from them. That was even more helpful than the advice from the A crowd.
- Do not get distracted. By Thanksgiving, you should know where you can study and where you can't. If you're the kind of person people must stop and talk to, don't study in the crowded parts of the library. Tell you family, friends, b/fs and g/fs to leave you the hell alone. They have no idea what you are going through and they don't have to have any idea, they just have to accept it. Don't make enemies, but be firm.
- Don't distract others. Every school will have at least one jerk-off who has to stop and talk to you while you're deep in UCC 2-207, just to break your stride. No joke. He will WANT to distract you by telling you how stressed out he is, how he is never going to cover the material, how he has so much else going on. Learn to spot these fools a mile away. Learn to spot the dude who frames his questions in such a way that milks info out of you that you otherwise would not be willing to give. Make it clear, out loud if you must, that you're not going to talk about X, Y or Z. I'm just staying home.
It is every man for himself at this stage, there's no getting around it. But by now, you will know who to trust, who can help you and who to steer clear of. It's not the greatest way to view your law school world, but Law Review only takes a handful and getting into the top 15% of the class is much harder than it sounds. Good luck.