By now, you're probably asking yourself: how can I get it all done?
There's no doubt about it--you have to put in a lot of time to succeed in law school. You have to study hard, but you don't have to be consumed by your studies.
Studying longer does not mean studying smarter, and studying longer does not always result in better grades.
But students who had more accurate expectations than others about the time required for particular law-school related activities performed better than predicted. Research has shown that students who prepare written schedules and stick to them, study more efficiently and get better grades than students who don't.
Several researchers suggest that you:
- Prepare Weekly Schedules
- Semester-Long Schedules
The weekly schedule allows you to schedule small blocks of time for day-to-day activities, while the semester-long schedule allows you to set aside large blocks of time for such things as writing a paper, extensive review, or taking practice exams. 2
Start with a weekly time schedule that has the days of the week organized in hour or half-hour time slots. (There is a blank schedule in WordPerfect under File, New, Calendar expert.)
Mark off class and other permanent time commitments like work hours, commuting time, study group meetings and any other fixed obligations. Don’t forget to mark off time for eating and sleeping, as these are often the first things to go when people have limited time.
Photocopy this weekly plan so these permanent time commitments are already in place on each weekly schedule.
Schedule several short blocks of studying time. (Some suggest reserving two hours to prepare for each hour in class.) Study for 50 minutes and then take a 10 minute break. The average person can concentrate for only 50 minutes. After that, the learning curve and the attention span declines.
Schedule your study time when you are most mentally alert. Be honest with yourself. Some people can accomplish more in one daytime hour than two evening hours. Schedule difficult work, such as the first reading of cases, when you are most alert; use other times for less demanding tasks like reviewing notes or flash cards.
Like everyone, some students have trouble maintaining their attention span during study times. To stay focused, keep a notepad next to you. As you have distracting thoughts and ideas about things you should or could do, quickly write them on the pad instead of worrying that you will forget them. When you've finished studying, look at the notepad and do what you have to do.
Schedule time to review and outline each course.
Schedule long (1-2 hr.) exercise/activity breaks.
Block out a large period of time, perhaps Friday or Saturday night, away from studying.
Schedule several blocks of "emergency" time--time that can be used to make up for missed time on other parts of the schedule. Emergencies cannot be scheduled, but they always occur, and they take time away from your schedule. So, if you've scheduled "emergencies", you can make up for missed studying during the emergency blocks.
Mark off time for personal tasks, like grocery shopping, going to the doctor, etc.
Even schedule time for waking and going to bed, making realistic allowances for your individual sleep needs. Without enough sleep, memory is one of the first things to go, and health goes shortly thereafter.
Block out time to review your studying strategies for effectiveness, and modify your schedule when necessary.
Look at the academic calendar. Block out the days there is no class, study days, exam days, etc.
Look at the syllabus for each class. Schedule activities that are out of the ordinary.
Block out time to complete your legal writing assignments. Schedule time for research, for writing, for proofreading, etc. Block off time to complete outlines for each course
Block off time for practice exams.
Block off time for more extensive review individually and/or with your study group. Students who leave review until the end of the semester are often overwhelmed by how much they need to learn. Systematic review is key. Review cases before and after class; review your class notes daily, if possible, and weekly. Systematic review will greatly improve your memory and may actually save time because you will be able to understand new material more readily, and your outlining and exam preparation will go much more smoothly.
You may bristle at the thought of scheduling your life this way, but why not try it since the research (2) shows that such schedules help contribute to law school success. At the very least, the schedule can discipline you and help you realize that while you have a lot to do, you can do it all.
Also, make your family and friends aware of the increased demands placed on you. Let those who need to see your schedule do so because they'll know that you have planned personal time with them. Then, protect yourself. Use your answering machine to screen calls, study in the library (but don't let other students distract you), or hang a Do Not Disturb sign on your door.
Remember that most students have never scheduled their time in this way, so don’t get discouraged if you have trouble completing all your goals in the beginning. It may take awhile to plan your time effectively based on your own personal needs and characteristics. Evaluate what worked and did not work, and alter your schedule if necessary.
Once you have created a schedule that works for you, follow it. Keep in mind that interruptions do occur and things don’t always go as planned. However, if you continue to follow your schedule, you will be able to handle the unexpected while maintaining efficiency and reducing stress.
Adapted and revised by Larasz Moody from materials prepared by Ruta Stropus and Charlotte Taylor, Academic Support Program, DePaul University College of Law; Paula Lustbader, Academic Resource Center, Seattle University School of Law, presented at the Law School Admission Council Academic Support Conference, 1993;1 Jeffrey G. Adachi, First Year Law School Survival Kit, (1996);2 Pamela Edwards, The Culture of Success: Improving the Academic Success Opportunities for Multicultural Students in Law School, 31 New Eng. L. Rev. 739 (1997); Copyright 2000 Sheilah Vance.