April 2nd, 2013 at 4:25
It is fair to say much of your academic life in law school will center on your courses. The classes you take are the vehicle for teaching you the law and how to understand it. Administrators spend great time crafting academic schedules of offered courses each semester. Professors take great care in constructing the particular classes they teach. Both the administrators and the professors focus a lot of attention to the details of the academic curriculum they offer and teach. As a consequence, you stand to be challenged—to your ultimate betterment—from your legal education at the University of Tulsa College Of Law.
To best benefit from the efforts of those working at the school to teach you the law, it is important to craft your own academic course schedule and construct your own particular study plan for classes. Likely, your first year of law school will have been ‘mapped-out’ and your schedule will be pre-set by the college. But, even with having your course schedule already handled, this still leaves open the area of creating your own particularized study plan.
Your particularized study plan should generally cover the same focus areas for each of your classes. Some sample focus areas are the following:
When structuring your study plans, the first important step you need to take is to examine your course syllabus. Professors each have their own manner of structuring classes and the syllabus is the ‘contract’ you have with the professor about your obligations for the class. Different professors weigh various course components differently. For example, some professors have class participation count for a percentage of your overall grade while others may not give credit for questions and comments. It is important to review your syllabus to determine what your professor expects before you start. You do not want to find yourself half-way into a semester in a course only to discover that the teacher has been grading everyone on participation while you sat there quietly. Furthermore, examining the syllabus is important for understanding your professor’s expectations of you regarding the other focus areas listed above, such as having required homework assignments or practice mid-terms that need to be passed-in.
Preparing for Finals: Outlining
Another important step you need to take is preparing for final exams. Most, if not all, of the work you do for each of your classes has the ultimate purpose of preparing you for its final. Therefore, it is necessary for you to develop a way to marshal all of the different data you take from a course and organize it into an outline. An outline acts as the penultimate container of your law school knowledge: It contains all of the information you gathered from a class in one place. Saying that, though, still leaves the question: What does an outline look like?
An outline usually is a typed document written in MS Word that is topical with many subtopics. An easy way to visualize this is to look at the ‘table of contents’ of a case book. A casebook table of contents is an outline of the book. Simply put, it is the skeleton around which legal information is organized within the textbook. Your outline should have this same skeleton. The legal information you gather from class, from homework, and from reading the textbook will be the ‘flesh’ you put around that skeleton. By outlining in this fashion, you learn to condense and organize information. The biggest hurdle will be learning how to identify information that needs to go in your outline from information that does not need to go in your outline. It is important to not get frustrated with yourself or to become overwhelmed if your outlining attempts do not go as planned. If you find yourself ‘spinning your wheels’ by trying to put every little detail in your outline and you sense that some of the information you are putting in is not necessary, it will help to consult supplements, such as Barbri bar review materials or CrunchTime review books. At TU, these books are usually readily available from the library or from friendly upperclassmen.
Equally important with understanding how to make outlines is working to keep them up to date. Outlining takes time. So staying on task by having due dates for where you want to be in your outlining process for each class is essential to getting them complete before exams. Outlining during the readings days before a law school final is one of the most stressful experiences a student can experience. It is easy to get overwhelmed by feeling that you need to finish outlining before studying the material while also thinking that you need to be studying all of the material already in your outline. For this reason of avoiding stress, setting personal due dates to get everything done is critical regarding your outlines.
Preparing For Finals: Practice Exams
Law school exams are difficult. The multiple choice questions are long and tricky. The essays are packed with facts and complex legal issues. Practicing taking law school exams is helpful in many ways. First, it familiarizes you with how legal questions are presented. Second, it makes you rehearse writing out the IRAC process (Issue, Rule, Analysis, and Conclusion). Third, it teaches you to deal with time constraints. Fourth, if your exam is open book, it allows you to practice consulting your outline during the exam. Practicing your test taking is one of the best ways to teach yourself how you are going to transmit the knowledge you gained while studying the material to the paper you will ultimately turn in for your course grade.