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Beginning of the Semester Preparation: Timewasters, Denial, and Self-Imposed Stress

3L at Syracuse University College of Law

Over the course of my first two years of law school, my beginning of the semester preparation changed drastically. As a 0L about to begin my 1L year, I had no idea what to expect and where to begin. I started by buying study aids and I tried to read about the various subjects I would soon be learning. But, this was a very short-lived experiment. I had no basis whatsoever to start learning about the law, nor did I have the patience at that point in time. Next, I attempted the “tried and true” case briefing method, as emphasized by professors, to fully develop my class preparation skills. However, I likewise failed to sustain this practice for longer than a week. Eventually, I simply began underlining and making notes in the margins of the book that summarized each section.

Beyond preparing for class, the beginning of the semester marks an important time to begin organizing your notes for what will eventually become your final exam outline. In this respect, I failed—horribly. I was told to start “outlining” early on during orientation; however, I did not know what an outline was, let alone what to put in it. To make matters worse, I did not use a computer for any of my class preparation or in-class note taking.

At this point, you are probably wondering, why does any of this matter? Well, these relatively minor preparation methods snowballed by the end of the semester. First, a week before exams, I had done nothing to prepare my outline. My first attempt at creating one came during the few days before the exam period began. Second, my semester long practice of taking handwritten notes and not using a computer meant that I still had to transfer everything to my computer to create a concise, readable outline. Consequently, I spent any free study days before exams churning through pages of notes in lieu of quizzing myself or taking practice exams. Ultimately, everything worked out, but I did not learn from my mistakes until a year later when I finally began using my computer in conjunction with handwritten note taking.

My second semester of 1L year was more efficient. By then, I knew what exams were like, and I had enough variety of teaching styles to quickly adjust my methods within the first few weeks of class. Nonetheless, I continued to save my outlining until the very end of the semester. However, I got quicker at doing it. The transition from 1L to 2L is not greatly significant in terms of preparation, but it is critical to plan ahead considering the added extracurricular responsibilities: e.g. journals, club leadership, and moot court. As I mentioned, my most drastic change came in the second semester of 2L year where I began bringing my computer to class and transferring my handwritten notes on an almost daily basis. I can’t say if this substantially affected my exam performance, but it certainly improved my sanity and stress-levels leading up to exams.

Overall, the beginning of each semester is a clean slate. How you tackle it can greatly determine your semester’s ease or difficulty. I made things more difficult than they had to be my first year, but I made improvements over time to my methods of preparing for class and exams. The moral of the story is that your preparatory habits will change as you figure out what works. The biggest changes will likely occur between your first and second semesters. But, if you already know how you best operate, do not change; instead, adapt, and remember the semester is a marathon and you need to keep your eye on the finish line, not just the mile markers.

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