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It Needs to be Said: Prepping for Class is Overrated

Again: what matters? Exams. Exam performance is the only thing that matters. But because you don’t have exams every day, and you do have class every day, One Ls become persuaded that daily class preparation should be their focus. Everything is oriented around preparing for tomorrow’s class.

This is terribly wrong. You want to be in a study group? Get a group together and chant this a hundred times: “Exams are the only things that matter.” “Exams are the only things that matter.” Exams must be your focus. Class room preparation is about 20th on the list.

Don’t misunderstand me, attending class and listening in class is critically important. And you know what? That takes almost no energy, and no prep time. All you do is show up with some coffee and I am sure you can manage that. In fact, listening closely in class is the biggest bang for the effort buck that you can get in law school. You do virtually nothing, and get a lot of payout for it. width=

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A Law School Epic Fail

During a year end celebration following the end of exams of my first year, I was out with some friends having a beer. At some point a friend of mine who was a high ranking One L—at the time—was talking about this exam that we both had taken, and how it was the first time in her life she had been unable to finish an exam. She couldn’t understand it; she had found herself with about 20 minutes left in the allotted time, starting a question that had a suggested time of an hour left to go. This had never happened to her before, and she was dumbfounded.

The exam was set up in two sections. In the first section there was a fact pattern and three questions, with a suggested time of an hour and a half a piece. Then, there was a final question with an allotted time of an hour.

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The Law School Bottom Line: Exams are all that Matter

Pay attention. Nothing matters for your law school grade in any class except one thing: how well you answer the exam question. How you perform in a discrete period of time and space called “the final exam.” It is such an obvious point almost everyone misses it: the exam is the whole thing. And for One Ls, this is critically important focal point, because typically all your grades for first year–except for your legal research and writing class– come from one set of exams at the end of the year. Nothing else matters.

There are 16 weeks in the semester before exams? I know, I know.  Trouble is, most of what you are doing during that 16 weeks won’t matter at exam time. In fact, about 90% of the time One Ls typically spend during a semester impacts nothing. 10%, maybe, shows up in the grade. Why? Because the only time that matters for your grades in any semester is that three or four hour period and the ink you manage to get down on the page before you turn it in on the day of the exam. I repeat: the four hour block at the end of the semester is the only thing that matters for any class you take.

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What Matters in Law School (or, what Doesn’t)

One of the primary difficulties of being a One L is that for most of the semester the only graded items—exams—are far off, in the distance, at the end of the semester. As a result, there are usually about 16 weeks in a semester during which there is very little guidance on what is important to do with your time. Worse, there seem to be about two dozen things you can be doing with your time, and being the cave dweller that you are, you have no perspective from which to judge what are good things to do, and what aren’t.  A good place to start on the One L year is right here: what do I do all semester? What matters, and what doesn’t?

What Doesn’t Matter

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Ah, the Wonders of the Law School Study Group

One of the staples of law school life is the study group. After all, what about a study group is not to like? Eight people, sitting in a circle facing each other, doing a sort of Socratic method Q and A with each other, in their best imitation of Mr. Chips. Everyone is surrounded by piles of paper everywhere. Spent beer cans and coffee cups abound, there are half-eaten pizzas at everyone’s feet. Some guy in a college sweatshirt is in the middle with one hand holding a casebook and his university Polo® wire-rim glasses in the other, while grasping a big clump of his hair in confusion. Bafflement is on everyone’s faces, and no one seems to have any clue what is going on in the next day’s class, or the class as a whole.

Ah, the One L study group. Isn’t it glorious?

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Quick: Which Counts for Your Grade? Daily Class Performance, or Exams?

Again: what matters? Exams. Exam performance is the only thing that matters. But because you don’t have exams every day, and you do have class every day, One Ls become persuaded that daily class preparation should be their focus. Everything is oriented around preparing for tomorrow’s class.

This is terribly wrong. You want to be in a study group? Get a group together and chant this a hundred times: “Exams are the only things that matter.” “Exams are the only things that matter.” Exams must be your focus. Class room preparation is about 20th on the list.

Don’t misunderstand me, attending class and listening in class is critically important. And you know what? That takes almost no energy, and no prep time. All you do is show up with some coffee and I am sure you can manage that. In fact, listening closely in class is the biggest bang for the effort buck that you can get in law school. You do virtually nothing, and get a lot of payout for it.

Read the rest of this post…