A Letter to My 1L Self
January 19, 2015
[Introduction – this letter is primarily for 1Ls but hopefully upperclassmen can find some humor or even guidance by reading. Not every piece of advice will apply equally to everyone, but based on this list (which was compiled with the help of several other upperclassmen) you should find a little more ease making it through dead week and finals week. Hope you enjoy!]
Dear 1L Ryan,
First of all, congratulations on completing the hardest six months of your life! Regardless of those wasted weekends watching football at Bubs, or those study sessions lost due to Taco Tuesdays at Fred’s, you have done a damn good job and should be proud. Having said that, don’t get complacent, finals WILL kick your ass. If you feel intimidated by them, you should. But don’t worry, just like 1L year they will fly by and you will get through juuuuuust fine.
Since it’s right around Thanksgiving, you probably just had that first major freak-out during which you realized the work you are doing is just not going to get you the grades you want. THAT’S PERFECTLY FINE AND IT IS NOT TOO LATE!!!! Call your Dad, have a chat, take a few deep breaths, get to the library, man up, and follow the advice below.
1) IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW “I CAN’T FAIL THIS CLASS.” IT’S ALL ABOUT “BY HOW MANY POINTS WILL I PASS?”
Shape your thoughts to be positive. If you think “fail” in any context (I can’t fail, I won’t fail, etc) you will fail. Don’t be anti-war, be pro-peace. Face every challenge you are handed, like that ridiculous Contracts I final, with a positive attitude. If you catch yourself saying “I’m going to fail this,” stop, take a sip of coffee (don’t check facebook), and turn that fear/anxiety into motivation by saying “if I continue to study this, I will pass with flying colors.”
2) DEFINE YOUR HOBBIES, AND MAKE TIME FOR THEM
It is inevitable that you’re going to hit that wall, both physically and mentally. You’re going to need a break. Ideally you did this when 1L year started, but if you haven’t already, define some hobbies that relate in no way to school, and make time for them; the gym, golf, photography, whatever floats your boat. After every 3 hours of studying, distract yourself a little. Do some cardio, edit some photos, hit the range… JUST DON’T WORRY ABOUT SCHOOL, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT NOT WORRYING ABOUT SCHOOL. In 20-45 minutes you’ll be right back at Civ Pro, but for now, allow your brain some time to recuperate. It needs it and you need it.
3) FINISH YOUR OUTLINES AND PRINT YOUR PRACTICE EXAMS BY THE FIRST DAY OF DEAD WEEK
Dead week is for studying, not for getting ready to study. If it means a Saturday in the library during the last week of college football, oh well. If you finish your outlines and print all of the practice tests which are available to you (WHICH YOU SHOULD ALWAYS DO NO MATTER WHAT, see below), budgeting your time during dead week is much easier. Instead of waiting in long lines at the printer, you can use that time to start committing your outline to memory. Instead of going to Kinko’s to print all of your practice exams – since they’re hard to read online and often provide insightful, highlight table info in the lengthy issue analyses – because of a printer malfunction at school, you can take a much needed coffee break and still not miss out on any study time. Be proactive when it comes to defining what exactly it is that you will need to study, and do your best to have all of your ducks in a row by the first day that dead week rolls around.
4) DO PRACTICE EXAMS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
Please, please, please do not be that guy who thinks he can memorize his contracts outline, not take a practice test, and pass the exam. These exams are not like your average exams. Unless you had the privilege of having a law-style essay exam in college, prepare for a horse-race of a test. Print every waking practice test, which your professor makes available, AND DO THEM. Usually a professor will offer at least 4-6 past exams and hopefully the amount of practice exams for a given subject will be a multiple of three. If not, adjust accordingly based on the formula below:
If the professor offers 6 practice exams:
1) Do 2 of the 6 tests UNTIMED, WITH NOTES; (side note: start with the oldest one first (sometimes they test old info and it’s good to eliminate that right away).
2) Do 2 of the 6 tests UNTIMED, WITHOUT NOTES.
3) Finally, do the last 2 tests TIMED, WITHOUT NOTES; (and preferably in the same test taking conditions you will be in come test day).
How you evaluate your work is up to you, but reading every issue analysis after each respective test is the best place to begin. Once you start to have a feel for the information about which you are most comfortable, you can focus your time studying on subjects about which you are less secure. Taking these practice exams and reading model/sample answers also prepares your writing style to suit that of your professor’s.
5) STUDYING IN A GROUP IS JUST AS EFFECTIVE AS STUDYING ALONE, BUT BOTH ARE NECESSARY NONETHELESS
Group study is awesome. Teaching certain concepts to your peers can be just as, or more effective than taking a practice exam. It gives you a chance to explain the idea out loud to an interested party, and it even provides you with notice if you are unsure about certain sub-elements. Talking out those confusing points breaks it down for both parties, and is also a way to salvage your diminishing social life during dead week. After you’re both (all) done studying, take a break together and grab a bite to eat or play a video game. But when you’re done, separate; do your own thing. Nail home that confusing concept on a practice exam while you’re riding solo. After the practice exam, though, get up with your buddy(ies) again and evaluate each other, ask for and offer guidance where it is sought/available. The bottom line is you MUST study alone in whatever environment you feel comfortable, but it is perfectly fine and I recommend to study with a group. They don’t put you into sections for no reason. Don’t be afraid to ask the gunner from torts about strict liability – just don’t bother him or her about it. Study by yourself, but use every resource you have wisely (and don’t be afraid to be a resource to an extent).
6) THIS MAY SOUND OBVIOUS, BUT EAT AND SLEEP WELL THE NIGHT (AND MORNING) BEFORE EXAMS
If you have test anxiety this is especially important for you. On too many occasions I have eaten Azteca and fallen asleep at 1am the night before a 9am exam. DON’T DO THAT. If/when you make your schedule for finals, be sure to budget in an extra hour or two to cook yourself a nice dinner the night before an exam. Carbs and veggies are good for dinner. Eggs and fruit are good for breakfast. Get 6-8 hours of sleep, and don’t drink any alcohol. This is like beating a dead horse, so be a grown up, eat well and get some sleep.
7) STRESS OUT, IT’S NORMAL.
This one doesn’t require much either. Allow yourself to be stressed out. If you stress about stressing, that’s only more stress. It’s normal to be bat-crap crazy right now. It’s ok to be on edge. It’s ok to flip out on your friends (they’re going through it too, so hopefully they understand). It’s ok to be stressed out, but I can guarantee you that the stress you are causing by allowing yourself to become overloaded, is unnecessary, and you have a lot of other things to be concentrating on right now. You’re not going crazy. You don’t have OCD. You don’t have a sleeping disorder. You’re a perfectly fine, healthy 1L who is dealing with law school’s natural stressors.
8) MAN UP, IT ONLY GETS HARDER.
Yes what you’re going through is new and challenging. Yes you’ve been slaving your rear end off all semester and only now do you have to kick it into high gear. And yes, you will get used to it. But if you think it’s hard now, just wait till you’re a 2L. Don’t get me wrong. Now that you’ve been through one dead week and a set of finals, you know the routine and the do’s and don’ts. It becomes easier in a sense because you are used to it. But if you think your lack of motivation is bad now, or your little anxiety/panic attacks are intense now, or your workload is heavy now, just wait. Like I said, call your go-to, take a deep breath, have a sip of coffee, and MAN UP. You’ve got what it takes to kill these finals and be successful. Man up, follow the advice above, do your diligence, study your ass off, and you’ll be in the top 10% of the class in no time.
This too shall pass. Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at will change. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, and any good thing is worth fighting for. Remember those quotes, remember this advice, and remember that you’ve got what it takes to get through this. Do work 1L!
Your future self