January 09 2011
Grades: How to Bounce Back From First Semester Scores
One of the hardest weeks of my entire law school experience was the week in January when I got my first semester grades back. I was devastated. I didn't do awful, I fell in the average for most of my classes, but the idea of working harder than I had ever worked before just to fall in the B average nearly killed me.
My first thought was that I wasn't cut out for law school because I knew that I could absolutely not work any harder than I had first semester. That feeling, in and of itself, was slightly redeeming. I had no regrets like I wish I would have studied longer, or I wish I would have started outlining earlier. I was proud of all the work I had put in, just disappointed with the result.
My second thought was that if I couldn't work harder, I would work smarter. So second semester, I tried several new things, and it paid off- my grades increased dramatically second semester. Here's what I did:
1. Stay off the Internet in class. This is a no-brainer, but is also easier said than done. It's so easy to drift off when a classmate asks an off-the-wall question. It's even easier to get on Facebook when your professor begins a sentence with, "this won't be on the final....." Resist the urge at all costs. Second semester, I stayed off the internet (for the most part..I'm not perfect..ha!) It was amazing the little tidbits I missed, or the places where I could better fill in my notes, or the times when the professor would actually go back and reference an earlier case and fill it in a little better. I was missing all these details, and they added up quickly.
2. Get study aides and use them during the semester. My biggest mistake 1st semester was waiting until the end to "figure it all out." Concepts were fuzzy, but I didn't find the time to clarify them AND keep up with my legal writing assignments and normal homework. This was a big mistake. Second semester, once or twice a week, I carved out time to head to the library to do a sort of summary reading of the week. I used the Hornbook series and other supplements to be sure I was clear on the big picture. These series were also helpful because they gave a lot of hypos- applying concepts to facts, which is critical for finals.
3. Keep what's important, delete what's not. My first semester outlines were enormous and completely unhelpful. The idea of deleting class notes seemed like bad one- anything out of the professor's mouth would surely make it's way to the final. Wrong. Concepts and fact application is key for finals, so second semester I trimmed down my class notes and outlines, and it helped immensely.
4. Study groups are key, but so is time alone. First semester I made the mistake of relying too much on my study group. During our meetings we would go through hypos, double check outlines, and do flash cards. All of these things were great practice, but in a group you can never really tell who is initiating the answer. Sure, you may be able to piggyback on the issue once it's been spotted, but can you actually spot the answer yourself? Second semester, I still met with my study group doing all the same things, but I made sure that I did those things on my own too, just to be sure that I was able to do it on my own for the test and not just in conversation after the topic was brought up.
Getting your grades back from first semester is a game-changer. My experience was that I got my grades back, was disappointed, and began a new study routine, but I also know several people who got their grades back, were thrilled, and forgot how hard they had to work to get them in the first place. These people's second semester grades actually went down because they slacked off. The experiences will vary when it comes to grades, but the principle is the same- you can learn a lot from your grades. They don't define you, but they can help you study harder/better. By making a few small, but significant changes, I was able to finally be content with my law school grades.