The Evolution of My Law School Study Habits- Everything I do to be Successful


Hi all! I have had a few requests lately to do a post about how my study and note-taking habits have changed since my 1L year following my post about how I have been able to raise my GPA. I am now in the summer before my 3L year- my last year of law school. I have learned so much over the last 2 years in regards to studying, time management and productivity. A lot of my study habits and note-taking strategies have changed and a lot has remained the same. I will outline what has changed and what has remained the same in addition to all the tools I use to be successful as a law student. Buckle up folks, this is going to be one long blog post.



Reading and Class Preparation
My reading for law school classes has not changed much over my time as a law student. I still am scared to death to show up to class unprepared so I always read or at least skim the reading before class (rarely does the skimming happen but hey no one is perfect). I generally do my reading the night before the specific class but sometimes I like to get ahead and will get the full week of reading done by Monday night. When I read ahead, I take extra good notes so that I can review before the class. I have always been a fast reader so I can usually knock my reading out in a few hours. I generally do my reading at home in the afternoons and evenings. I have an office in my house so I just settle in and get to work. Unlike most people, when I am at school, I am generally working for admissions, in class or doing student activities or visiting with friends. I only really study at the school during finals and not through the normal semester.

I like to read using the Pomodoro method. For those unfamiliar with it, the Pomodoro method is 25 minutes of solid work and then a 5 minutes break and after a few of those cycles, you take a 30-minute break. I have an app on my phone that plans out my Pomodoro's for me and keeps me from looking at my phone called Forest. I love this app because when you set it, it starts planting cute little trees. Every time you break your Pomodoro or pick up/look at your phone, it kills your tree and tells you to stay focused. It is a wonderful little way to stay on track and stay productive. Also, there is a ton of research on the Pomodoro method and it is supposed to be one of the most effective study methods there is.

Additionally, I love to listen to movie scores while I am reading. I use Pandora's Hans Zimmer station or study playlists on Amazon Prime. I can't listen to music with lyrics while studying because I either start writing lyrics in my notes or singing along instead of reading. Instrumental music and movie scores make a light background noise with an uplifting feel and it makes the perfect study companion.

One thing that has changed is how I do my notes while reading. My first semester I book briefed by highlighting in my book with different colors and once exams rolled around, I realized that did not work for me and I wasn't getting enough out of the reading. Over time, I learned that taking detailed reading notes is what I have to do. I usually type my reading notes or write them in black pen on only the front side of the pages. Then, during class, I add to them in a colored pen so that my notes are all in one place and organized.

See: previous posts about reading and class preparation

Class Notes and Class Participation
I already touched on class notes because I add them to my reading notes in a different color. I handwrite notes in almost all of my classes. My first semester I made the mistake of doing computer notes in all my classes that allowed computers (some professors ban computers during their class). This simply did not work for me. I tried to transcribe everything, I got distracted and tried to make formatting perfect which would cause me to miss things in class. I find taking handwritten notes makes me pay attention better, I get less concerned about the formatting of a document (OCD probs...), and I remember more. Having my computer out for notes during class just opens me up for distractions no matter how hard I try to avoid them. I just handwrite my notes and avoid that whole situation. In some classes, for example, my social media discovery class, I took computer notes because there was a lot of online materials I utilized during class and it was easier. That class was so interesting though I never had problems with distractions. When I do take online notes, I have used Microsoft OneNote in the past. I am going to try out Evernote this Fall though and see how I like it.

During class, I make sure to synthesize the information into my notes without transcribing. This is an important skill to learn. On my desk, during class, I usually have water or coffee (sometimes both), my casebook, my notebook or binder and my pencil bag. I try not to have too cluttered of a desk area during class.

The place where I take my notes varies by class. For classes that utilize a lot of powerpoints and handouts, I use a binder so that I can keep the handouts, powerpoints and my notes on loose leaf paper all arranged by subject. For classes with no powerpoints or handouts, I use a simple spiral notebook. I take my reading notes in black ink on the front side of the pages and leave space for class notes in margins and on the backside of the pages and I take all class notes in a different color ink so I know what came right from the Professors mouth.

I also have gotten much more comfortable with participating during classes over my time in law school. I no longer find it scary. I participate a lot more now then I did my 1L year and I find that it helps keep me engaged in the class and the subject. Participating or asking a question during class can be a great way to work out the subject matter via dialogue and sometimes gives me a lightbulb moment about something I was confused on before. Wanting to participate in class also drives me to read closer and prepare better for class because I want to have something substantive to add to class when I raise my hand. A lot of teachers also give credit for participation during class so it generally can have a positive input on my overall grade.

See: other posts about class notes 

Outlining
My first semester I waited until Thanksgiving break to begin outlining... big mistake! It took me a long time to figure out what it even meant to outline. I finally figured it out and I have gotten progressively better since then about my outlining skills and process. My one big takeaway is that you can never start outlining too early! I make a goal for myself each semester to do at least a little bit of outlining every Friday when I have no classes. I don't always adhere perfectly to that plan but I do try and through that, I get my outlines done a little at a time throughout the semester.

Something I like to do at the beginning of the semester is to take the syllabus for the class or the table of contents from the casebook and make a skeletal outline of topics we will be covering. Then, when I got back to outline each section, I have a starting point and roadmap for making the outline.

When I outline, I utilize all class materials- casebook, reading notes, class notes, powerpoints, handouts, etc. I synthesize through the material to pull out all the important items and compile it into a big document outline. I like to make my outlines very organized and pretty. I do not use shorthand and I format everything perfectly because otherwise, it drives me nuts to study off.

I ALWAYS make my own outlines. I refuse to just print one off and use that. I think the process of outlining is too beneficial to skip. I do try to get an outline from someone who took the class previously with the same professor and got a B+ or above. I use this just for reference if I have a hole in my notes or any area I am confused by and also as a last minute check to make sure I didn't miss anything vital to the class in my own outline.

See: previous posts about outlining

Supplements
I don't use study supplements a ton. I know a lot of people who find them more useful and to each their own. I like Q & A books for getting in multiple-choice practice close to finals. I also like the Examples & Explanations books for classes I really struggle in. Other than that, I really don't use supplements a lot. I like to just use the materials provided by the professor and the casebook and when I get confused, I make a meeting with the professor and let them clear it up for me instead of trying to figure it out myself in a study supplement.

Exams
Studying for exams will never get less miserable but I have found ways to make it easier and to work smarter, not harder. I like to make a study schedule for exam studying a full month out. This helps me to plan when I will finish outlines, start making flashcards, what I will study on which days and how much study time I have for each exam. During that last month before exams, I put a lot of time into finishing and honing my outlines; I meet with my professors about problem areas, I meet with friends and study groups to talk through things, making notecards and I start spending substantively studying. The week before exams is spent on practice essays, practice multiple choice, reviewing outlines and running notecards endlessly. I also really work well with study groups in the crunch time before exams so I utilize those a lot. I find that study groups keep me accountable and it is very helpful to bounce ideas off each other and talk through the law.

The biggest change I have made in my study process for exams is doing as many practice essays and practice multiple choice as I can get my hands on. Writing law school exam essays is a learned skill that I have steadily improved on thanks to lots of practice. Same with multiple choice. Also, I find it very helpful to write out full rule statements for each rule of law a few times over so that when I am in the exam, I don't have to think through the rule statement, it just flows out of my brain.

During exams, I study at the school primarily because then I have access to all of the resources. I do try to keep a 9-5 schedule though and have some time for myself to keep my mental and physical health in tip-top shape to make it through the grueling 2 weeks of exams.

See: more posts about exams

Time Management and Organization
Some of the biggest skills I have honed in law school is time management and organization. One thing I have used and relied on from the beginning is my Plum Paper Planner (more info in this post + a way to get $10 off your planner purchase). I seriously could not survive without this thing... I keep my whole life organized in my planner and I absolutely love it. I highly suggest some kind of planner for law school!

Another thing I have started to use more and more in block scheduling through Google calendar. I block out my time for the things I have to do so that I make my days most effective and efficient. Then whatever free time is left over is mine to do with what I please. I can block out class time, when I am at work, when I will work out, when I will do my homework, when I will outline, when I will clean my house, etc. I have found this really helpful in having a plan to attack my days and I avoid that moment of "I have 30 things to do and no idea what to start now that I have free time".

Another thing I do to stay organized is to meal plan. I am one of those people who will wander the kitchen opening cabinets for 30 minutes trying to decide what I want to eat. Also, it can be a huge waste of time to have to run to the grocery store multiple times a week because I forgot something or don't have what I need for dinner. I try to do my meal prepping and planning on Sunday and my grocery shopping on Sunday (sometimes it gets pushed to Monday if I have weekend plans). I plan out all my dinner meals for the week, make an ingredient list, decide on what our lunch and breakfasts will be and add those to the list. Then, I get everything I need in one trip to the store and we have everything we need for the week. I find that this not only saves me time but also saves me a lot of money because I waste less food, make fewer impulse purchases and am able to reuse ingredients in multiple recipes. I got the meal planning add-on in my Plum Paper Planner this year and it is a wonderful way to keep track of everything!

I hope this helps a few readers! Enjoy your summer friends!




4 comments

  1. Hi Brandy! I asked for a post like this a few blog posts back and I really appreciate you writing all this up. It's super helpful and I hope to stay organized and do well in school just like you. Thanks so much and good luck with your third year! ♥

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    1. You are so welcome! Thanks for reading and good luck in school :)

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  2. I just downloaded the Forest app and it's adorable. Thank you!

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