As with any educational class that has an exam at the end, the student has to understand the true objective – passing the ending exam. To that end in first year law school, the challenge is to do so, without stress, with a positive outlook, and with winning specific gains beyond just passing the exam. Those experienced and successful in first year law stress a number of key points and approaches that they say made all the difference for them.
First of all is understanding what first year law is about from the professor’s point of view. It is about stressing the student, seeking to get the student to lose composure, to freeze up when being pressed, to be overwhelmed with workload, and worry, and the inability to eat or sleep or think straight. On top of what seems to be psychological warfare is the need for the student to master the Socratic method of investigation – question and answer. However, these experts claim, first year law can be actual fun with a positive outlook, hard work, and a joy of studying the correct information.
The key is what is known as the “black letter law”, those tenets of law that are so ingrained in law that they are essential undisputable. Getting commercial outlines, exams, and class outlines for all of one’s classes is the start. Fill in the outlines daily with the info from the most important, the key cases that are given as homework. The experts state that about twenty percent or less of the assigned cases are key, and these key cases must be the focus. Use all in-between time of showering, walking, and dressing to listen to purchased audio tapes on black letter law and or the key cases. Also, begin to go over the old exams and any practice exam questions repeatedly even if the info on that question has yet to come up in class. Eat well and regularly, sleep well and regularly, get exercise outside regularly, all the while practicing, listening, repeating back black letter law. The idea is to entrench it in the mind so deeply that it becomes habit. People do this with video games; one can do it with black letter law. On the homework, the experts recommend the Westlaw summaries as good and being free. As one’s grip on black letter law deepens in one area, it will be easier to see it in other areas because one learns what black letter law is and how it reveals itself.
Minimize study group involvement, allowing for once every two or three weeks. Too much drama and stress will exhibit. Find one where the participants are not freaking out. A calm studious group with a grip on things is best.
Lastly, be prepared for the stress and humiliation that the professor will likely attempt to apply. Rely on the knowledge of black letter law to argue points with one’s professor. Express regret for those points that are unknown and do not be upset. Composure and calm are key at all times.