Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Non-traditional students and exam study

All law students are into exam study mode right now.  However, I want to address non-traditional students and specific study issues that they bring to the "crunch time" of the semester. 

Unlike many of their colleagues, they are often juggling partners and/or children in the law school mix.  If they are attending part-time/evening programs, they are further juggling work deadlines and boss expectations as well.  Some of them also add community or family obligations such as care of elderly or ill parents.

Here are some tips to help "non-trads" get more study time:

  • Discuss with your family why this period in the semester is so important.  Your family may not understand since law school is so foreign to everyone who has not attended - especially if you never disappeared like this during other degree programs. 
    • Ask for help in trying to find blocks of time when you can have uninterrupted study time.
    • Agree on family time that you will participate in to stay connected with "real life": a regular dinner hour or story time before bed might be examples.
    • Agree on what chores and other responsibilities will be kept by you and what ones your family can pick up (or what chores can be temporarily jettisoned).  
  • Decide with your family whether studying at home will work.  If you have a separate study/office area, it might.  But, you cannot expect your family to tip toe around for the next 5 weeks.  Some plans that have worked for other non-trad law students are:
    • Go to the law school or some other location to study so that family knows that when you are home you are available.
    • One family had a red light-green light system for the study/office door.  If the law student could not be interrupted, the red light signaled that status.  The green light meant short interruptions were okay.
    • Post your study schedule on the refrigerator to let everyone know when you will be studying and when there will be down time.
  • Realize that you may be asking your partner (or other family members) to shoulder more of the chores and responsibilities than are truly fair.  Make sure your partner and family know how much you appreciate the support.  Plan ways to say "thank you" during the semester break.
  • If you are a single parent, then make some decisions about what your priorities are going to be:
    •  Consider what chores can be jettisoned or trimmed (example, an extreme clean may not happen each week).
    • Consider whether separate home-cooked meals every night can be replaced with crock-pot-cooked meals on the weekend that are frozen and recycled over several weeks.
    • Consider whether some activities can be trimmed down a bit in time so that extra half-hour slots can be accumulated into a larger study block during the day (example, meal time, bath time, story time).
    • Decide whether you are using time between classes during the day to greatest advantage so that you can shift some studying prior to when your children arrive home.
    • Decide whether set meal, nap, bath, and bed times would help both you and your children have a better routine. 
  • Call in the reinforcements!  If you live near parents or other family members, ask for help with childcare during this crunch period.  It is important to be able to get large blocks of uninterrupted time for exam study.  Family are probably already helping to some extent, but ask if they can assist a few additional hours each week.
  • If you do not live near family, join with other law students, friends, or neighbors to swap childcare and set up play dates.  By sharing the childcare duties, you can gain some additional study hours and the other person also gains quality time.   
  • Plan activities that will be fun for your younger children while you are occupied with your studies.  Select DVDs, games, and other favorite activities that they can participate in to provide you with some uninterrupted time to focus.  You may be in the next room with your parental radar on alert, but will at least be able to have study time. 
  • Remember that you are a role model for your children.  If they see that education and studying are important to you, then they will treat them as important in their own lives.  
  • Consider whether your partner or older children can help you study (example, flashcard quizzing).  If so, then they become part of your endeavor rather than being on the outside.
  • Plan your allotted study breaks for time with your family so that they have your attention during those slots.  Chatting over a cup of tea or reading a story together can help all of you have some relaxation and be a reward for uninterrupted study time. 
  • If you are working while in law school, consider the following:
    • Can you take vacation or personal days to gain more study time?
    • Can you work on flex-time so that you shift your hours for several weeks to allow more study time? 
    • Will your boss agree to your studying at the office if your job duties are slow?
    • Can you swap duties/deadlines for the next several weeks with other co-workers in return for repaying the favor later?
    • Are there projects or tasks that can be delayed until after exams?
  • Plan a celebration at the end of the semester to thank everyone for the much-needed understanding and support.  If your family has special things to look forward to over semester break, they will have a reward for helping you find study time now. 

Non-trads have some special responsibilities that can be managed within the exigencies of law school with some extra planning.  Fortunately, most of them have fairly good time and work management skills from their jobs and family duties.  However, communication with loved ones and work colleagues goes a long way in making the transition to law school studying a smooth one.  (Amy Jarmon)

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