Friday, September 3, 2010

Preparing for excellence

Most law students could improve in their academics.  Usually the deterrent to doing better is one's not preparing to excel.  What do I mean?  I mean that students can set themselves up for success (just as they can set themselves up for failure).  Here are some thoughts on how law students can prepare for excellence:

  • Be the best law student possible.  This means working up to one's full potential rather than settling for less.  Some law students meander from course to course without any attempts at improvement.  All law students should evaluate their study habits each semester to determine what worked well and what needs to be changed.  They should also review exams with their professors to find out what test-taking strategies worked and what test-taking errors they need to correct. 
  • Strive for excellence and not perfection.  Law students may have sought perfection on assignments and tests during undergraduate school because the workload was much lighter and the material less challenging.  High grades were often easier to come by because the level of competition was less.  Perfectionism is a common characteristic among law students.  However, it can actually lead to poor grades and/or a miserable three years.  Perfectionism can lead to overworking on assignments, mismanagement of time, exhaustion from lack of sleep, and frustration at not getting one's prior high grades.  It is better to strive for efficiency and effectiveness which are attainable standards.
  • Compete with oneself rather than others.  The competition among law students can lead to unfortunate characteristics or behaviors.  It is not unusual for competition to go too far and result in either negative behaviors towards others to minimize their worth and achievements (gossip, back-stabbing, rumors, put-downs, cliques) or negative comparisons of one's own abilities (depression, feelings of mediocrity, jealousy, lack of motivation).  By focusing on improving one's own academics, there is always upward mobility possible without unhelplful dynamics or comparisons.
  • Study for depth and understanding.  Law study takes a serious time commitment.  Some students mistakenly think that memorizing the rules is enough for excelling academically.  Other students take shortcuts by using class scripts or course outlines from prior students.  Either of these approaches leads to superficial learning. Memorization is not enough because excellence requires application of the law and in-depth analysis.  Shortcuts depend on another person's processing and understanding rather than one's own understanding.

I would encourage students to prepare for excellence.  I would encourage them to live up to their academic potential rather than assume that "the grading curve" or "the competition" prevent them from improving their grades.  (Amy Jarmon)        

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