Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Take a Deep Breath and Take Control

Most of our law schools have only 5 or 6 weeks of class left in the semester.  Students are starting to get overwhelmed at how much they have left to study before they will be ready for finals.  They are also horrified at how many steps need to be completed before their paper deadlines.

I find that some students are so overwhelmed that they make very poor decisions about managing their studies.  Because much of what I advise students is based on common sense and tried and true techniques, they are often surprised at fairly simple solutions and ask "Why didn't I think of that?" 

They did not think of the solutions because they are in the midst of the situation and cannot view things objectively!  If you are panicky over the quicksand all around you that is sucking you under, you may indeed overlook the jungle vine immediately above your head.

You cannot control how much more material your professor will cover.  You cannot control the questions on the exam.  You cannot control usually when your exams are scheduled.  

But there is a great deal that you can control.  You can control how you distribute your study time among courses.  You can control the study strategies that you use.  You can control your daily use of time. 

Have a plan for the remaining weeks.

  • Make a list for each course of all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for the final exam.  This list gives you the skeleton outline for the review needed for the exam.
  • The lists will be long because they focus on subtopics.  It takes far less time, however, to learn a subtopic than an entire topic.  Progress can be made more quickly by focusing on subtopics in the list than trying to complete an entire topic at one time.
  • Draw a line below the subtopic most recently completed in the class.  Above this line is the material that has already been covered; below this line is the material that will be presented in the coming days.
  • Estimate the amount of time that each subtopic will take to learn intensely so that you will be ready to walk into the exam (the learning time only and not the practice question time that one might also do on the subtopic later - you have to learn it first).
  • Total the subtopic estimates for each separate course.  This total gives you an approximate idea of the time needed to learn the material thus far for the course.
  • Compare totals among the courses to understand how you should proportion study time.  Perhaps Course A and Course C need equal time while Course B needs twice as much time and Course D needs three times as much time. 
  • Decide when in the class week you can find time for exam study each week for the remainder of the semester.  Label the found times by course in proportion to the totals.
  • Number the subtopics on each list.  Distribute the subtopics over the next three or four weeks to finish your review of the material that has already been covered. 
  • Save the remaining two or three weeks before the end of classes to distribute the new material as you estimate the time for intense study that is needed for each subtopic.
  • If possible, leave only two weeks of new material to learn during the reading/exam period.

Make sensible decisions so you stay in control of your time and focus:

  • Prioritize what you need to get done each day.  Start with the most important tasks and move down the list to end with the least important tasks.
  • Within these prioritized categories, consider doing disliked or harder tasks earlier in the day when you are fresh and alert.  Then complete the liked or easier tasks in a category.
  • Break every large task or project into small pieces.  You will not get as overwhelmed when you focus on a small task (reading one case, writing one paragraph, studying one subtopic) instead of the enormous task (a 30-page paper, an entire course).
  • Take small breaks throughout the day - 10 minutes every 90 minutes of studying.  Get up and walk around or stretch to get some movement into your routine.  Then refocus for the next task.
  • Use self-discipline.  Do not turn a 10-minute break into an hour break.  Do not waste time on Facebook, Twitter, television sitcoms, and other distractions.
  • Decline invitations to spend time on things that will mean you do not finish your daily task list.  Be diplomatic, but say no.  Avoid excessive meal breaks, shopping excursions, socializing instead of scheduled studying, and more distractions.
  • After you have learned a particular topic well, move on to the next topic.  Do not just keep reviewing what you already know to avoid getting to the hard stuff.
  • Get questions that you have about course subtopics answered as you do your review.  Do not store up hundreds of questions for the last week of the professor's office hours.

Law school is to a great extent about organization and time management.  So is legal practice.  Take control of what you can.  Move forward - any progress is still progress.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

 

 

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