Friday, November 17, 2006

Talking Turkey about the Thanksgiving Break

My students have come in the last week asking for advice on how to use their Thanksgiving Break to advantage for studying.  Some students are so "on top of it" that they can play the entire break period.  However, most students are not in that position.  I make several observations to help them determine the most efficient and effective use of their time.  Among the suggestions are:

  • Be realistic about holiday plans.  It is easy to expect more studying than can really take place.  Avoid "pumpkin pie in the sky" planning.  Consider travel mode, travel time, family expectations, priorities for studying, and life balance.
  • Make a list of all topics and sub-topics for each final exam course.  Number the list for each course.  Estimate the amount of time needed to study a sub-topic in-depth (including practice question time).  Note the estimate next to that sub-topic.  Use a monthly calendar and enter sub-topics to learn on available days so that studying will be complete two days before the final.  Then, use those two days for review of the most difficult material and more practice questions.  This system gives you information on what sub-topics should be studied during the break period if you are to keep on track.
  • Make a list of all paper or project tasks that you must complete.  Do the same type of numbering and estimating.  Use a monthly calendar with an artificial deadline two days before the due date for any paper or project to allow time for final edits.  Enter the tasks on the days available.  Again, this system gives you information on what project tasks should be completed during the break period for you to stay on track.
  • Evaluate each course to determine what your priorities are for studying.  Are you up-to-date with outlines?  Are some courses extremely difficult so that you need to focus on them more?  Do you need to make graphics to increase your learning if you are a visual learner?  Are there supplemental materials that you need to read to clarify certain topics?  Do you need additional time for memorization?  Have you made a list of questions that you need to get answered?
  • Consider outside things that might influence your study time.  Will you be home alone while others are working?  Is there another location where you can study such as the public library?  What activities are mandatory to keep good relations with family or friends?  When might you get up earlier or stay up later to study and still meet family obligations?  Can you involve family or friends in helping you study by using flashcards or other study methods?  Can you study in the airport, on the plane, or while someone else drives?
  • Talk with your family and friends about why it is important for you to use your time wisely for studying as well as having fun during the break period.  If you played every break during undergraduate school, they may not understand your change of plans for law school. 
  • If the last week of classes is after the break (as it is at our school), decide whether doing your reading for that last week of classes while you are on break will work for you.  Of course, you will need to review before going to classes.  For many students, reading ahead this one time will open up more flexible study time during the last week.  And, consider photocopying the cases to take home rather than lugging all those books.
  • Enjoy as much of Thanksgiving Day as possible for your own study situation.  At minimum, take a few hours off to enjoy Aunt Flossie's pumpkin pie and Little Joey's excitement over the holiday.  Even law students need to relax.
  • Give yourself rewards for your study accomplishments.  Make the rewards larger for big tasks and smaller for little tasks.  All of us stay focused better if we know that there is a benefit at the end.  What rewards work for you?  Tailor your reward system to your own learning and personality. 
  • Get at least 7 - 8 hours of sleep every night.  Law students need to charge their batteries for the upcoming marathon of exams.  A regular sleep schedule that continues through the rest of the semester has big pay-offs during exams.
  • Remember that you can do this!  You can be successful if you focus and work hard.  Have fun during the break period, but also remember your priorities. (alj)

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