Monday, August 31, 2020

How to Survive (and Thrive) When Called On In Class

By now, many first-year law students have experienced the thrill (and, perhaps, terror) of being called on to speak during class. Some professors cold call, while others announce which row or group will be on call next. In either case, remaining calm and alert during class is essential. For those students who are subject to cold calling, randomly being called on in class can cause anxiety. Rather than anticipating the classroom discussion, students worry about hearing their name and not knowing “the answer” to the question(s) posed by their professor.

Here are a few strategies to reduce the anxiety associated with being called on in class:

  • Review: Brief your assigned cases and spend 15-20 minutes before class reviewing each case brief to refresh your recollection of the cases assigned that day. The more prepared you are for class, the more confident (and less anxious) you will be if/when you are called on by your professor.
  • Practice: If you are in a study group, practice being “on call” with each other. This practice benefits the student who will be called on in class as well as the other group members who must know enough about the topic to ask questions and follow up questions. If you do not yet have a study group, practice with yourself. Try answering questions about key details of each case and think about the questions your professor may ask in class, particularly about the court’s reasoning and the holding. You may find it helpful to wear different advocacy hats during this process. Think about the case from the perspective of an advocate for the plaintiff, an advocate for the defendant, and as the decisionmaker.
  • Be Present: Before it is your turn to be “on,” or before you decide to volunteer in class, listen closely to what your professor is asking. Pay attention to your classmates’ comments and the follow-up questions your professor asks in response to those comments. Try to answer your professor’s questions silently in your mind and compare your answer to the answer given by your classmate.
  • Enunciate: Even if you do not feel prepared to speak, if you are called on, speak clearly and loudly enough for the class to hear what you are saying.
  • Breathe: If you freeze when you are called on, take a deep breath in and out through your nose. What may seem like an eternity to you will actually only be a few seconds.  Take those few seconds to gather your thoughts and gain control of your voice and your nerves.

The ability to think on your feet is a professional competency that you will develop over time, in part by the experience of being called on in class. Even if cold calling makes you feel very anxious or scared, take advantage of the opportunity presented by being called on in class. No one, including your professor, expects you to be perfect. You will make mistakes. You will also get better (and more comfortable) with practice.

(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)

Advice, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink


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