Dealing with a disappointing performance and mark from 1L fall is difficult especially as the 1L summer internship application process progresses and your email is inundated with discussions regarding OCI in the summer. Just remember a couple of things: (1) getting a bad grade does not mean that you won’t be a good lawyer (or more importantly, get a job) and (2) there’s always a way for you to improve. I have a few tips as to how you can move forward during the spring semester.
1. Have a positive attitude
Of course, it’s frustrating when your hard work doesn’t always seem to pay off, but the most important thing is to do is look at the spring semester as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes and start fresh. No, it isn’t ideal to have some blemishes on your transcript, but employers will be encouraged to see improvement in your grades from the fall to spring semester. So remember that your legal career will not be defined by how you performed in Property or Civil Procedure during your 1L fall semester. Rather, what’s more important is how you respond to this minor setback.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Even if you didn’t perform as well as you had hoped, remember that you still worked incredibly hard. Going forward, you have to be your biggest cheerleader and believe in your ability to do better. While you shouldn’t dwell on the past, your past performance can serve as a guide to correcting bad habits or strategies. Remember: you can improve!
2. Figure out what went wrong
While this may seem counterintuitive to moving forward with the spring semester, it is incredibly important that you spend some time to determine what went wrong during the fall so you can learn from those mistakes and develop better strategies. The silver lining in a bad grade is that you can learn from what you did wrong on that exam and apply those lessons to future law school exams.
Think back to what happened during study period/finals. How did you study? How many practice exams did you take? Did you work with others? When you were taking the exam, were you panicked? Did you run out of time? Asking these questions will allow you to reflect on your studying process as well as how you reacted in actual test conditions. This is not unlike what you did when you were studying for the LSAT. Just like the LSAT, it’s important for you to consider how you approach your final exams in law school from your preparation throughout the semester to the day of the actual test.
As a first step, you should look at your exam answers and analyze them. Go back through the exam instructions and any model answers provided by your professor or other students. Make sure you fully answered the question.; see where your answers deviated; make notes of any confusion you still have.
Once you have done the first step, email your professor and see if they will be willing to meet with you to review your exam. Some professors may not want to meet with students especially after grades are released so it’s important to frame these emails appropriately. Make it clear that you are looking to improve and develop better test taking strategies. This meeting is not about complaining or arguing with the professor about the grade you received.
If your professors are not available to meet with you, seek other support. Talk to someone from your class – someone you trust and more importantly, someone who did well on the exam. Go to the dean of students at your school and see if they can recommend any resources for you. And of course, a law school tutor is always useful!
3. Make a game plan for the spring semester – change how you prepare
Once you’ve met with professors and done your own reflecting, you can start to strategize as to how you will prepare for exams in the future. This is completely dependent on each case and situation so you can’t expect to find a single blueprint to success on a law school exam. Here are my general tips for success:
- This may seem obvious, but always do your readings and any assignments for class. You shouldn’t be hearing about McCulloch v. Maryland for the first time during your constitutional law lecture.
- Find out what each professor likes to see on the exam. Do they want you to argue both sides or advocate for a particular issue? Do they want you to cite cases? (Though you should cite even if they don’t) Do they have a word limit? Do they keep mentioning things in class (e.g. a theme, particular position, etc.) that you should probably write on your exam?
- Practice questions and practice exams are a must. Whether you’re using material created by your professor or a supplement, you should do your best to work through practice problems throughout the semester.
- Just like you should do practice problems throughout the semester, you should also outline throughout the semester. Don’t wait until mid-April to start thinking about your final exams.
- Consistently meet with your professors, other students and/or a tutor to review concepts from your class. If you’re meeting with other students from your class, make sure the study group is the best use of your time and that it is actually helping you better learn the topics covered in class.
Always remember that you will be able to move past a disappointing semester if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to figure out the best steps for success. It will be a lot of hard, but it’s not impossible and you can always seek the support of those around you!
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