Saturday, December 6, 2014

Surviving Finals: Law School Edition

So, planning for finals for law school is pretty different from planning for finals for undergrad. And not just because Mary Baldwin has, literally, the best finals system in the world. In case you didn't know, MBC has an open finals week, so students can go take their finals anywhere in the academic building during any exam period they want, and are just on the honor code not to talk about them with anyone else. In law school, finals are scheduled, are not nearly as flexible, and require a LOT more information.

My finals record so far has not been that great. My very first semester, I got some pretty intense food poisoning, and woke up the morning of my first final literally unable to get out of bed. I rescheduled that one, crawled to the doctors office, and then ended up throwing up during most of my other finals. Believe it or not, I didn't do so great. The next semester, I actually had my wedding (in San Diego) right smack dab in the middle of finals. Thankfully I was able to reschedule my last two finals for after the wedding, but that means I had to focus on two finals, go enjoy my wedding, then come back and jump right back in to two more finals. Despite all that, here's my advice on planning for law school finals:

- Take care of yourself! See above story about food poisoning. If you aren't feeling great, chances are you aren't going to ace your exams. For me, this means making sure I have time to get in a few quick workouts during finals prep, eating healthy and taking my vitamins and supplements, and keeping my mind calm so I can focus.
One thing I like to do is make a meal plan for every week. During finals, I try to focus on easy make-ahead meals that I can prep and heat up and eat without really putting in too much thinking. I like a lot of salads, grilled chicken breast or skirt steak, and burrito bowls. I just put everything in disposable containers and throw it in the microwave. I also try to write down meals on my schedule so I don't forget to eat! I also stock up on some of my favorite snack foods, because I KNOW I will be snacking a lot (I like twizzlers and baked cheetos).
For workouts, I try to focus on quick, easy workouts during finals prep. This usually means a half hour cardio workout on the elliptical or treadmill, and fifteen minutes or so of kettlebells. If I'm sore, sitting through three or four hour exams is horrible.
To stay calm, I also like to add some yoga maybe once or twice a week. Other things I do to keep my mind free of stupid stuff is to keep my backpack packed with everything I need (highlighters, Picky Bars, chargers), and lay out my clothes for the week on Sunday night. When I wake up, the last thing I want to think about is putting together an acceptable outfit, so laying out clean t shirts/sweaters and some leggings just removes this worry.

- Strategize your outline prep. I make a day-by-day schedule of what exams I have and when I'm going to do what to prepare, and then add in things like meals and workouts. If you have little things that you tend to forget (like printing out your outline), throw that on the schedule too! Here's what my google calendar looked like this past week:

I tend to sandwich my outlining, so I start with the outline for my last exam, then finish with my first exam outline, and prepare for exams the night or morning before the actual exam.
For outlines, I always start with the syllabus and the textbook, and create a skeleton outline of the major topics the class covered. Once that is in place, I take a look and see if I need to organize it in a way that makes more sense to me, or that's more specific to the professor. Then I start adding in my notes, very brief case briefs, and notes from supplements. I sometimes ask around for any other outlines from people who have taken the class before, and see if they hit anything that I skipped.

- Strategize exam prep. Exam prep and outlining are hand-in-hand, but still different.
The day before an exam, I review my outline again, to make sure I understand everything on it. Then, I look at past exams or practice problems the professor or textbook has provided and write out practice answers. If there are sample answers, I look at that and compare it to my answer, or ask a friend to do the same thing, and compare our answers. If there is anything major I missed, I review my outline again to make sure it's on there, and I also check for any details I may have skipped. After all this, I hand write my final "attack" outline, which is a two or three page outline of the major issues, and how I plan on attacking each question. Most of the time, this includes a lot of flow charts. That night, I make sure to print out my outline, if it's open note, make sure the exam software is updated and restart my computer, and pack my bag with whatever I need. I make myself get in bed eight hours before I have to get up, whether I'm tired or not.
The morning of the exam, I plan on getting in my seat at school no less than 30 minutes before the exam starts. Before this, I make sure to get my coffee (usually a venti latte with 3 pumps of peppermint and 2 pumps of vanilla), fill up my water bottle, and eat something. Once I sit down, I lay everything out: my computer, plugged in and connected to the network with a backup cord on hand; a pencil and a colored pen or highlighter, my notes, and my water and coffee.

Also, one of my favorite professors always posts this article in his syllabus. Definitely a good place to go when you start to overthink everything in life.

- Once its all over, relax! If I have another exam coming soon, I know I need to relax and refocus quickly. I am usually too caffeinated to take a nap, so my "thing" is to go home, lay on the couch with something to munch on, watch some mindless tv (probably Bravo), and let my brain crawl out of my head. After about an hour or two of this, I'm awake enough to maybe go to the gym and take a shower, or head back to the library to refocus on my next exam.
And, after the last one, it's time to pop the champagne! This semester I'll be halfway through law school! Huzzah!

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