« on: June 14, 2007, 04:49:35 PM »
FWIW, here are the steps I, personally, took to get to the top 10% as well as a few musings.
1. Like it or not, there is some degree of luck involved in the grades. To this day, I have one very low grade amidst a pile of high ones... and for the life of me, I can't tell the difference in the exams. Almost everyone of my peers that I've spoken with is in the same boat.
2. Outline from the very beginning. First semester, I would do all of my reading for the coming week over the weekend. Then I would take notes, by hand, and update each of my outlines, for every class I had that day, in the evening. That approach was very good because I was always caught up on my reading, outlining, and always reviewing. By taking notes by hand, it also made me focus on class, rather than chatting away on IM like most people did within a matter of days. The down side was that it was a huge time waster. In the spring, I started taking notes via computer, and outlining while in class. That worked, b/c I already knew what I was aiming for in an outline, and I could make notes as I went for research when I had more time.
I found that people that waited to outline were almost always slammed when they finally started in the final month before exams. I on the other hand was always refreshed, and played videogames even during the exam period.
3. Find a study partner you trust. Not a group, but a single individual who likewise wants do their absolute best. It was great to have a strong ally to run hypos with. Speaking of which...
4. Start doing practice exams LONG before you think you need to. My study partner (who also ended up in the top 10%) and I began taking exams together and individually over a month before exams started. By the time exams rolled around, I'd say that we had each outlined or written out full answers to twenty-five exams. Several schools keep public databases of exams (Harvard has an amazing one)--use them! By the time you've seriously worked through that number of exams for a subject, it's hard for it to not be second nature. And make sure you practice your typing as well! Typing 100+ WPM helped me out a great deal, I'm certain...
5. Finish your reading earlier. This is doomed to be controversial, but one thing that worked well for my partner and I was that we finished ALL of our reading for ALL of our classes four weeks before exams. It makes you a sitting duck for being called on in class, but it freed up our time to take those ~100 exams (two dozen, or more, per subject). And besides we had already...
6. Schmooze the professor. And not (just) for your grades! They are amazing people and have become some of my best friends after my first year. If you build a relationship with them, and occasionally volunteer in class, you'll find you rarely get called on, at least with tougher questions.
7. Try to seriously debate the law at a policy level, especially with your partner. Even if you do not have a policy professor, you'll find that if you intimately know the policy arguments underlying a law, you'll grasp the blackletter law extremely well. And don't content yourself to just recite the textbook justifications--create your own.
8. Relax. Though I sometimes felt guilty, I would spend up to half the day during the exam period playing videogames, watching movies, whatever relaxed me. It's worth its weight in gold.
9. Never underestimate your peers. Even the craziest of them have just as much reason to be there as you, and you might be surprised who ends up on top (grade wise) at the end of everything.
10. Have fun. Honestly, the one true thing for everyone I know who ended up at the top: they ~loved~ learning law. We'd gab about it in the whole, muse about it at night, and sadden at the thought of missing out on class. If you are truly someone excited about learning even the most boring laws, it will be very hard NOT to do well.