Over the last three years, I’ve noticed striking similarities between playing sports and being a law student. Both activities require lots of time and dedication. To excel in either, you must learn the game, discover your strengths and weaknesses, and of course practice, practice, practice in preparation for game day. To be successful in law school, there are three things to remember: train daily, practice makes perfect, and play until the end.
Like being introduced to a new sport, very few people come to law school knowing already how to play the game. During the first year, I spent most of my time learning the fundamental concepts and doctrines of the law. The thought of having only one exam at the end of the semester to determine my grade was worrisome. What I learned is that I have to train daily to be successful.
High-performing athletes maintain a daily training regimen: early morning workouts, strict diets and meal plans, and reviewing game film. Similarly, successful law students train daily. My daily training consists of reading for class, reviewing class notes, or preparing an outline/study guide. Something can be done everyday to prepare for finals. Spreading work over a span of 15 weeks is much easier than cramming at the end of the semester. A classmate of mine goes on a series of short runs, ranging from 6 to 10 miles, in the months leading up to running a marathon. The same concept must be applied to law school exams. Mastering your coursework a day at a time paves the road to law school success.
Practice? Yes. In the famous words of Allen Iverson, “We talkin’ about practice.” Practice is an essential piece of playing a sport. In practice, you learn plays, prepare for specific scenarios, and build endurance. Some high-performing athletes even visualize their performance before each game. I have learned that by practicing, I am much more prepared to answer final exam questions.
After I have spent some time training, I like to see how well I’ve mastered the material by answering practice questions. One invaluable resource available to law students is access to old exams and test questions. If time permits, I take as many practice tests as possible to get familiar with analyzing facts and applying the law clearly and concisely. Similar to professional athletes preparing for certain situations, the more familiar you are with various fact patterns, the more prepared you will be on test day. An NFL football team would not show up to the Super Bowl without practicing first; a successful law student should not show up to the final exam without answering practice questions.
Playing “until the whistle blows” is a familiar sports mantra. I have learned to apply that same attitude toward law school. A shining example of playing until the end of the game is KU’s late season basketball game against West Virginia. The Jayhawks rallied from down 18 to beat the Mountaineers in overtime. The ’Hawks erased a 4-point deficit in the last 49 seconds of the fourth quarter. If the team had decided that this game was over and gave up, they would not have tied the game, sending it to overtime and ultimately claiming victory.
In the last few years, there have been times that I didn’t fully comprehend a concept or doctrine until the final week, even days, before the semester’s end. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture until you’ve learned all of the parts that make the whole. Sticking with a subject until it clicks is necessary for success.
Similarly, I have had the same attitude in final exams. Last semester I found myself extremely flustered during my Federal Income Tax final. I came to a question that completely derailed me, and I contemplated what would happen if I quit, left the exam unfinished and walked out. After a split second, I came back to reality and said to myself, “Just finish the exam.” Good thing I did, because I did much better than expected. Deciding to give up is never a good plan. It is unwise to let one question get under your skin. There are many points to gain on a final exam. Staying the course, finishing the exam and answering as much as possible before time runs out is the best way to maximize your test score. Athletes and law students alike should commit to playing until the end.
To conclude, successful law students should approach the semester the same as athletes approach a big game or match. Taking time to train daily, practicing to gain familiarity, and playing until the end are all methods that have worked for me in my journey through law school. Hopefully one or more of these tips will assist you with navigating through your education experience as well.
— Johnathan Koonce is a third-year law student and KU Law Student Ambassador from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Labels: academics, class preparation, final exams, law school experience