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Study: What worked for me & a reminder to be kind to yourself!

From my experience, most law students are self-critical high achievers who suffer from perfectionism. We are often the sort of people who receive 28/30 marks and think, why didn’t I get 30!? Instead of celebrating a great result, our first thought is often — you could have done better. I don’t think these qualities are necessarily bad, after all I think striving for success and having high expectations can be great motivators and can breed excellence. However, I think we also need to be kinder to ourselves. Generally, nobody is perfect at something the first time they do it. The saying — practice makes perfect — exists for a reason. For example, and this is a true story, when I returned to external study in 2013 while I was working full-time, for my first semester I listened to the lectures and tutorials and did some of the readings and that was it. Then all of a sudden, I had exams and I realised that I didn’t have any notes! It may seem silly, but the entire semester I did the work and never thought to take notes! So I ended up frantically preparing for my exams by going back over the entire semesters’ work for all of my subjects and taking notes in the two weeks of SWOTVAC before my exams started. I would not recommend doing this!

If you look at my academic transcript, for pretty much the first half of my degree I was achieving mostly 4’s and 5’s. For someone who is a high achiever, for a long time those marks felt like fails. I even considered repeating some of the subjects at one point in time so that I could improve my GPA. For the record, I now realise this was silly! Based on the conversations I have had with some law students, I’m not the only one who has felt like a 4 is a fail ,  even though by its very definition it is a pass! The interesting thing for me is that yesterday I received an unexpected email from the Law Faculty congratulating me on making the Law Dean’s List for my final semester. This means that I got a GPA of above 6.5. As much as I am proud of myself for that achievement, I’m actually more proud of the fact that my academic transcript shows how my hard work and persistence has paid off. I fell short of making the Law Dean’s List in my previous three semesters, but I finally got there in the fourth! When I first started my degree, I had no idea how to best prepare for exams or the best way to write a research paper and that reflected in my marks. That’s what I want any law students reading this to understand  that  you don’t have to know everything when you start, you are learning and with that comes making mistakes , and that is totally okay! For me now as a law graduate who will be transitioning into work as a lawyer in the near future, I am using this as a timely reminder to myself that when I start out, I’m not going to know a whole lot, and that is okay. I’ll work hard, learn as much as I can, and one day I’ll (hopefully) be great at what I do!

study tips: open book exams

I want to share a couple of the study tips that I learnt along the way that worked for me. I understand that they may not be helpful to everyone because we all learn differently, but if they help you then great! In preparation for end of semester exams, I would compile weekly notes for each subject. I would do this by starting with the lecture slides provided, copying the text from them and pasting the text into a word document (you can speed this up by downloading the RTF document if one is provided). I would then supplement these basic notes with the textbook readings. I would then have a 6–12 page document for each week’s substantive material. In around week 12, I would then start compiling templates from my notes. These were 1–2 page, size 10 font templates that I would use in exams. Preparing these templates was a form of revision as I would have to go over the material in order to make a concise version. If I was dealing with an area of law which had steps, I would use those steps as a basis for the template. I also prepared tutorials notes ,  which were usually just the questions and answers from the tutorials. I would then read over my notes, templates and tutorials ,  often at night before bed. This meant that I walked into exams with a lever arch folder that had a set of 10 tabs (10 weeks worth of material with weeks 1 & 2 together, which is usually all that is needed  as week 1 is often introductory and week 13 is often revision) with concise notes, a template and my tutorial notes in each section. I never brought a tabbed textbook with me to exams. My reason for this is that I never had time to flick through a textbook! I have found that I am flat out writing for the entire two hours — so, concise notes and templates were my saviour in exams!

study tips: research assignments

At the end of my degree, I was able to write research papers that obtained 7’s because of two main things: research and planning. I would start out my research papers at least a couple of weeks before they were due. I would search for my key words on a few main databases and find relevant articles. Once I had these articles, I would then create a word document called research notes, and I would go through each article and pull out the parts which I felt were relevant. Importantly, I noted the author and page number for each of these parts, which makes referencing later really easy! Once I had these notes, I would then organise them into arguments or sections. Once I had these sections, I would then combine them into groups I could use for my introduction and three body paragraphs. My conclusions were generally just a summary of my arguments/points with no new material or references. Once I had this plan, I could then write my essay or paper! I would re-word the relevant parts and reference them accordingly, making sure to add my own independent thought and address the gaps or weaknesses in my argument. I would then leave it for a few days, and come back to it with fresh eyes. I think this is one of the most helpful tips — make sure you leave enough time to look at it with fresh eyes. It is amazing how you can miss things when you have been looking at it for hours or days on end!

So, those are some of my study tips and what worked well for me! Remember that you’ll learn over the years of study what works best for you, and like anything, you’ll get better at it as you go. But above all ,  be kind to yourself! Understand that you won’t know everything at the start. It’s a journey — one where you will be challenged, make mistakes, and learn lots! From my experience, the assessment items or courses that challenge you and are uncomfortable, are the ones where you will learn the most. So, best wishes for your study, hang in there, know that feeling overwhelmed and stressed at times is normal and if you ever need someone to talk to, another opinion or to just run something by someone, I am here to help. Please reach out to me on social media or send me an email at meganallanah@gmail.com.