Whether you’re just starting undergraduate coursework, or starting to study for the LSAT, MCAT, GMAT or other graduate school admissions test, good study habits are integral to your success. Here are some tips to help you be effective while studying.
Find a Good Study Spot
While some people can multi-task and watch television while studying, most can’t. Find a place that’s free of distraction. You’ll need some sort of table or desk, adequate lighting and a comfortable chair. Make sure that you have the tools you need at hand: paper, pencils, note cards, books, computer, printer, etc.
Know Your Distractions
For some people, it’s the Internet. For others, chatting with friends. Some students study best with background noise such as television or music; others need complete silence.
The key to effective study sessions is to avoid the distractions that challenge you most. If your friends all study at the library, that might not be the best place for you to study if you can’t keep yourself from engaging in long chats. If surfing the Internet is a time killer for you, leave your laptop home or study in a place where you can’t get Internet access.
Take the time to figure out what challenges you face during study sessions and then find a space free of those distractions.
Schedule Regular Study Time With and Without Partners
If you’re studying for a large test, plan regular times during the day for study sessions. Researchers have found that studying for shorter periods of time, more frequently is more effective than fewer sessions that are longer in length.
Schedule two or three 30 minute study sessions throughout the day and stick to your schedule.
Study both alone and with study partners for the best success. Sometimes you’ll need quiet, distraction free study. Other times, working with others is helpful. Do both.
Focus on Concepts First
Don’t attempt to blindly memorize facts; for many classes and tests, this isn’t effective. For instance, the LSAT will ask you many questions that cover your knowledge of concepts... not facts.
Focus on learning larger concepts of a subject first, rather than focusing on small details and facts. It’s more important to know the overall purpose and gist of the U.S. Constitution, for example, than to know the date it was signed.
Take Practice Tests
Your professor may offer practice tests, or you may be able to find some that cover the subject you’re studying by looking online. The best way to test your knowledge is with practice tests. If you can’t find any practice test materials, ask a study partner to quiz you on the material.
Schedule your study sessions well before your test and be diligent about using that time to study. Don’t wait until the night before the test to start looking at the material.
The night before the test is a great time to review your notes and engage in a brief, final study session. However, it’s counterproductive to stay up all night studying. You’ll be exhausted and worn out for the test and will perform much worse than if you’d gotten sufficient sleep.
A career in law can be challenging, interesting and exciting, but it’s not for everyone. Law school is a three year commitment that can cost over $100,000. Before applying, ask yourself these 4 questions to determine if a career in law is right for you.
Do I have the ability to get into and complete law school?
Not everyone gets into law school. To be a good candidate for acceptance, you’ll need high grades on your undergraduate coursework. You will need to show that you’ve been involved in your community by doing volunteer work. Professors must be willing to write letters of recommendation for your application.
You’ll take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) during the year before you apply to law school. It’s important to score well on the test, so you should be prepared to put in many hours of study beforehand.
Once you make it into a law program, you should be prepared to spend your days studying. First year law students are discouraged from working outside jobs, so you’ll want to ensure that you have the money for living expenses.
Getting into and completing law school both require lots of hard work. It’s best to go into the process being aware of the rigors of a law education.
Do I have the right personality for law?
Lawyers’ daily lives are not like those you see on television—most of their time is not spent arguing passionately in courtrooms and changing lives. In reality, much of practicing law is unglamorous and mundane. To love a law profession, you should have many of these personality traits:
- A thirst for knowledge and desire for continual learning.
- Able to work within a system of rules and laws.
- Good at analyzing situations and determining approaches.
- Competitive and willing to work long hours.
- Pragmatic and dispassionate.
Do I want the lifestyle of a lawyer?
The life of most lawyers is not glamorous. Depending on your specialty and how prestigious your firm is, your pay may not be any more than that of people in other fields that require only a bachelor’s degree.
Especially in the beginning of your career, you may be required to work 70 hours per week or more, with very little recognition and pay. Some lawyers continue to work long hours throughout their careers.
Practicing law can be stressful. A lawyer’s typical day will include lots of research, reading and writing in an indoor, sedentary setting. If you’re the kind of person who gets bored easily and needs to do physical work, law is not for you.
Can I afford law school?
Law school is expensive—full-time programs range anywhere from $60,000 to $180,000 just for tuition. In addition, you’ll have other expenses such as books, rent, food, etc. Students often graduate from law school with large student loans that must be repaid.
Think carefully about the financial expense of law school before you apply. For some, the burden will make law school a poor choice. For others, the expense is well worth the investment—they’ll be working in a career they love.
Once you’re in law school, you’ll start thinking about the kind of law in which you’d like to specialize. There are countless law specialties, but they typically fall into two broad categories: criminal law and civil law.
Criminal law deals with people who have been accused of committing a crime. Lawyers work on both sides: as prosecutors who are trying to bring a criminal to justice and as defense attorneys who protect the rights of the accused and ensure a fair trial.
There are three main types of criminal lawyers: prosecutors, public defense attorneys and private defense attorneys.
Prosecutors work for federal, state, county and city governments. They are assigned to prosecute suspects who are accused of crimes. Prosecutors research cases, work closely with law enforcement and offer plea bargains or take cases to trial.
Public defense attorneys also work for federal, state, county and city governments. They are assigned to clients who cannot afford a private defense lawyer. These attorneys work closely with their client and argue for the client’s innocence. In the case of a plea bargain, they negotiate the best terms for their client.
Private defense attorneys do the same work as public defenders, but with larger salaries and lower case loads.
Civil law covers all matters that do not involve crime. This category of the law is very broad, with dozens of specializations. Here are a few main areas of civil law:
Corporate lawyers typically specialize in fields of interest to companies such as:
- Patent law
- Contract law
- Tax law
- Zoning regulations and land use law
- Securities law
- Real estate law
Corporate lawyers work closely with their corporate clients to ensure that every part of the clients’ businesses are operating legally. They negotiate contracts for their clients and help structure the best practices for the highest profits.
Civil Litigation Law
When one party brings a lawsuit against another in order to win a judgement or settlement, civil litigation attorneys represent the clients on both sides. For instance, a woman who is hit by a drunk driver may take the driver to civil litigation court to ask for an award to pay medical bills and compensate her for the pain she suffered.
Civil litigation suits sometimes occur after criminal trials but can also be brought by any party who wishes to sue another. Civil law suits may involve long trials, or may be resolved with a quick settlement agreement. Either way, each lawyer is looking out for his client’s best interest, whether as defense or plaintiff.
Family lawyers handle divorces, adoptions and custody issues. They work to achieve the best settlement deal for their client, argue for or against custody in family court, or complete legal paperwork for adoptions. Family lawyers work closely with clients. They may attend mediation or settlement hearings to avoid court, or may accompany clients into the courtroom for trials.