Climbing Mountains and Creating Diamonds

We have all heard them. In the frazzled squeals of over-caffeinated classmates, in the somber tones of shell-shocked 2Ls, and occasionally, through the uncontrollable tears of a humbled perfectionist (hopefully not): Law school exam horror stories. These frightening tales echo throughout Eckstein Hall: “One exam counts for your entire grade!” “My Civil Procedure exam took over three hours!” “Twenty minutes into the Torts Final the kid next to me just threw down his pen and walked out!” Now I am not here to scare you, but I am also not going to lie to you, law school exams are not fun. Rather, I am here to give you advice based on how I survived my first semester of law school exams.

The first key to preparing for exams is to not become overwhelmed. When reading your class syllabi for the first time, it is natural to be intimidated by the substantial volume of work that lies ahead. At first glance even the hardest working student would be thinking, “he will never be able to keep up.” Avoiding that trap is vital to succeeding in law school. In my experience, the best way to approach your studies is the same way a Marine climbs a mountain. When a Marine looks at a mountain, he does not see an impassable, towering crag of rock and ice. He sees a ridge. Specifically he sees the nearest ridge he can reach and he begins by climbing towards that ridge. By scaling the mountain one ridge at a time a Marine does not get dismayed, and more importantly he stays focused. In law school it is important to break your workload up into manageable ridges and climb them one at a time.

My second piece of advice is to reward yourself. When you successfully climb those ridges, treat yourself to a little prize and a victory dance (If your are in Eckstein Hall, though, keep it discreet. Maybe just stand up and put on the championship belt). After every hour of studying reward yourself with a 10-minute break. Take a walk, socialize, maybe check for the latest scores (let’s go Pack). Allow yourself to clear your head, and not only will you be a more effective studier when you sit back down, you will not dread your work as much because you know you have another break coming.

My third piece of advice is to maintain a healthy balance between school and the rest of your life. It is tempting to think you can get a leg up on your classmates by not “wasting your time” on frivolous pursuits outside of law school, but that is a guaranteed path to burnout. Study hard, but schedule time during each day to do something that you enjoy. For example, I make a point to work out for an hour every day. This gives me time to get away from work and clear my head. When I return to the books, I am refreshed and ready to go. Whatever it is that recharges you (going for a run, hitting underclassmen, watching episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, etc.), make a point to include it in your daily schedule.

My fourth recommendation is to be wary of the Nirvana Fallacy or in other words do not waste time. The Nirvana Fallacy is an error in logic whereby a person rejects a realistic choice because it is not a perfect choice. For example, someone falling victim to the Nirvana Fallacy might decide against studying for a half hour in the noisy cafeteria because he or she does their best studying in complete silence. These people unnecessarily deprive themselves of a good studying opportunity because it is not perfect. I want to make special note of this because perfectionists are particularly susceptible to the Nirvana Fallacy, and, well, this is law school so I know there are more than a few of us out there. To paraphrase Voltaire, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

I would like to leave you with one final thought. Law school exams are more than just a test of knowledge; they are a mechanism for shaping a mindset in students. Similar to diamonds, lawyers need to be tough. They need to be able to perform under pressure and withstand the heated moments that define what it is to be an attorney. A diamond starts out as ordinary carbon molecule, but through extreme heat, pressure, and time that carbon is formed into a multifaceted, virtually indestructible diamond. Likewise, we start out as ordinary men and women, but through the extreme heat and pressure of law school we will become great attorneys. Exams force us to learn how to prepare, they teach us how to think on our feet, and they leave us mentally tougher. Sure, law school exams are scary, but in overcoming them we will emerge as strong as diamonds.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Rebecca Blemberg

    Wonderful advice, Mr. Gill! Your climbing metaphor resonates with me because some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone is this: “When you’re not climbing, rest. Worrying about the next bit of climbing is not resting. Climb. Rest. Climb again.”

  2. Tyler Brennan

    You would think it’s fun to go around “hitting underclassmen.”

  3. Kristin Lindemann

    This is a great blog post Barry! It’s really well written and your advice is spot on. Thanks for sharing your insight!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.