Published: Jan 14, 2020
Now that the holidays are but a distant memory, we’ve reached the time of year that 1Ls have been anxiously awaiting: the release of first semester grades. Unfortunately for many 1Ls, the first set of law school grades proves to be disappointing. This is especially true for students who have otherwise never struggled to achieve perfect grades. But earning top grades in law school is an entirely different game, and for most law students, it doesn’t come easily.
If you are currently one of these disappointed 1Ls, it may help to know that first-semester grade-shock is a common phenomenon—you’re not alone. So instead of panicking, here are some strategies to help you move forward.
Take a moment to celebrate your accomplishments.
You may feel disappointment, anger, fear, or any myriad of emotions after receiving your first set of law school grades. But before you spiral into thoughts of doom and gloom, take a step back to reflect on what you did accomplish. You just finished an incredibly difficult semester. Not only is law school entirely different from your prior education, but law school exams are uniquely challenging thanks to impossible fact patterns, a tough curve, and the pressure of a single test determining your grade. Now that you’ve gone through it once, you have the tools you need to tweak your plan for next semester.
Don’t discuss grades with your classmates.
When it comes to grades, comparing yourself to your classmates is not constructive. Though law school certainly can feel competitive, the only competition you need to worry about is with yourself. You should not feel compelled to share your grades with anyone, even if your closest law school friends are asking. And if you do hear other students talking about how well they did, remember this: More students than not are in the same boat as you. So be polite to those who did well, but then drown out those voices, and focus on what you can control.
Talk to your professors.
Meeting one-on-one with your professors might seem intimidating, especially when you aren’t proud of the grades they gave you. But don’t miss the opportunity to talk with the people who can provide you with the best possible feedback on your exams. Looking through your actual exam responses with a professor is an invaluable way to learn what you did well and what you need to improve. Be careful, however, that you don’t use this time to argue with your professor about why you deserved a better grade. With very few exceptions, you won’t be able to change your grade, and you don’t want to damage a professional relationship. Remember that the purpose of these conversations is to gain feedback for use for future exams.
Reflect on your study habits.
Effective study habits are key if you want to ace law school exams. Even if think you gave it your all during finals, your study strategy probably has room for improvement. Reflecting on what you did last semester is important for honing your plan going forward. Here are some points to consider:
Start brainstorming other resume boosters.
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Your grades are important to your legal job search. But they’re not the only factor that matters. While grades should continue to be your priority for the remainder of your 1L year, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about a plan that goes beyond your GPA. Take advantage of networking events at your school and in your community. Consider what extracurricular activities you’d like to participate in during your 2L year. Brainstorming a comprehensive game plan can help alleviate some grade-related stress.
Keep a positive attitude.
Bottom line: You can improve your grades. Yes, your 1L grades are important, but you only have half of them at this point! That leaves another whole semester within your control. With careful reflection, a revised plan, and a positive attitude, you will be ready to tackle second semester exams.
The first month of 1L year is like a whirlwind—from trying to survive the Socratic Method to learning how to outline effectively to figuring out a study method that will land you on top of the curve. And while you are just trying to stay afloat, you may be hearing buzz about post 1L summer jobs, OCI, journals, clinics, and employer receptions.
When I was in law school, I had a final exam routine—from the types of study materials I made and my process for studying them, all the way down to the type of drink I’d bring into the test room and the music I’d listen to right before the test. Some called it crazy; I called it self preservation.
The journey to becoming an attorney is a windy road filled with late-night study sessions, high-pressure exams, and tough competition—all of which can contribute to mental health challenges. With an estimated 40% of law students experiencing depression by graduation, it is important to understand that you are not alone if you are suffering from depression.