Congratulations if you’re heading off to start your law degree this autumn. I hope that you’re feeling really excited and that your whole university experience will be a blast. You’ll want to settle in and make friends and get to know your new environment, all of this is rightly top of your “to do” list. But what about the actual studying? Here are a few tips to get you going.
You can’t succeed unless you read!
You can’t avoid reading so you may as well get on with it from the start. That way you’re likely to build up your reading speed; that’s essential as the amount of reading is likely to increase as you progress through the course. Make sure that you’re taking in what you read. There’s no point in skimming it like a Facebook post and then having no idea what was actually written. Keep notes and log relevant page numbers next to your notes. That’ll be absolutely invaluable if you want to refer in an essay to something you read and it’ll help you to avoid the terrifying charge of plagiarism. If you think something is particularly well expressed, copy it out verbatim. You can always use a quote in an essay, provided that you correctly attribute it.
If you don’t understand – ASK!
Don’t be afraid to ask an academic to clarify something for you. Chances are that if you haven’t quite grasped the point, at least half your classmates will be in the same position. They’ll be silently thanking you for having the guts to ask for an explanation! Studying at university level can be a bit like building a wall. You need to get the bottom bits straight and you can’t do that if you gloss over things you find difficult. Don’t just assume that if you come back to it later it will magically have become clear. Studying law does involve grasping some tricky concepts and you have to teach your brain to think like a lawyer. If you clear up confusion at the beginning you’ll be making things much easier for yourself down the line.
If you need help – ASK!
There are lots of support services at university. Mental health and well-being services, disability services, skills and careers support are all there. They’re waiting for you to access them and won’t come trotting round campus after you. If you have a disability of any sort, don’t be afraid of disclosing it to the university and seeking whatever help you need. Similarly if you’re feeling stressed or worrying that you are not coping there’s a lot of support. Perhaps you just want to come to pet the dogs which come in every summer to help you through the exam period, or maybe some regular counselling support would help? It’s up to you to go to get the service that you need. Nobody ever leaves university saying that they wish they’d spent more time in their room worrying in preference to going out to find help!
Look for opportunities to get feedback and take them
Sometimes students complain that they haven’t had enough opportunities to get feedback on their progress and often this is because they haven’t made the most of the feedback available. You may find that you’re offered the chance to write formative essays which academics will mark and provide comments on. Perhaps it sounds like a great plan until the time for writing the essay comes round? It’s easy to be a bit busy, to persuade yourself that you won’t get a lot from the exercise and to decide not to write anything. Bad idea! University level study is a step up from school and you wouldn’t want it otherwise. But it’s good to try to understand what the new standards and expectations are. If you write the essay you’ll start to be able to benchmark yourself.
Seminars also offer the chance for feedback – but only if you do the work for them. Typically you’ll have an hour when an academic will want you to discuss the problem set with your peers. This shouldn’t be a lecture by another name, where the academic tells you the answers. He or she is there to correct you if you’ve misunderstood something and to stretch and engage you. If you talk you’ll get feedback on your ideas; if you don’t do the preparation or don’t venture any comments, you’ll learn nothing about your progress.
So is there a theme here? Yes, I think there is. It’s about self-efficacy. You need to take responsibility for yourself and your learning, the days of being “spoon fed” are over. You’re finally embarking on life as a fully independent adult. What could be more exciting?