How I Improved my Law School GPA--and How You Can, Too!

I’ve always done pretty well in school. Like many other people who went to law school, I didn’t have to try very hard in high school or undergrad. It was easy to memorize information and do well on tests. Most of my finals in undergrad, as a journalism major, were written assignments, online content, and videos or photos.

But, there was a lesson I had to learn the hard way during 1L: law school requires different study methods than undergrad.

During my first semester, I ended up with my lowest GPA of law school - a 2.5. I’d never had a GPA that low. Ever. Not only was it a huge shock, but it was also a huge wake-up call—I couldn’t continue doing what I’d done throughout undergrad and that first semester of law school.

I know I’m not the only person to go through this—1L can be rough, not just because of the demand of a full schedule of doctrinal classes, but also because you’re figuring out how law school works. I knew I had to do something different.

During the fall of 1L, my study patterns were erratic—I “studied” in groups (AKA, we would goof around and talk for at least half of the study session), didn’t use spaced repetition, copied outlines from others, and focused on one final at a time until the date of the exam. And, to be honest, I spent a decent amount of time during my first semester going out with my new friends and suffering the results of that the next day.

Going into my second semester of 1L, I decided I need to focus more on classes and studying for finals. I didn’t want my GPA to stay where it was and I knew I could do better. Because my second semester of law school was interrupted by COVID-19, group studying was not something I could easily access anymore, which was secretly a blessing in disguise.

I learned a lot about how I should study that semester. I study better when I am alone. I can do brief reviews with other people in my classes, but the bulk of my studying has to be on my own. It was easier to meet with professors via Zoom to go over practice problems and ask questions, which made me realize that I should have been doing that sooner. Finding old exams and working my way through those problems with my drafted outlines was a huge help for me, especially with professor feedback.

Although I didn’t have an opportunity to raise my GPA that semester (my law school, like many others, changed its grading policy to mandatory pass/fail for that semester only), I was happy that I’d finally figured out how to study.

Throughout 2L and 3L, I improved on what I’d begun in 1L and ended up graduating with a 3.4, which I am incredibly proud of.

There were lots of things I did to better my GPA, and you can, too, if you aren’t happy with yours. Below is an in-depth look at what I did to improve my law school GPA and grades.

But first…a disclaimer

While these study methods may have worked for me, they may not be ideal for you—and that’s totally okay. Definitely give anything that piques your interest a try, but don’t get discouraged if it doesn’t end up working out for you like it did for me.

Make sure you’re asking yourself questions about what an ideal study session looks like for you—is it better to study alone or with a group? Do you need extra practice problems before the final exam? Do you need your professor to explain a rule to you differently? Everybody studies differently, so it’s important to do what works best for you.

Spaced Repetition

I mentioned “spaced repetition” above, but what is it? Spaced repetition is the practice of spacing out your study sessions so that you aren’t trying to cram right before an exam. Because you are taking spaces between your study sessions, your mind is forced to use active recall, or information retrieval with repeated testing.

The most well-known example of spaced repetition is using flashcards. If you take some time on a Monday to go through a set of flashcards and then use that same set of flashcards on Friday without studying it in between, you are practicing spaced repetition.

You can also practice spaced repetition by preparing short quizzes for yourself or by working in a group to ask each other questions.

Make Use of Your Resources

The good thing about law school is that there are plenty of resources surrounding you if you are struggling; you just have to know where to look.

First, utilize your professors. They’re teaching that subject for a reason! One thing I think that would have helped me out a lot during my first semester of 1L is visiting my professors during their office hours or setting up meetings to ask my questions.

At my law school, all our 1L classes had a TA. They were required to hold sessions each week where they would go over that week’s class materials, work through practice problems, and answer questions. If you’re lucky enough to have a similar program at your law school, you should definitely stop in, especially if you know you had trouble in class.

Last, look to your law library for some help. If you don’t want to buy every single supplement that gets recommended to you, visit the law library to check out copies of the supplements. You won’t be able to have them for as long as you would if you bought them, of course, but having free access to supplements will give you a great leg up in your classes.

Outline Properly

I’m a big proponent of the fact that everyone has their own way of outline and that there’s no “proper” way to do it.

That being said, I do think one thing everyone should do is to write out your own outlines. Putting rule statements, case summaries, and examples into your own words will help you study, remember the information, and make sure your outline is tailored to what you need.

I also started using skeleton outlines to make sure I was focusing on the necessary information for the exam. Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down with all the information that is thrown at you during class, so forcing yourself to make a one-page outline of the rules you need to know will help you sort everything out.

Test Your Outline

You won’t know how helpful your outline will be unless you test its merit. Many professors have copies of old exams available for you to download and use to practice. One of the most helpful things I had the chance to do with my finished practice exams was to meet with my professor and go over the correct answer together to see where I was excelling and where I was missing points. You can also use these opportunities to see what you’re missing from your outline.

Know That Things Will Get Better

I know this sounds cheesy, but it’s true. Like I mentioned above, 1L isn’t just about doing well in class—it’s about learning how law school works and how to successfully navigate your time there. As you move through law school, you will improve your reading and writing skills, you will figure out what your professors are looking for, and you will see your hard work pay off.


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