What does it really take to get top 10%?

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kswiss
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What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby kswiss » Wed Sep 15, 2010 11:50 pm

I've read all of the guides. I'm not asking for a how to. I just want to know if you guys think any of that stuff actually matters.

It seems that the people who have done really well fall into several categories:

People that brief, read cases, take good notes, outline half way through, and kill the exams.
People that don't brief, read only supplements, party every night, and kill the exams.
People that memorize BLL, have crazy flowcharts, take practice tests starting in OL, and kill exams.
People that brief, read cases, read hornbooks, read treatise, outline, party every night, gun in class, and kill exams.

What I am to infer from all of this is: LS, like life, is largely about who you are, rather than what you do.

All of these people talk about studying smart. But is it really likely that someone who on the bottom of the class for Fall semester could totally change their study habits for spring and then get all As? I never read of this happening.

Not to say that preparation doesn't make a difference. But is it really how you study that is determinative? Or is it that some people are exceptional, so they are the ones that come up with the perfect study systems for themselves? I'm sure the answer is somewhere in the middle.

I'm trying to do the best that I can, and I have no idea where I fall on the spectrum. It just seems from reading all of the advice that the people that kill 1L would probably kill regardless of what study method they use.

Anonymous Loser
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby Anonymous Loser » Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:50 am

When it comes to the top 10%, there aren't several categories, there is only one category: students who have found a system that works well for them, and have stuck with it.

As for someone who was at the bottom of their class fall semester coming back and getting all A's spring semester: this still won't get this person into the top 10%. This student may well graduate in the top 10%, but that doesn't matter.

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vanwinkle
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Sep 16, 2010 12:55 am

The one category, I would say, is "people who learned the material in class, went out on their own and figured out how to take law school exams, and killed exams". How, and how long it takes, for these people to learn the material varies, but the one constant is going to be that they spent time figure out what was expected of them on the final exam, and focused on that and not just the in-class material.

Over the course of the semester you're assembling a toolbox. Each case is a tool that can be used on the final exam. The final exam question is a box of parts you've never seen before and a request that you build a house out of them. Just knowing what the tools are, and describing each of them, won't help you on exam day. You have to know how to use each of those tools and build that house. The people who did that end up in the top 10%.

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20160810
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby 20160810 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 1:26 am

The question is flawed. What you should be asking is How can I do as well as possible? And the answer to that, of course, has been discussed to death on TLS.

Once you've put together an effective study strategy and execute it faithfully, there is quite literally only one thing that will get you into the top-10%: Luck.

That's it. Nothing more. Because you can only do as well as you can do, and where you fall vis-a-vis your classmates depends on how well they do, and you, of course, have no control whatsoever over that.

So relax, work hard, get lots of sleep, enjoy yourself, and stop worrying about whether you'll be top-10% since that part's not really in your hands.

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zeth006
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby zeth006 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:03 am

Anonymous Loser wrote:When it comes to the top 10%, there aren't several categories, there is only one category: students who have found a system that works well for them, and have stuck with it.


TCR.

Though top 10% would be a nice dream, I'll be happy if I can soon find my own system for getting everything down efficiently and doing satisfyingly well.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby 270910 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 7:40 am

vanwinkle wrote:The one category, I would say, is "people who learned the material in class, went out on their own and figured out how to take law school exams, and killed exams". How, and how long it takes, for these people to learn the material varies, but the one constant is going to be that they spent time figure out what was expected of them on the final exam, and focused on that and not just the in-class material.

Over the course of the semester you're assembling a toolbox. Each case is a tool that can be used on the final exam. The final exam question is a box of parts you've never seen before and a request that you build a house out of them. Just knowing what the tools are, and describing each of them, won't help you on exam day. You have to know how to use each of those tools and build that house. The people who did that end up in the top 10%.


+1.

The name of the game is learning what is expected of you. It actually isn't necessary to go out on your own and figure out how to take a law school exam, because by luck some people will intuit the proper methodology. But if you don't feel like letting fate decide whether or not you will do well at law school, you can figure out 1) what a good law school exam is, 2) how to write it, and (perhaps most difficultly) 3) what studying you personally need to do in order to prepare for that. Those three steps don't come with an answer to brief v. no brief or supplement v. no supplement. Everyone does the learning part differently.

For the record, an overwhelming majority of the people I know who tried actively to learn how to take an LS exam properly were rewarded handsomely come grade time for their efforts. They weren't all top 10%, but as a group they kicked ass. You can't say that about any other "group" - if you look at the long hours studiers, the partiers, the high LSAT people, the ivy undergrads, the in class gunners, or really any other group you'll see much more mixed results.

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edcrane
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby edcrane » Thu Sep 16, 2010 2:57 pm

kswiss wrote:All of these people talk about studying smart. But is it really likely that someone who on the bottom of the class for Fall semester could totally change their study habits for spring and then get all As? I never read of this happening.

Not to say that preparation doesn't make a difference. But is it really how you study that is determinative? Or is it that some people are exceptional, so they are the ones that come up with the perfect study systems for themselves? I'm sure the answer is somewhere in the middle.


I wasn't at the bottom of the class, but I went from a 3.3 (~median) first semester to a 4.1 second semester largely by changing my studying and exam writing strategies. The changes I made were mostly intended to compensate for the weaknesses I discovered during and after my first semester. I expected the changes to positively affect my grades but was sure that there were other innate differences between median students and those in the top 10% that mattered a whole lot more than mere studying and exam writing strategies. I was mistaken.

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cahesu
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby cahesu » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:15 pm

Great thread, with some great insights.

edcrane, can you elaborate on what you did differently?

vanwinkle, any thoughts on what people did to learn how to kill law exams? (LEEWS, Getting to Maybe, E&E's helpful?)

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vanwinkle
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:30 pm

cahesu wrote:vanwinkle, any thoughts on what people did to learn how to kill law exams? (LEEWS, Getting to Maybe, E&E's helpful?)

First, see what disco_barred said above. He's right. It's not so much how you learn to do it as it is that you're in that group of people who makes the effort to learn. There are different ways to learn that work for different people.

E&Es are really more about teaching you the law itself; the hypotheticals in them will get you started on thinking about how to apply the law to different facts, but unless you're aware that that's what you're really supposed to be practicing you're not going to get the full effect from using an E&E. That's the key; think about everything you're doing as learning either what the law is or how to apply the law to different facts. On the exam, your #1 job is to apply law to facts, which means 1) knowing what the law is and 2) knowing how to apply it correctly to the facts in the exam question. E&Es help a lot with #1 but may not help too much with #2.

I can tell you what I did: I read different 1L guides to success on TLS (and recommend the ones by Arrow, Xeoh85, Scribe, and Talon), focusing on their comments on exam prep. I read GTM,. I found old exams that had model answers and looked at what a "model answer" looked like. I took practice exams, and discussed the answers with other people. I went to professors and talked to them about what their expectations were on the exam. I just paid attention to all this different stuff that was out there that talked about what you're supposed to do on an exam. I took a couple practice exams, and managed to get professors to look them over and give me feedback.

I think the thing that helped me most was reading model answers and talking to professors. Different things will help different people differently, though. It just varies from person to person. But what's important to keep in mind is that what you're doing on an exam is ultimately the same thing, no matter the subject. Whether it's property, criminal law, torts, or con law, what you're doing on the final is applying law to facts, and learning how to do that is what you need to be doing most.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby traehekat » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:33 pm

Thanks for the responses everyone, especially vanwinkle and DB. Appreciate it. I'd also like to hear what you guys have to say re: methods for learning how to do well on exams. Did you guys just take as many exams as you could and go over them thoroughly? Did you find it was very important to have a model answer? Compare answers with other students? Go over portions of it with a professor? Did you guys strictly take exams given by your professor, or did you use exams from other professors?

EDIT: Exactly what I was looking for vanwinkle, thanks again for the insight.
Last edited by traehekat on Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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kswiss
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby kswiss » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:34 pm

edcrane wrote:
kswiss wrote:All of these people talk about studying smart. But is it really likely that someone who on the bottom of the class for Fall semester could totally change their study habits for spring and then get all As? I never read of this happening.

Not to say that preparation doesn't make a difference. But is it really how you study that is determinative? Or is it that some people are exceptional, so they are the ones that come up with the perfect study systems for themselves? I'm sure the answer is somewhere in the middle.


I wasn't at the bottom of the class, but I went from a 3.3 (~median) first semester to a 4.1 second semester largely by changing my studying and exam writing strategies. The changes I made were mostly intended to compensate for the weaknesses I discovered during and after my first semester. I expected the changes to positively affect my grades but was sure that there were other innate differences between median students and those in the top 10% that mattered a whole lot more than mere studying and exam writing strategies. I was mistaken.


Wow that was a direct answer to my question. So would you say that anyone in a LS class can achieve what you did? Or is it more that you had the requisite internal mechanisms to do well but failed to implement them correctly first semester?

I'm just trying to flesh out how much is innate vs. procedural.

If I took a bunch of third year students who have taken a lot of exams and put them in my Ks class, do you think that they would all write similar tests? Or do you think that they would land in similar spots on the curve as they did when they were 1Ls.

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vanwinkle
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby vanwinkle » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:48 pm

kswiss wrote:If I took a bunch of third year students who have taken a lot of exams and put them in my Ks class, do you think that they would all write similar tests? Or do you think that they would land in similar spots on the curve as they did when they were 1Ls.

I'll give you a different way to think about this: Last spring, as a 1L, I took two electives in courses that were mostly full of 2L and 3L students. I still got about the same grades as I did in my 1L spring courses, despite the fact that in those other classes I was up against upperclassmen. It didn't matter whether I was up against 1Ls or upperclassmen, I could still end up in about the same place on the curve. I know other 1Ls who were at the top of the class and had similar stories; if they were at the top of the curve, they were typically always at the top of the curve, whether it was a 1L or elective class.

I think that successful legal reasoning is a skill that sets you apart once you have it. People who don't quite get it fully after 1L aren't likely to get it fully even after their third year. The same problems persist; it's not something you're taught, you have to go teach it yourself, and if you didn't do it your first year then you're probably not going to your second or third. Not only that, but because of 2L OCI and the focus on 1L grades, there's not much incentive for people to keep trying to improve after their first year. People who do just okay or poorly during 1L will probably just keep doing so.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby Nicholasnickynic » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:53 pm

SBL wrote:The question is flawed. What you should be asking is How can I do as well as possible? And the answer to that, of course, has been discussed to death on TLS.

Once you've put together an effective study strategy and execute it faithfully, there is quite literally only one thing that will get you into the top-10%: Luck.

That's it. Nothing more. Because you can only do as well as you can do, and where you fall vis-a-vis your classmates depends on how well they do, and you, of course, have no control whatsoever over that.

So relax, work hard, get lots of sleep, enjoy yourself, and stop worrying about whether you'll be top-10% since that part's not really in your hands.


Whether you get top ten percent is in your hands.
Do you think anyone has ever gotten top ten percent by accident?

Using luck to explain grades is the opiate of the masses.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby bk1 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 3:57 pm

Nicholasnickynic wrote:Whether you get top ten percent is in your hands.
Do you think anyone has ever gotten top ten percent by accident?

Using luck to explain grades is the opiate of the masses.


Do you understand the meaning of a forced curve?

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rayiner
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby rayiner » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:01 pm

bk1 wrote:
Nicholasnickynic wrote:Whether you get top ten percent is in your hands.
Do you think anyone has ever gotten top ten percent by accident?

Using luck to explain grades is the opiate of the masses.


Do you understand the meaning of a forced curve?


There is a "forced curve" in a 100m race too. That doesn't mean that winning is a matter of luck.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby nealric » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:34 pm

There is no magic formula. However, everyone I know who was in the top 10% at a good school worked very, very hard.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby bk1 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:36 pm

rayiner wrote:There is a "forced curve" in a 100m race too. That doesn't mean that winning is a matter of luck.


Granted. But I will never beat Usain Bolt no matter how hard I try.

It's not all luck, but how well your peers do - something that is "luck" - is out of your control.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby cahesu » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:36 pm

Thank you, everyone.

E&Es are really more about teaching you the law itself; the hypotheticals in them will get you started on thinking about how to apply the law to different facts, but unless you're aware that that's what you're really supposed to be practicing you're not going to get the full effect from using an E&E.


I guess I was hoping the hypotheticals in the E&Es would function like mini-exam questions. The text of the chapter helps you learn the law, and applying it to the hypo would be practicing the ultimate skill, according to Scribe and Getting to Maybe, "applying law to fact."

Is there a better way to practice? Perhaps on old exams?

How did you practice applying law to fact, edcrane, or others?

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby edcrane » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:58 pm

kswiss wrote:Wow that was a direct answer to my question. So would you say that anyone in a LS class can achieve what you did? Or is it more that you had the requisite internal mechanisms to do well but failed to implement them correctly first semester?

I'm just trying to flesh out how much is innate vs. procedural.


Clearly innate ability can play a role. I've encountered at least one legitimately brilliant person who is so gifted at synthesizing information that he could probably get top grades even if he studied haphazardly and wrote poorly structured exam answers. By the same token, I suspect there are a few people at the bottom of the class who wouldn't do all that well even if they used optimal strategies. Generally, though, I think innate ability plays a rather small role because of the clustering achieved by law school admissions and the way exams are structured.

Personally, I'm horrible at ball-finding/socratic method, take a longer time to synthesize information than my colleagues, and am probably in the bottom quartile with respect to writing speed. On the other hand, I think I'm slightly more thorough than average and possibly a little better at logic. At best, my strengths and weaknesses are a wash on exams, placing me somewhere in the amorphous middle with respect to abilities. Having an approach to studying and writing exams that is almost perfectly suited to my abilities is, I think, the critical difference for me.

kswiss wrote:If I took a bunch of third year students who have taken a lot of exams and put them in my Ks class, do you think that they would all write similar tests? Or do you think that they would land in similar spots on the curve as they did when they were 1Ls.


Most would probably land in similar or slightly worse spots, though some would move up a great deal. But this isn't because innate ability is determinative. It has more to do with people simply not pushing themselves to improve upon their initial strategies. In part this can be attributed to a lack of motivation (after 1L, grades don't matter much), but I think it can also be attributed to a sort of psychological identification with grades. I think that after a semester of grades, a lot of students come to think of themselves as median or top 10% or bottom 10% students. This was certainly the case for me. I so strongly identified myself as a median student that for at least a month or two after grades were released, I *knew* that I was either extraordinarily lucky or the beneficiary of some stupid exam # mixup. When you think this way, there's no point in changing your strategies--you're already getting the grades that you are supposed to get.
Last edited by edcrane on Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby edcrane » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:38 pm

cahesu wrote:edcrane, can you elaborate on what you did differently?


During the first semester, I tried to employ the TLS "success in law school" approach. I'm at the same school as the author of that article, so I thought it wouldn't be difficult to replicate his results. But I found that my strengths and weaknesses, as well as my starting position, were very different from his. The central problem for me was that I'm too slow at synthesizing information and too lazy to, during the same semester, thoroughly read the assigned materials, read supplements and complete E&Es, and take a significant number of practice tests. I just can't get all of that done in a single semester. I tried to do that during my first semester and ended up putting way too much time into the last two (E&E's and practice tests). Consequently, I ended up with a broad but shallow mastery of each class.

During the second semester, I conceded my personal failings. I didn't use any E&Es, treatises, etc., took very few practice tests, and focused all of my studying on those things that were mentioned in class. I spent about twice as much time on the things I studied, yet I still had a lot more free time. This left me with an extremely narrow but deep mastery of each class, which perfectly matched up with each exam.

The other important thing I changed was the way I wrote exams. During the first semester I hyper-corrected with respect to ambiguity and forking. I tried to spot every issue that could possibly be hidden in the fact patterns. This was a bad strategy. After talking with a professor who analogized exams to pinball games, I switched to a strategy in which I hit all the obvious points in an extremely organized and well-cited way and ignored every ambiguity that seemed unintentional and didn't correlate with course content (i.e., a factual detail that could potentially prompt extensive discussion of some area of the law that we didn't discuss much in class). In short, I produced boring and frequently ugly answers that were correct but not insightful. This was a good strategy.

I'd attribute about half of my improvement to my changed study habits and half to my changed approach to exam writing.

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edcrane
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby edcrane » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:47 pm

bk1 wrote:
rayiner wrote:There is a "forced curve" in a 100m race too. That doesn't mean that winning is a matter of luck.


Granted. But I will never beat Usain Bolt no matter how hard I try.

It's not all luck, but how well your peers do - something that is "luck" - is out of your control.


It's out of your hands, but it's generally predictable, so I wouldn't call it luck.

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kalvano
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby kalvano » Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:16 pm

What surprises me about the A+ answers is how relatively simple they are. I think that's a switch for a lot of people, going from college-level writing to something that resembles a step-by-step "how to write" piece.

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FlanAl
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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby FlanAl » Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:31 pm

If usain bolt falls then you win the race. luck?

sorry mostly just wanted to reference this thread because it is really good

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby uwb09 » Thu Sep 16, 2010 6:34 pm

"A real man makes his own luck." Billy Zane, Titanic.

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Re: What does it really take to get top 10%?

Postby XxSpyKEx » Fri Sep 17, 2010 2:04 am

vanwinkle wrote:
kswiss wrote:If I took a bunch of third year students who have taken a lot of exams and put them in my Ks class, do you think that they would all write similar tests? Or do you think that they would land in similar spots on the curve as they did when they were 1Ls.

I'll give you a different way to think about this: Last spring, as a 1L, I took two electives in courses that were mostly full of 2L and 3L students. I still got about the same grades as I did in my 1L spring courses, despite the fact that in those other classes I was up against upperclassmen. It didn't matter whether I was up against 1Ls or upperclassmen, I could still end up in about the same place on the curve. I know other 1Ls who were at the top of the class and had similar stories; if they were at the top of the curve, they were typically always at the top of the curve, whether it was a 1L or elective class.

I think that successful legal reasoning is a skill that sets you apart once you have it. People who don't quite get it fully after 1L aren't likely to get it fully even after their third year. The same problems persist; it's not something you're taught, you have to go teach it yourself, and if you didn't do it your first year then you're probably not going to your second or third. Not only that, but because of 2L OCI and the focus on 1L grades, there's not much incentive for people to keep trying to improve after their first year. People who do just okay or poorly during 1L will probably just keep doing so.


Eh. You didn't take a seminar. Those are the biggest crapshoots of them all. You always want to take them because your odds of getting a good grade are really high, but it doesn't seem to always work out. I got my worst grade in law school so far in a seminar -- one where the professor brought in beer and pizza/food on a regular basis (I remember looking at my grade and wondering WTF happened there).

The lecture classes are about the same, but they can get weird. E.g. I took a class last semester where the prof wrote his own coursepack and went a completely different route than any supplement covered. I don't think anyone knew how to study for his exam. Then he wrote a really, really weird exam -- it basically broke down into a simple 50 question T/F portion (they were all just rules), and a take-home portion which consisted of questions where you had to go do things like read a 50 page section of the course pack that wasn't discussed in class and make arguments for and against the position of the author (in an topical area that we didn't even cover in class). I took the course pass/fail (thank god), but that exam was just awful.




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