alpinespring wrote:Just out of curiosity: How would you describe the people who rank in the top 30% / 10% at HLS?
I was in the top 10%. I think there were probably two major factors. The first is that I can write unusually quickly, typically around 1000 words per half hour in an exam. (This is not particularly fast typing; it's a little over 30 words/min. But for also coming up with those words, it's pretty fast.) So in any exam with a tight time limit — most of my exams in law school — I had an advantage, because I was writing probably 50% more than the average student. One of my friends was a Sears Prize winner in his 2L year and wrote a bit faster than I do, so I think this is a real thing — writing quickly is an advantage.
The second factor is probably that I put in more work than was typical, especially after 1L (but even during 1L). If anyone cares, my method is in the spoiler tags below. I don't think I did a lot more than might be expected for someone who is keeping up with the work in a class. (As I say below, it was probably an extra hour a day beyond just doing the reading, and a couple more hours each weekend.) But I didn't phone it in on any class at any point, and I paid attention in class, and I think a lot of people phone it in and goof off after first semester and especially after 1L.
As much as I'd like to think it was because I'm some sort of genius, it's probably not. Most everybody at Harvard is pretty smart, and I don't think I was especially smart by Harvard standards. I definitely don't have a photographic memory or anything like that. I was just consistently a good student. (And consistency really mattered — I didn't get any DSs after my first semester, but I got straight H's in every class in 2L and 3L.)
- [+] Spoiler
- My method, if anyone cares:
At least for my first three semesters, I read every assignment twice, first to get a general sense of what was going on and second to write a simple brief for each case. My brief listed facts (and, to the extent that it was relevant, procedural history), reasoning, outcome, and (very concisely) what any concurrences or dissents said. I'd often try to identify the issue or the holding, also, but that was sometimes a fool's game, depending on the class. During class, I transcribed most of what happened, usually at about a 3:1 or 4:1 compression (i.e., about every 3-4 sentences that the prof said, I'd write 1 in my notes, roughly).
Every 2-3 weeks, I went back over my notes for each class — which, for no-laptop classes, meant typing them up — and compressed those notes into an outline. I tried to alternate classes each week, so it was really just a couple hours every weekend going over the past few weeks for a couple of classes, and I usually didn't start doing this until a month or so into class, especially during 1L, when I had no idea what the heck was going on in each class. I again tried for more or less a 4:1 compression, so if I had 20 pages of notes, that would turn into 5 pages of outline, give or take.
Around exam time, I usually created a short outline — because by this point many of my outlines were 30-40 pages — that was pretty close to a checklist of what to look for in an exam, together with sentences or phrases to use in examining those issues. My short outlines were usually 4-6 pages, although some classes (Civ Pro, Fed Courts) couldn't be done in under 10. While my long outlines were chronological, going in the order that we went in class, my short outlines were usually rearranged in logical order, so that I had the issues in the order in which I probably wanted to discuss them on an exam. (This made a big difference in, say, Fed Courts, where the topics were horribly arranged during class, so I had to think a bit about how to rearrange them to hang together logically.) I also worked through as many practice tests from that professor as were available (usually 2-3, but sometimes as many as 5-7, depending on how many I could find).
I usually didn't mess around with hornbooks, but occasionally (e.g., Glannon for Civ Pro) I used one for additional explanation and extra practice. I also didn't highlight/underline/tab in my books at all.
This sounds like a lot of work, but it really wasn't. It was just maybe an extra hour each day and a few extra hours each weekend, compared to just doing the reading. It meant paying attention during class and not goofing off — I also probably had an advantage in laptop-allowed classes, because I was transcribing the class and most other people were on Gchat or buying things on Amazon or something — but paying attention in class isn't hard. It generally meant that I was doing less work during finals period, because I already had read everything and made my long outline.
I occasionally didn't do the reading before a class and had to do it after. I occasionally didn't bring an outline up to date for 5-6 weeks instead of after 2-3. So I didn't always follow the schedule exactly. And after three semesters of this, I found that I didn't have to brief cases anymore, so I generally did the reading once instead of twice. (But that might also have been related to the fact that my profs basically stopped cold calling after my third semester.)
I can't swear that this will work for anyone else, or that I didn't waste some time in doing this. But I did end up getting magna, so it worked for me. And all of my notes, outlines, and exams are on HLS Dope, so you can see for yourself what everything looked like.