Thanksgiving Break (Student Style)
Whenever I drop the “H-bomb,” responses (some direct, and others implied by body language) range from “WHAT? I know someone who went to Harvard?!” to “Wow! Congrats!” and occasionally “Harvard? How’d you manage to do that?” No matter the response, I always feel the urge to let it known that attending a premier school is, indeed, possible. No, it didn’t just happen overnight. I was not a legacy (daughter of parent(s) who attended). And I didn’t have an influential congresswoman or celebrity singing my praises in my letters of recommendation. However, it happened by me taking each semester (in high school AND college) seriously, which brings me to the purpose of this blog post.
Ever since high school, Thanksgiving Break was my cue to kick into high gear with my studies, so I’d be able to slide effortlessly into home base when exams rolled around. In fact, as I sat back and thought about my Thanksgivings for the last couple of years of my life, I realized the habits I developed that helped catapult me into academic excellence.
High School and College Students
1) Get caught up.
Before you leave for the break, check-in (via the student portal or by asking your teacher) for missing assignments. (This might even grant you brownie points with your teacher for showing initiative and taking your education seriously ...You'll need to draw from your "brownie points" account when it comes time to request letters of recommendation ;-) Then, set aside 2-3 hours each day during the break to complete missing assignments, papers, etc. Trust me, the 2-3 hours will go by fast, and you'll have plenty of time to get back to things you enjoy doing.
2) Get a head start.
Use the break to get a head start on preparing for the final exam. If possible, ask your instructor for the final exam review packet before the break (if there is one), and work on it for about 2 hours each day. Even if you don’t complete the review packet, at least use the Thanksgiving Break get a head start on it. That way, during exam week you’ll be able to focus your attention on studying the material in the packet, as opposed to completing the packet. Alternatively, if your instructor does not issue an exam study guide, then take about 2-3 hours to review class material such as notes and past assignments. Again, the mini-review session will go by fast (especially if you incorporate 10-minute breaks), and when exam grades come out, you’ll be grateful you made the sacrifice.
3) Find out what you don’t know.
As you get caught up on your work assignments and/or get a head start on preparing for the exam, pay attention to the areas of the class that you still don’t understand. Don’t get frustrated or overwhelmed about it! Instead, write down those concepts you are still struggling to understand, and ask the instructor for help when you return to school.
The break shouldn’t be all work and no rest! I repeat: even on the days you choose to work during the break, you shouldn’t work the whole day. I don’t think I ever studied more than 3 hours in one day during the Thanksgiving Breaks. Also, choose at least one day to do nothing but enjoy your family, eat, and catch-up on Netflix and YouTube. Personally, Thanksgiving Day was always off-limits for studying.
Law School Students
1) Gather outlines.
If you are a 1L, now (literally, now…the beginning of November) is the time to begin collecting the outlines you will use for the final exam in each class. (That is, if your school/class allows open notes during the exam.) Note, it is controversial to use pre-made outlines, but I am an advocate for 1Ls (who lack any exposure to law school or law school readiness) using pre-made outlines their first semester. Once you gather your outlines, you will want to use the Thanksgiving Break to review them. Taking practice exams with the outlines is necessary, but I suggest starting that later, when you return to campus and start preparing for the exam. However, during the Thanksgiving Break, you will want to read the outlines, review them, and simply get all of their legal, doctrinal goodness into your system.
2) Make your outlines.
If you’re going to create your own outlines the Thanksgiving Break is the time to get them done, or at least make significant headway. That way, during exam period you can focus your attention on taking practice exams. Forget about the remaining cases that need to be read. Trust me, not reading the last few cases for the remaining week or two of class that remains after the Thanksgiving Break will not totally obstruct your grade. The pieces will come together as you outline.
3) Find out what you don’t know
While you review the pre-made outline (or create your own) highlight, or otherwise annotate, concepts, cases, and areas of the law that are still fuzzy to you. Then, as soon as Thanksgiving Break is over, go to office hours and ask the professor for explanations.
Choose one day and do nothing! When you return to campus there will only be 1-2 weeks before exam period begins. Make sure you take time during the break to spend with family, watch your favorite series, and do whatever makes you happy before the break is over.
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Wishing you all the best on your academic journey,
-Angel Everett, Esq.
Founder and CEO, Harvard and Hardship LLC