Sunday, July 24, 2016

How to Succeed in a Class When You Have a Terrible Professor

As we creep up on fall and get closer and closer to orientation season, I have decided to write a series of posts on law school to help all the soon to be newbie law students out there. As a rising 3L, I finally feel like I have finally gotten this whole law school thing figured out and if I can help others figure it out quicker than I did, I'm happy to help. 

There I was, sitting in one of my classes. Buying things on Amazon and messengering people on Facebook. I knew that it was a stupid idea to spend tens of thousands of dollars on tuition and then just play around on the internet but I couldn't seem to help myself.  This class was going to be a struggle no matter what, simply due to the fact that it was scheduled from 6pm to 9pm. You either had to eat dinner early and fight the post dinner yawn-fest or eat a snack and hope you didn't get so hungry later that you wanted to start gnawing on your arm.

It was a stupid time to have a class.

However, it could have been manageable with the right professor. We did not have the right professor. I had heard of his reputation back when I was a 1L but truly didn't grasp how bad it was going to be until after the first class. Half the class dropped the course and the only ones who stayed were the ones in the concentration who needed this class to graduate. (He's the only professor for this course.) He even joked about how he was a terrible professor. And bless his soul, he really was. We would get there at 6pm and he would start reading word for word from the book.  Mind you, it meant you didn't really have to read but really, I can read faster than anyone talks so it just felt like a total waste of time. After an hour and a half, he would apparently get bored of that and so he assigned everyone a day to teach the class on a topic. Only, the topic rarely had anything to do with what we had covered in the reading and didn't really help us on our assignments. We didn't have an exam in the class and so very few of us had any motivation to pay attention. One of my classmates did citation checking for her job and the lady next to me played video slot machines on her tablet. Another guy just slept through half of it.

Eventually I figured out that I was stuck with a crappy professor no matter what and I could totally waste my tuition dollars and coast or I could at least try to get something useful out of it. In the end, this was one of my higher grades for the semester even if I never did completely rein in my out of control internet habits.

Teach Yourself The Material - Sure, we all know that we should be doing the reading, and making flashcards and such but when your professor is an ineffective teacher, it is even more important. One of my 1L professors often contradicted herself in class because she simply did not know the material she was teaching. My classmates who focused on in-class learning did terrible on the exam, my essay was given as the model answer to the rest of the class. Reading the casebook is a good start but using supplements is even better. For most classes, I use 1-2 supplements. For this one, I used seven.

Join a Study Group - Personally, I hate study groups and find that they are usually ineffective for my learning style. However, when the entire class is struggling, it can be useful to find a group that is willing to help you teach yourself the material. You can share supplements, go over class notes to see if anyone actually understood it, and split up the work. Besides, it is always nice to know you aren't the only one struggling.

Use Class Time Wisely - And no, I don't mean pay attention. If the Professor is going to give you wrong information, confuse you, or read out of the same casebook you've already read from, paying attention is counterproductive.  Instead, use that class time to your benefit by working on your assignments, outline or an online supplement. My classmate's idea of bringing her work with her isn't bad either. She got paid per hour, while in class.
The only caveat to this is to not look disrespectful because even with blind grading, you don't want to tick off the professor. In the class with the confused professor, I sat in the front row, right next to the podium.  I always made sure to have my casebook out and would glance up every once in a while. Apparently I looked like I was paying attention because she later commented on how it was appreciated. In reality, after the first month, I rarely paid attention unless she said the words "exam" "important" "remember" or the like. Instead, I was reading ahead in the casebook and I had my outline finished long before the last class. Then I just filled the time with online supplements.

Know the Difference Between Shouldn't Pay Attention and Not Wanting To Pay Attention - We all have off days but if you routinely zone out in most of your classes or in classes you find boring, you are going to regret it. Besides, with most classes, you need to pay attention to the professor or you'll bomb the exam. These tips only work in classes where it's such torture that no one can follow along. Not even the gunners. There is a difference between a boring professor and a bad one. With a boring professor, I've found that my best bet is to take super extensive notes. I'm so busy taking notes, even of things I will later delete, that I don't zone out. Later, I review the notes and get rid of all the pointless fillers. Accidental finals review? If it's an extremely boring class, I've banned my computer all together. I hate taking notes by hand but it's really hard to get distracted by Facebook if you can't access Facebook.

Professor Evaluations - When you're so fed up with the entire class and you just want to throw your casebook at your professor's head, don't. That's battery. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that there is an Assistant Dean out there that will be required to read every word of your professor evaluation. On one of mine, I used up all the available space and attached another sheet so I could continue. That professor no longer teaches at our school. I personally don't go on a rant on evaluations because I don't imagine they get taken as seriously as a well thought out critique but if thinking up an epic rant gets you through the class, you do you.


  1. Hey I just updated my Other Law School Blogs page on my site and featured your blog :)

  2. That's a genius idea. I also started this blog because it was so hard to find law student blogs and I wanted to pay it forward. I wish I had thought to make a page of all the other ones I knew. I may borrow your idea if that's okay?

    And thanks for adding me to your page btw. That's really awesome!