Volume 9, Issue 12
I don’t intend in this article to rehash tips and tricks you can learn from a quick google on how to reduce stress. Beyond simple behavioural changes or developing more effective study techniques, the attitude students bring to studying law in general (and to exams in particular) can be a huge barrier for ensuring student wellbeing.
I describe myself as a mediocre student in the JD, but this is neither false modesty nor an under-estimation of my intelligence and abilities. If you look at my academic transcript it’s there in plain, cold, indisputable numbers. I’m middle of the road: average- no failures, a few close calls and my GPA is nothing to write home about. My resume isn’t much better - I haven’t had any of those highly coveted unpaid internships either.
By our very being in this program together we all share certain qualities; we are hardworking high achievers, have similar personality traits and still have nightmares about the LSAT. To make a wild generalisation: the average JD student is a person who, early(?) on in their schooling, was already at a much higher grade of reading than the other students. They are used to being the top of the class for all of their childhood, and then at university, got H1s and H2As (or Ds and HDs for non-unimelb folk) with relatively little effort. They also have an ability to motivate themselves – an intrinsic motivation that requires neither immediate carrot nor stick, but rather, a discipline and desire to succeed. They jumped through the hoops to get into law school. Then they are surrounded by people exactly like themselves.
We then get spread out like the butter churned off the top of the pail, and most of us are going to be more in the middle than at the top, which is such an unfamiliar place. We think, if only I motivated myself more, if only I tried harder, if only I spent all waking hours in the library, I could be at the top again. This is just another hoop I have to jump through in order to make it to the next stage - but it isn’t. It should be a relief to know that you can now just do your best, take your place in the order of things, and get your qualification.
There is the unfortunate fact that external forces still try to ‘motivate’ us to do better and better. Implying if we don’t try hard enough we’ll never get a clerkship and then a traineeship. We’ll never get the chance to have a job and everything will be ruined. This sort of motivational attempt is really insulting to our student population. Of course we are doing our best already- we didn’t come to Melbourne Law School for the affordability of the degree or to enjoy the occasional free food.
You might be thinking that perhaps the reason I have mediocre grades is precisely because I do not try hard enough to change that fact. But university doesn’t work like that. It’s not as simple as Time + Effort + Passion = Grade.
Some subjects I have loved and put the most time into, doing my own research and asking extra questions of the lecturers, I have gotten the worst grades in. Then I took Corporations Law, fell asleep in pretty much every single lecture, struggled to revise for it for more than 15 minutes straight and got a great mark. You can stress and struggle, but University is just not fair.
Once I focused on just doing my best and getting through, I realised that law school is about so much more than dedicated studying and final marks. In 5 years I am not going to remember what mark I got in Obligations. But I will probably remember bunking off class to go play beer soccer in the rain. I will remember going to The Corkman after class and having conversations about whether bestiality or necrophilia was more heinous. I’ll remember posting stupid gifs during all nighter take-homes, and crying on the phone to my dad after not finishing the torts exam, only to be told that you didn’t have to finish an exam to pass - and passing is all that counts.
The worst thing is that my dad was actually right – do your best, pass, anything else is a bonus.
Katy Hampson is a third-year JD student
The rest of this week's *bumper* issue:
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