For two years I studied a lot. I tried as hard as I could. I worried about it a lot. I followed all the advice people usually dish out in law school. Nothing worked. I could not score high enough to be in the top 10 of my class at NUJS.
I had some disadvantages to start with. Bad English (I studied in the vernacular medium before I joined law school). Lack of focus unless something big was at stake. I enjoyed learning about and discussing new ideas, but I hated mugging up stuff. I used to get bored easily. These things make it hard to top in class.
But I wanted to. And I had topped the law entrance so I expected that I should top the semester exams also. I am smart, so I should top.
Well, that was not happening.
For all those who just wrote CLAT, please take note. The girl who was topping in every semester in my class, often scoring perfect 7s, had a not so good rank in the entrance exam. Apparently, that does not matter once you are in the law school.
I felt horrible when I kept trying harder and my rank actually went down even more. I usually ranked between 11th and 15th.
Then I gave up. I said let it be. There must be some other way to succeed in life. If I am not able to do well academically then fine, I will find some other way to succeed.
Well, that was the smartest thing to do.
My rank kept improving after that, when I was not any more making it the only focus of my life! Remarkably, I started scoring very high in subjects for which I just studied last minute. The best rank I ever got was 3rd rank in my class, and mostly within top 10 from my 3rd year.
How did this happen?
Firstly, I became more strategic about studying and scoring marks. Being strategic always works.
I had less time to prepare, so I had to put in laser sharp focus on what would get me more marks. I planned according to what will fetch me more marks rather than just learning the subject by reading books and notes. That changed everything in terms of my ability to score.
Learning is different than scoring marks in class. Once you get that straight, you start scoring well. My understanding of what it takes to score well has evolved since, through my experience as a researcher, writer and a marketer. In a way, scoring well in exams, viva and projects is very much like marketing – you score well if you can stand out.
Nobody will see the sweat and tears you have put into learning something. Nobody is going to take a peek inside your brain. If you can show off, whatever little you may know, in a convincing way, you score well. If you know a lot but are not able to showcase that knowledge well, you will score less!
Without further ado, let me share some important principles that will help you to do well academically if you are studying law. I suppose most principles will apply to any discipline even outside law, but these are tried and tested in the field of law.
My mentees have topped in class in top NLUs and traditional universities. And I learned a lot more than I did from their experiences than just my own as I guided them through various academic labyrinths.
Before I proceed further, let me one thing clear though. There is a tactical difference between how you go about things if you are in a law university where all marks are given by and question papers are set by internal teachers, and those where external examiners set your final paper and give marks.
For example, if you are studying in an NLU or Symbiosis or Amity, the teachers who teach you also set papers and check them. If you are studying in GLC Mumbai or Rizvi Law College, your paper will be set and ultimately checked by examiners from other colleges.
That has to be factored into your preparation. However, the principles that I am going to tell you about apply universally.
So what are these principles?
It’s not enough if you know a lot, the teacher needs to see how much effort you are putting in
Academicians are human beings like all of us. They love students who take an interest in them, their work, respects them and show an eagerness to learn from them. All teachers are flattered at the highest level if you pay attention to them. If you do not pay attention, they will also not like you. That reflects in their assessment of your work.
Most colleges have projects, assignments, class participation marks, presentation, moot or viva (oral examination) marks that is allocated by your subject teacher. If your teacher thinks highly of you, then you will get more marks.
Initially, I thought that the projects I write or the viva performance will be only judged based on my performance or quality of my work. That is rarely true. Of course, the quality of your work and your knowledge is an important factor, but not the only factor. You teachers opinion of you will always colour your score.
It is great if you know a lot about the subject. For example, I loved family law and knew a lot about it. However, my final score was very average. The reason was that the teacher who taught the subject thought that I am arrogant and did not like me. I was indeed arrogant about how much I knew and I would ask questions to her in class that would put her on the spot. A terrible idea if you want to score well.
I got low marks in viva as well as the project. I was shocked. But that’s how it works.
On the other hand, the teachers I genuinely liked, and approached again and again for advice, or went up to them for suggestions about my research or about an article I was writing, rewarded me with a lot of marks. It is not enough that you are studying a lot, it helps if your teachers know that you are working a lot. That helps all the way!
How to go about attending class
Attend classes and pay attention.
Or do something else that will move you ahead in life during the class time. I used to either engage in my hobby of writing poetry, or used the time to study for exams (since you are sitting with the textbook anyway) and sometimes wrote blog posts. Better than writing notes, because I could get class notes before the exam from other classmates.
I was never good at writing class notes so I focused on what I did well instead.
But you need to appear to be engaged in the class. Do not just sit like a puppet through the class. Ask a few intelligent questions. Contribute to the class discussion from time to time.
I usually found most classes to be too slow. What I can learn in 5-10 minutes will be discussed in a class for 1 hour. I found it to be a big waste of time. So I used the class in any possible way. Such as writing blogposts or studying for exam, depending on whether or not I was allowed to carry a laptop to class.
Still, if you do not attend classes, you will lose marks. Most colleges have marks for attendance. Leaving that aside, if you don’t attend classes, the teacher is less likely to give you good marks.
Classes are a great place to impress your teachers, so that they remember you from a large batch of students, and award you good marks later.
Projects and assignments
Scoring well in projects or other assignments is usually critical to doing well in a course. Start by choosing an unusual and interesting topic that ideally even your teacher does not know much about. Such projects tend to get more marks, do not ask me why.
If you have been allocated a boring dead bit topic, see if the teacher would be open to changing the topic to something exciting.
Remember that presentation is often more important than content, because teachers do not read your project, assignment or even the exam papers thoroughly. Hence, the importance of the presentation.
Make sure you have plenty of headings, subheadings and footnotes. I believed wrongly in college that writing in a bombastic language will fetch me more marks. This is not true. Write in simple, easy to understand and easy to read the language.
You can check with the Hemingway tool if your write up is easily readable or difficult to read.
Remember that your assignment or answer needs to stand out. How will that happen? You need to think about that and execute accordingly.
Presentation and uniqueness is more important than substance when it comes to getting more marks
Most teachers are hard pressed for time and have to correct way too many papers. This is why in Indian law schools those who have better presentation skills win over those with great content and knowledge but poor presentation skills.
This is true for everything, from exam papers to projects or class participation.
I strongly recommend that you read a bit outside the syllabus. Finish looking through your course module or textbook so that you have an idea about what is there in those texts. And then go and ask the teacher to recommend more books or articles on various subjects. This is a killer move. You are reading what the teacher likes, and if you can mention these things in the exam paper, or projects and viva, the teacher will be delighted and flattered and will definitely give you more marks.
Writing the correct answer is not enough
In a place like NUJS, everyone wrote the correct answer. Almost everyone at least! So just giving the correct answer gets you average or even below average marks. You need to do more to score top marks.
You need to be creative. You need to write things that even the teacher does not know but would still be relevant. You need to present things in unique ways that impress the teacher.
For every subject and different teacher, what this extra consists of would be different. You need to find out what will impress the teacher and help you to stand out.
Ask the teachers what do you have to do to score very high and top the class
Different teachers have different preferences and standards. The torts teacher may give you more marks for mentioning a lot of case laws, while the criminal law teacher may have very different expectations. For example, my CrPC teacher gave more marks to those who could reproduce illustrations from the bare act. I didn’t know that, and found it out only after the exam.
So here is what to do: meet the teacher separately (not in class) and ask him or her what you would need to read, study and how to prepare so you can score the highest in his class. How should I prepare for the exam? Can you show me last years best projects? Can you show me the best answer papers from last year so that I can learn how to prepare myself?
This kind of preparation is unthinkable for most law students.
But doing this will ensure your success, because firstly you have a clear idea about what to do (which most people have no clue about because they will never take such pain) and then because the teacher is already damn impressed with you because he has rarely seen students so focussed and taking this level of initiative, so he will be rooting for you too.
It may seem like a lot of work, but trust me this would reduce the amount of work you will actually have to do, and increase your success rate like you have never seen.
How much will your stellar grade help you?
Here is the thing. Your stellar grade will help you to an extent. But do not become too narrowly focussed on it or too elated about it.
Let me tell you a story. I started guiding a very smart and driven girl in her 2nd year in college. Within one semester, she began to top her class. She was always in the top 3 positions, at NUJS, my alma mater. This is no mean feat.
When she was beginning her 4th year, I advised her to work on other practical projects. She thought that this will take away her focus on exam. She thought topping in exams will solve all of her problems and her career will be set.
It was not. She did not get a top tier law firm job she had hoped for despite amazing rank. There were many gaps in her personality, ability to work with a team, or finding solutions. Instead of working on those, she just sought the thrill of topping in her class. And did not do the necessary groundwork that she should have done to become a good lawyer.
She paid dearly for that arrogance. Of course, no mistake is fatal and through trial and error she eventually learned how to survive in the corporate law world and today she works in a big law firm.
However, I just want to tell you that topping in the class is not as hard as succeeding as a lawyer. Being a good and successful lawyer requires a lot of skills that you are not learning in college.
Learn practical skills. Learn how to deliver great results to your clients. Those abilities will always eventually trump scoring top marks in law school.
Develop yourself with that long term thinking. By all means, score as much as you can, but do not forget that there is a lot more to do while you are in law school.
Network. Learn critical skills. Build a good profile. Develop your personality. Research. Write. Intern. Help helpless people with their legal problems. Volunteer.
If you want to learn practical aspects of the legal profession and skip the queue of law graduates trying to learn practical skills through trial and error, consider taking one or two of the following courses, closing on 14th of June.
Executive Certificate Courses