First, it’s a good (ok, great) idea to prepare for class adequately. Toward the start of the semester, you may have to spend a little more time than usual preparing for class. That’s because you haven’t yet realized how your professor likes to conduct class or how cold calls are handled. For example, maybe the professor likes to spend the majority of the class period discussing the facts of the case. Maybe the professor enjoys diving straight into the holding. It will take some time to figure this out, but once you do, preparing for class will be easier.
In sticking with the theme of class preparation, book briefing is a beneficial tool that students can use to save time preparing for class. Book briefing essentially refers to the use of different colored highlighters in your casebook that act as easily identifiable markers for certain aspects of a case. For example, a green highlighter could indicate the rule of the case, a red highlighter could indicate the holding, and a blue highlighter could indicate the facts. When a professor calls on you and asks, “What was the rule of law?” you can quickly glance down and reference it. It’s accepted and almost always expected that students reference their notes or casebooks when called on.
Advance Prep May Not Be Useful
This brings us to the next point—don’t prepare for class too far in advance. While the thought of knocking out next week’s reading over the weekend may sound enticing, chances are, when it comes time for the class, you won’t remember a thing. So, try and do the class reading as close to class time as possible. That might mean the night before or even the morning of class. Keep in mind that the point of cold calls is to get students to say, “I don’t know.” So even with adequate preparation, you may not know the answer to specific questions asked by the professor. For example, while a professor may ask a slam dunk question like “What did the court hold in this particular case?” there may be a more difficult follow-up question that you had not anticipated.
It’s Ok Not to Know
There’s also almost no penalty for saying “I don’t know” in response to a difficult question. In most classes, cold calling and participation contribute toward either a small percentage of your grade or no percentage at all. So, while you may feel embarrassed at not knowing a particular answer, there’s a 99.9 percent chance your classmates either don’t care or will quickly forget after class.
Confidence Is Key
Answer your professor’s questions with confidence and view these questions as an opportunity to practice public speaking skills. While public speaking is scary to many, it is a skill used by many lawyers almost daily. So, treat the classroom as an opportunity to iron out any issues you feel you have with public speaking!