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How to Survive Studying Law by Distance

Road in desert

Studying off campus can be a very appealing option: there are no classes to attend and you can study when it suits you. It sounds pretty cruisy but the reality can be very different.

When you’re studying by distance discipline is crucial. Otherwise, those bad student habits can really come back to bite you – far more than they ever would when you’re studying on campus and doing the bare minimum to prepare for classes. Fortunately there’s plenty you can do to ensure an easier semester…

Spread the work out

When there are no classes to attend, it can feel like your uni commitments are non-existent, and it’s easier to say yes to those extra hours at work or to watching a few trashy reality shows at night.

To save yourself some epic end of semester pain, it’s important to set aside time each week to do your readings, listen to lectures and do any required work. To make sure this happened, I found that I had to set aside a regular time slot. Committing to a particular time each week helped me to stay on task and up-to-date, much like attending lectures and tutorials on campus does.

That said, you’ll probably find that doing all your class preparation and learning in one hit each week is going to get old very quickly. The best tip is to break it up: do your readings earlier in the week and then listen to any lecture tapes later in the week. Trying to cram all your study into a few hours isn’t easy and you’ll find yourself putting it off or even skipping a few study sessions.

Allow for Murphy’s Law

Always allow extra time to meet deadlines. This really applies to all university students, but especially to those studying by distance. For example, if you’re submitting assignments by mail, be sure to allow extra time in case Australia Post gets it wrong and you need to send a second copy. For extra peace of mind, send assignments by Express Post – keep the tracking number and you follow the delivery of your assignment online.

Be Resourceful

Resources for researching assignments can be a challenge when you’re studying by distance. While you can buy textbooks, download journal articles and read case law and legislation online, sometimes you’re going to need to make a pilgrimage to your nearest law library. Most off-campus subjects will have a few intensive class days during semester. Plan ahead – know what research you need to do at the library and get it out of the way while you’re on campus.

If you’re studying PLT by distance, I can’t recommend the College of Law’s Practice Papers enough. You should be able to access them through your university library website.

Start a Virtual Study Group and Stay Motivated

Motivation can be the biggest challenge of studying off campus – if you’re not ‘feeling it’, it can be a long semester. It helps if your distance subjects have regular deadlines, such as weekly reflections or discussion board posts, as there’s nothing quite like a due date to keep you on task.

Study groups are great for off-campus learning because they help you to stay on task, to know if you’re on the right track and can help prevent you from feeling isolated (a common experience amongst distance students). Speak to your fellow distance students on the online subject forum and find a few study buddies to form a virtual study group. If your group “meets” regularly to discuss the readings and lectures, then you’re more likely to keep on top of your study. Organise a weekly or fortnightly study group Skype session, work through the topics that have been causing you headaches and split up the notes.

Keep Up to Date

Follow your university’s law students’ society on Facebook and/or Twitter and stay in the loop. It’s the best way to hear about clerkship application dates, second hand textbooks for sale and faculty news.

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