1) Don't get sick, now or for the rest of your 1L year. This means you must eat well, sleep well, and exercise. I promise you have time to do this. It is obvious but again and again I saw my classmates fail to take care of themselves. It is a boneheaded move. If you are getting sick, do what it takes to get better. That means sleeping more than enough and eating nourishing things. This is more important than extra study time. Get it? Your classmates won't. You will.
2) Trust yourself. If an outline isn't working for you, don't outline. If a study group doesn't work for you, don't join one. Don't waste your time going to a review session if you think your time could be better used on your own. I never outlined in law school and don't know what the big whoop about outline construction is. I mean, the function of an outline is to get a good overview of the course material and to find order and meaning from all the material. You've got to do that, for sure. But the outline is not an end in itself and a lot of people seem to get caught up in the outline part of things instead of the finding order and meaning part of things. My strategy is below. There are others. You are allowed to invent your own.
3) IRAAC is key. I faltered on it my first semester and had some low grades. I adopted it second semester, primarily as a strategy to cope with the fact that I hadn't learned the material very well in a couple of classes. While taking the exams for those classes I was fighting back a little panic, and to clear my head I was formulaic and rigorous in my IRAAC method. Those were my first straight A's of law school. Clarity and organization of your answers matters a lot, probably more than mastery of the subject matter itself.
4) To learn the material, I did a lot of different things. Mostly, I made big posters. I made a game for Civil Procedure that had you moving through the different steps from the filing of a complaint to the issuance of a judgment, and on each spot on the board there were associated facts and little pictures to trigger my memory of the concepts for that particular "window of opportunity" for a lawyer to take action that would affect the case. I made a similar kind of board game for Bankruptcy, like Candyland, where the debtor wends his/her/its way through different phases to end up with the coveted Discharge. I never finished the Bankruptcy one (I still might -- in fact I might bring it with me to this week's conference to flesh out some parts and to focus my learning) because the point of studying is not to complete a beautiful outline, but rather to get the concepts into your head. Remember that. Nobody cares how your outline or drawings look. For my business associations class I made a poster of a city, which had a hot dog stand representing a sole proprietorship, and a mom and pop grocery representing a partnership, a skyscraper representing a public company and good old LLBean representing a privately held company. I had board members walking around talking and a little kid representing a minority shareholder. There were SEC officers poring through registration statements late at night looking for misrepresentations and there was a Ron Perelman scoping out the public company with a telescope thinking about a hostile takeover.
I liked doing colorful and pictorial study aids, on big big paper, because they forced me to do a few things. First, the big paper made me consider the proper spatial relationship between different concepts. Second, putting little pictures and using lots of colors made outlining fun and gave me little rests, where I was just coloring in something. Often during those "resting" moments, while I was coloring in a word or drawing Justice Brennan arm wrestling with Justice Scalia I would think of some additional information about the topic. Your brain works in mysterious ways, and often creative association is permitted by lingering, without forcing thought, around a topic. That happened to me a lot. Third, using graphic triggers helped me study because my eye would go right to the topic I wanted to review, rather than having to skim through page after page of typewritten eyewash to get to the concept I wanted to think about. Finally, having my notes look pretty and contain embedded little private jokes made me want to look at them. They made me smile. They made the whole thing fun. And this law stuff is rich and beautiful and it even has humor. No sense in losing that during exam time.
There's a quick guide to graphical note taking or brainstorming here. I had never done any drawing before law school but read this book partway through my 1L year and adopted graphical notes and posters with some pretty good success. (And yes, the book is a little bit cheesy and overblown, but the technique got me started toward a method that worked for me, and I think the underlying claims about how the brain works re: stimulation through color and pictures have some merit.) You don't have to draw well to do it. And it makes your notes from boring classes REALLY good (because you have more time during a dull lecture to embellish your drawings) instead of less good. These guys do some good stuff that might give you some ideas.
5) Study guides: I was a cheapskate so I rarely bought any. Instead I checked alternative casebooks out of the library and would sit down with five or six different Contracts books and study the table of contents to see what was the same and what was different about them. Doing that gives you a pretty good overview of what the essential components of a subject are, and unhooks you from the particular organizational schema that your professor or your casebook author chose. Combined with big paper that forces you to think about how you might depict how different concepts are spatially related to one another this technique is a good way to come up with a 30,000 feet overview of what the concepts are that you'll need to have a grasp of. I did like the Nutshell series, but found that their quality was highly variable. In my day at least I thought the Property one was a total waste of time, downright misleading, while ConLaw and Contracts were pretty good. This comes back to "trust yourself". If a book is confusing you, it might well be the book, not you, so don't freak out. Put down the book and do something more productive. Same with study groups. Don't believe the hype; don't let your classmates bewilder or scare you or undermine your confidence.
6) I'm a big believer in routine. I went to the same little breakfast joint and had a big egg breakfast and ineffectually thumbed through my casebook on the morning of each exam. It served me well.
7) Earplugs help. A good wristwatch so you can rigorously budget your time and allocate the right amount of time for each question. Pens that write well. A nice snack and enough water for during the exam.
8) DON'T talk about the exam with any other law students afterwards. Move on. You will be more tempted than you imagine. No good can come of it. Wait until all your exams are done. And even then, it's a silly idea.
9) You can recover from your first semester. I was deep deep in the class ranks because of two disappointing (and deserved) lousy grades after first semester. After second semester I graded onto Law Review. [Which I quit as soon as I learned what a crock it was, but that's another story.] So don't worry about this "warm-up" semester too much. You'll figure it out.
10) If you feel like you've been dragged behind a bus after your first exam, this is completely normal. It's hard hard stuff. Give yourself a treat. I went to my favorite music store, told the guys there I felt like I'd been beaten up, and asked for a music recommendation that would put a spring back in my step. They recommended Paolo Conte and it was just the ticket. Buy yourself something nice after your tests that will make you smile and feel like a human being again, because you are that, first and foremost.
11) Oh yeah, I'd avoid the library. Your stressed out classmates will be there, in particular the ones who are not taking care of themselves. That means they'll be gnarly looking and stressed out and will make you nervous. Also it means they're going to be susceptible to illness and might make you sick. Review Rule #1. And they're no fun to be around for sure.