Welcome! Always good to have some expert subject knowledge in the mix. I've was always into the ancient philosophy classes as an undergrad. They inspired me to start learning Greek, but unfortunately that wasn't until after I graduated... Reading Plato et al. in the original has been a treat, though.
If your Latin needs work, I'd suggest doing as much simple reading as you can in addition to composition practice. The 'old school' approach can be effective, but I can't imagine forcing myself to do composition without reading to relieve it. (I've never properly memorized the sequence of tenses, but I seem to get along just fine anyways.) Cicero's philosophical writings aren't very difficult (compared to his oratory), so that's a pretty good target. Once you've got the grammar down, you may want to start hacking your way through some parts of his dialogues.
I defy you to explain to me the (supposed) phonetic difference between the 2nd and 3rd syllables in laudāre and exemplar, respectively.
As far as I know, you pronounce the macron vowel for approximately twice the duration as the short one--that's about it.