Category Archives: Study Tips

Introduction to Law School Multiple Choice Exams

Law school multiple choice exams are not like the multiple choice exams you took in undergrad or high school—law school is a new world, and law school exams require a new approach. Unlike undergrad, where a basic familiarity with the course materials could potentially help you answer multiple choice questions, the same cannot be said of law school. Those who try to rely on basic recognition of information in multiple choice answers will likely fail the exam.

The foundation of success on multiple choice exams in law school is preparation. You have to study for multiple choice exams in the same way that you study for essays—you must have a thorough understanding of the law to be successful. This is because law school multiple choice exams do not just test your ability to recognize the law. Instead, they test your ability to apply to a new set of facts, a new hypothetical example. The fact pattern in a multiple choice exam resembles the types of hypotheticals your professor might give you in class. You will have to spot the legal issues and identify what law is required to address those legal issues.

The other reason why law school multiple choice questions can be so challenging is that they commonly ask you for the best answer, not the “right” answer. This means that more than one answer could solve the problem presented by the question. A “correct” answer may not necessarily be the “best” answer. Identifying the best answer will require you to have a thorough understanding of the law, but it will also require you to develop other test-taking skills.

Keep reading this week as further posts explore how law students should approach multiple choice exams. I will describe some of the obstacles to choosing the best answer for each multiple choice question, as well as techniques that will help you achieve success in your multiple choice exams.

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3 Tips for Spotting Issues in Law School Exams

It’s that time of the semester when law students are beginning to think more about exams, either because they’re in the midst of midterms (if their law school has midterms) or they’re anticipating final exams. One of the skills required for success on law school exams is the ability to spot legal issues. Law school essay questions contain complex fact patterns that incorporate numerous legal issues. The more issues you are able to identify, the more opportunities you will have to show your understanding of legal principles and your analytical abilities—and capitalizing on those opportunities contributes to better grades. Issue spotting can also help you on multiple choice exams. When you are able to identify the specific legal issue being tested in the question, you can use your knowledge of the relevant law to eliminate wrong answers and help you identify the best answer.

With these benefits in mind, here are 3 tips for spotting issues in your law school exams:

1. Outline, Outline, Outline!: The most important key to being able to spot legal issues on law school exams is the preparation that you do before the exam. In recent weeks, we’ve spent quite a bit of time exploring the best approaches to outlining in law school (for more information on outlining, see here, here, here, and here). If you have organized your outline in the right way, you will already have identified the possible types of legal issues on an exam. You will also have an understanding of the important rules and tests that relate to each issue, as well as key policies and relevant case examples.

2. Create an Issue Checklist: One way that you can make sure that you do not miss important issues is to create an issue checklist for each of your classes. Creating a checklist is easy. Just take an outline that you have done for one of your law school classes, such as Property, Torts, or Evidence. Go through your outline page by page, making a separate list of all legal issues and sub-issues. Write out the list in the order that it is organized in your outline. Don’t include any details–your checklist should be made up of key words and phrases, not tests, definitions, case names, or other detailed information. Think of the checklist as something similar to a grocery list. If you were shopping for the ingredients to make a certain recipe, you wouldn’t write the entire recipe out again to take to the grocery store. Instead, you would just list the ingredients you need to purchase. That’s the approach you want to take to the checklist as well. If the outline is the recipe, your checklist is the shopping list of ingredients.

Once you have your checklist organized the way that you want it, commit it to memory. When you go into the exam, use the checklist to make sure that you don’t miss issues in the hypothetical fact patterns. You can use the checklist to identify legal issues in both multiple choice questions (short hypotheticals) and essay questions (longer hypotheticals).

3. Identify Relationships Among Legal Issues in Advance: There are usually relationships among certain legal issues. If you identify those relationships in advance, you are more likely to recognize them in fact patterns during the exam. For example, one major legal issue in Torts is negligence. But if you see a negligence issue in the fact pattern, you know that there are other legal issues that might also be relevant, such as vicarious liability, joint and several liability, comparative/contributory negligence, various defenses, and various types of damages. As you begin to identify issues in that fact pattern, you should look for any facts that suggest that those legal issues are at play as well.

If you notice, the common theme to these issue-spotting tips is advance preparation. What you do before the exam is what ultimately makes your issue-spotting efforts successful!

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Study Tips

Skipping Class in Law School

In recent posts we have explored some of the important academic skills students need for success in law school, such as reading and briefing cases, taking effective class notes, and outlining. As important as those skills are, law students can easily undermine their study efforts by missing too many of their law school classes. In fact, many students who struggle academically in law school also have a significant number of class absences—it is difficult to do well if you aren’t consistently in class.

Let’s explore some of the reasons law students give for missing class:

  • “The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”
  • “My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”
  • “I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”
  • “I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”
  • “I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”
  • “I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”

In reality, these types of reasons are rarely an adequate justification for missing class in law school. Here are some explanations for why this is the case:

“The syllabus says that I can miss four classes before my grade will be penalized, and I haven’t used all of my absences yet.”: Your syllabus may list a maximum number of absences, but that doesn’t mean that you have that many “free” passes to miss class. Each time that you miss class, it puts you further behind in the course. In some cases, you may never recover the information you lost from not being in class. Students commonly skip too many classes early in the semester, and then if something happens later in the semester, such as a family emergency or major illness, they end up penalized for too many absences.

Sometimes students decide they can skip classes late in the semester because they still have absences available. This is a bad choice for two additional reasons: (1) in the last few weeks of the semester, your professor may provide specific guidance about the final exam, and you will miss that information; and (2) you may not have enough time to make up what you missed, especially if the professor is playing catch-up and covering a lot of material in each class.

“My parents booked this family vacation six months ago, and they didn’t realize at that time that law students do not get the entire week of Thanksgiving off.”: Vacations are really never a good reason for missing classes in law school, for the same reasons that I explained above. Put your family and friends on notice that any vacations will have to be scheduled around your law school schedule. You are investing a lot of time and money into becoming a lawyer; keep your priorities in focus.

“I have a midterm in Torts tomorrow that I want to study more for, and Property doesn’t have a midterm.”: You should never “steal” time from one class to do something for another. Keep in mind that each of your classes is important—you will earn grades in all of them. It takes much more time to make up what you have missed from a class than to go to class in the first place, and you will end up taking that time from yet another class or another priority if you aren’t careful.

“I stayed up really late last night finishing an assignment that is due for Legal Writing, and I just couldn’t get myself out of bed early enough this morning to go to Contracts class.”: This excuse is usually just about poor scheduling, poor prioritization, or procrastination. As I explained above, “stealing” time from one class to do something for another is never the way to go. Work on creating a study schedule that builds in time to complete Legal Writing assignments and other assignments that will take a lot of time, and stick with it—don’t wait until the last minute!

“I was going to be five minutes late to class, so I decided it was better if I didn’t go at all.”: Unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that you should never to go into class if you are tardy, you should still go to class. It will be easier to make up the five minutes that you missed than it will be to make up an entire class. Just make sure that you are careful about how you come into the classroom so that you reduce the amount of distraction you create for your professor and fellow students.

“I didn’t go to class because I didn’t get the reading done.”: Like the previous excuse, you should go to class unless your professor has a clearly stated policy that prohibits attendance in this circumstance. You won’t get as much out of class if you haven’t done the reading, but it is still a better choice than missing class entirely.

The alternative: Treat Law School Like an Important Job. Here’s the thing. Law school is your job right now—a very important job. So treat it like one. People who have important jobs don’t “skip” work. There can be really good reasons for missing work or class (such as serious personal or family illnesses, emergencies, child care issues, job interviews, etc.), and it’s ok to be absent for those reasons. But don’t let “skipped” classes become an impediment to academic success.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments, Study Tips

I’ve Created My Outline: What Do I Do Now?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve talked quite a bit about outlining in the past several posts. It is important to recognize that outlining is about the journey, not the destination. Because it is part of your learning process, you should view each outline as a work in progress. As you go through the semester, continue to revise and condense what you have already included in the outline, even as you add new material. Review and reevaluate your outline regularly so that you gain a stronger understanding of the course materials and reinforce your memory of what you have learned.

Continue to adjust your outlines to meet your needs for each class. After completing a section or two of your outline, look at any old exams you have obtained from your professor. Ask yourself: Does your outline help you to answer the question on the exam? Does your outline contain enough information? Have you included too much detail from cases without fully developing your understanding the area of the law?

Ask yourself whether there are parts of your outline that need to be committed to memory, such as important definitions or elements of legal tests. You may decide you need to create flashcards for these important concepts to make that information more portable and easier to remember.

The more you work on your outline, the better it will become. As I stated in an earlier post, if you approach your outline in the right way, it will be the only thing that you need to study for the final exam. And, most importantly, you will gain a deeper understanding of legal concepts that will stay with you–not only for the final exam but for the bar exam and the practice of law.

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Effective Collaboration on Law School Outlines

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over the past few days, we’ve explored a lot of important information about law school outlines. First, I explained what a law school outline actually is and answered some of the most frequently asked questions about outlining. Then I addressed the key things to consider as you are creating an outline. Most recently, we talked about different forms that an outline might take, depending on your learning preferences and what feels most comfortable to you. Today, I want to discuss how law students can effectively collaborate on their outlines.

Law students often ask me if they can work with others in creating an outline. After all, time is at a premium in law school. It often feels like there are not enough hours in a day. After you get done reading and briefing cases for all of your classes each week and completing your assignments for Legal Writing, what time is really left for outlining?

Often, when students are thinking about collaborating on outlines, what they are really thinking about is dividing up the outlining duties. In other words, each member of the study group will complete one section of the outline and disseminate it to the other members. If there are four members of the study group, each person only has to create one quarter of the outline. Students especially are tempted to take this approach when they wait until the last few weeks of the semester to start outlining. I want to caution you about using this strategy—it may seem to make your life easier in the short term, but in the long term it will hurt you. As I’ve explained before, outlining is synthesis—it is learning. It is personal, and there are no shortcuts. You should not divide up the outline among members of your study group, with each person only creating one small part of it. The result of that approach will be that no one will know the material very well, except for the part that that person actually created. (A better way to cope with the time constraints is to outline each section of your outline as soon as you have finished learning about it in class. It can also help to tweak your approach to time management—revisit your study schedule to determine how best to incorporate outlining into your day.)

I don’t want you to think that you should never work with other students on your outline though. Collaboration can be effective if you approach it in the right way. For example, your study group could agree that each person will complete the same section of his or her outline by a particular date. Then, once those outlines are completed, the study group could meet to talk through the outline, with members asking questions about things that they didn’t understand. With this approach, each member of the group will leave the meeting with a better understanding of the material because of the discussion. A study group can help students to feel accountable for completing their studies, keeping them on schedule when there are other distractions.

Image courtesy of stockphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockphoto/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Types of Law School Outlines

In the past two posts, we have explored what law school outlines are and what kinds of information they should include. It is also important for you to consider the type of outline you want to create—in other words, its format. Not everyone approaches outlining in the same way—it is not one-size-fits-all. Instead, many students consider their learning preferences in deciding how to format their outlines. Regardless of which format you choose, I want to stress that the content is the same—all of the things that I described in yesterday’s post should be included in every person’s outline.

So what types of law school outlines are there? Here are several options that you may consider, although this is not an exclusive list:

The Traditional Law School Outline: When we use the word “outline,” people commonly think of the traditional, formal documents that are organized by Roman numerals. For example, in Torts, your first Roman numeral might be “Intentional Torts.” Letter “A” might set out the general requirements for Intentional Torts, while letter “B” might set out specific examples of intentional torts to persons, such as assault, battery, etc. Each of those examples would be identified by number, and lower-case letters would further break down the sub-issues within each type of intentional tort. The result is a tightly organized, formal outline. Reading and writing learners often choose to create traditional outlines. Once this type of outline is completed, aural learners may use text-to-audio programs to convert the traditional outline to audio files.

Although many law students do create traditional outlines, there are actually many other forms that also work for synthesizing course material.

The Modified Traditional Outline: Some students like the organization created by the traditional outline but do not like to the Roman numeral system. Those students may use other formatting tools, such as bolding, underlining, tabs, and bullet points to organize their course information. Explore some of the formatting options in Microsoft Word and other programs—you may find a particular formatting tool that works especially well for your outlines. Keep in mind that white space can also be a good tool—too much print concentrated on the page makes the outline hard to study from later.

Like the traditional outline, reading and writing learners often choose to use the modified outline approach. Visual learners may also find this approach helpful. As with the traditional law school outline, aural learners may use text-to-audio programs to convert this type of outline to audio files.

Tables: Some law students use the table function in Microsoft Word or other programs to create organized, visually-differentiated sections. Each section becomes a separate table, and you can even insert tables within tables to further organize information. Because the text is still very much the focus of the table approach to outlining, reading and writing learners may find it useful. Visual learners may also find tables helpful.

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flow Charts and Diagrams: Still other students create flow charts or diagrams to organize course information, especially if they are visual learners or kinesthetic learners. Translating course materials into flow charts or diagrams, whether in whole or in part, can help you to visualize the process that you will use in applying the law to facts. Kinesthetic learners can use these tools to simulate the type of analysis they will use on exams. If the course information is too complex, you may need to utilize flow charts or diagrams in combination with one of the other outlining techniques I’ve described in this post.

Mind Maps: Occasionally, students find Mind Maps useful, and they may use mind mapping software to create webs of legal information, presented in something different than the traditional linear form. There are a variety of different mind mapping programs out there, either free or available for a small fee. Like flow charts and diagrams, it is important not to oversimplify your studies with this type of tool though. If you decide to mind map, choose a program which allows you to incorporate more detailed information into the mind map.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Flashcards: You may also create a flashcard system, either as your main form of outlining or as a supplement to another outlining form (for example, you might create flashcards for important definitions or legal tests to make it easier to memorize those concepts). Some students color code their flashcards to signal connections between different cards. Others use flashcards of different sizes to signal that the card addresses an issue versus a sub-issue. If you plan to make flashcards your main form of outlining, it is important to develop a system for recognizing the connections between concepts on different cards.

Experiment with different ways of organizing your outline—you may be surprised about what works best for you. Additionally, what works for one class may not work as well for another. Periodically reevaluate your approach to outlining to make sure you are maximizing your outlines’ potential.

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7 Steps to Building Strong Law School Outlines

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday I talked about what an outline actually is and addressed some of the general questions law students frequently ask about outlining. Today, I want to explore the outlining process—in other words, how you can get started in creating your own outlines. It can be hard to take the first step in outlining because first-year law students don’t always know where to start. Today, I’m going to walk you through that process.

1. Make Conscious Choices About Organization.

One of the keys to a good outline is organization. Organize your outline around legal concepts, not cases. This can be difficult to do at first. In order to be prepared for class, you focus on cases. That is why your class preparation includes the creation of case briefs. Once you start thinking about preparing for exams, though, you need to flip your preparation upside down—start with legal concepts, and use cases as examples of the concepts.

The order of those legal concepts also matters. Students often use the course syllabus or the casebook’s table of contents to guide them in organizing their outlines. Those sources can be a good starting point, but it is also good to think about how you would use the information on an exam. Don’t feel constrained by the order presented in the syllabus or casebook if a different order makes more sense. For example, the first thing that students often study in Contracts is damages. After you finish studying damages in the first several weeks of your Contracts class, you should go ahead and create that section of your outline. But, if you think about the life of a contract, damages really fits at the end of the process. Later, you will learn about the legal requirements for contract creation and rules regarding contract breaches. As you continue adding material to your outline, you might choose to place the section for contract creation at the beginning of your outline even though you studied it after you studied damages. You then might place the section on contract breaches in between those two other sections. Organizing your Contracts outline in this way will help you to anticipate the order in which you will use that material on an exam.

2. Compile a Thorough List of Issues and Sub-Issues.

For each section of your outline, you will need to identify the legal issues and sub-issues that should be included for that section. You can begin to compile a list of issues and sub-issues for a section by going through that part of the course syllabus and related table of contents material from the casebook. After you have compiled a list from these sources, begin going through your case briefs, class notes, and other course materials, adding to your list of issues. What you are looking for are key words, phrases, and rules.

As you begin to identify key legal issues, group similar concepts or ideas (in other words, the sub-issues) together under each of the issues. Ultimately, your outline will be divided into sections based upon general legal concepts, and within each of those sections you will include more specific concepts.

3. Use Legal Terms of Art But Otherwise Put Your Outline in Your Own Words.

Many of the issues and sub-issues you will identify contain legal terms of art. You should make sure that you include those legal terms of art in your outline, as well as their definitions. Be careful to not just copy information word for word from course materials though. You should attempt to put as much of your outline into your own words as possible. The process of rewording this information will make it yours—you will understand and remember it better. It will also help you to identify legal concepts that you still don’t understand. If you can’t put it into your own words, maybe you need to go back and review that material once again before moving forward, or you may need to go see your professor to ask more questions about that topic.

4. Include All Relevant Information in Your Outline.

Although there are some variations in content depending on the course you are outlining, strong outlines usually contain some common components. First, your outline will contain the legal rules and tests that you have learned through your reading assignments, class lecture and discussion, and other course materials. If a legal test has four elements, you will develop all of the elements of the test as part of the outline. You will also note the basis for each rule, such as the common law, the Restatement, a statute, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Uniform Commercial Code, etc. Make sure that you outline includes definitions for all key terms.

You also want to include any exceptions to the rules. Where there are different rules that may apply to a particular legal issue, depending on the jurisdiction or facts in the case, make sure you set out what those alternative rules are. For example, maybe there is a majority rule which applies in most courts, but a few states take a different approach (in other words, there is a minority rule). Or maybe there are differences between the common law approach to an issue and the approach taken in the Restatement.

In some subjects, there may be defenses that apply in certain situations. One example that illustrates this approach happens in Torts. Maybe the plaintiff claims that the defendant has committed the intentional tort of battery because the defendant grabbed the plaintiff by the arm. The defendant might assert that he acted in self-defense, based upon the fact that the defendant grabbed the plaintiff’s arm as the plaintiff was about to stab him with a knife. It is important to note any defenses that correspond with the legal issues you are outlining, and fully develop those defenses as you would develop other sub-issues.

Furthermore, in some courses policy arguments may also be important. In classes where the courts or your professor has focused on policy arguments as part of the analysis, you should also integrate policy arguments into the relevant places in that course outline.

There are also some other things that you may need to include in your outline, such as context information. For example, when you study personal jurisdiction in Civil Procedure, you read Pennoyer v. Neff. Although not everything is this case is still good law, it may provide helpful context for your understanding of the current state of personal jurisdiction law. Context information, such as the history behind a legal concept, may help you to better organize what you have read regarding that subject.

5. Include Cases and Hypotheticals as Examples of Issues, Not the Focus of the Outline.

You may have noticed that so far I haven’t really talked much about cases. As I mentioned before, your outline should focus on the legal concepts you have been studying rather than on the cases. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t include cases at all though—instead, you should use them as examples of the legal principles you are outlining. The same holds true of hypotheticals introduced by your professor during class. You may choose to include hypothetical examples from class to remind yourself of how a particular legal rule may be applied to a specific set of facts.

6. Make Note of the Connections Between Legal Issues.

It is important to make note of your observations about how each legal issue relates to other legal issues in your outline. For example, let’s say you are outlining your Torts class. For your section on negligence, you might note that defenses and other legal concepts such as contributory/comparative negligence, joint and several liability, vicarious liability, etc. may also apply, depending on the fact pattern.

7. Include Your Professor’s Specific Comments in Your Outline.

Finally, you should make note of any specific comments that your professor has made about a legal issue, or anything that he or she stressed in class about that issue. Sometimes students do this by adding a “PROF” label to it, putting the note in bold, or otherwise signaling that what is being included came from the professor.

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What is a Law School Outline?

One of the most important tools for studying for exams in law school is the outline. Because of the importance of outlining, this week my blog posts will focus specifically on that topic.

What is an outline? An outline is an attempt to reduce all the materials from a course (syllabus, class notes, case briefs, notes from outside reading, statutes, hypotheticals, and other problems) into an organized study aid. In other words, it is a synthesis of your law school course materials. Outlining is the bridge between your daily preparation for class and your exams. If you do it properly, your outline will be your primary—possibly even your only—study aid for exams.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about outlining:

Why should I outline?

The answer to this question is really important. Outlining is synthesis—this is the point in the course when you start putting together the pieces of the puzzle. As you create the outline, you learn the material in the process. There is no shortcut for this learning process. If you rely on a commercial outline or one created by another student, you will lack the level of understanding required for success on your law school exams. By synthesizing various course materials, you gain a deeper understanding of legal issues and discover important connections between legal concepts. You will also identify legal issues that you don’t entirely understand—topics that you need to spend more time on, go back and read about again, or set up an appointment to meet with your professor to go over.

When should I outline?

Students also ask when they should start outlining. The answer: it depends on the class. You really can’t start outlining material until you have completed a topic. Look for those times when you have completed one entire topic in class and the professor has moved on to a new topic. Your syllabus or the casebook table of contents can help you to identify when one topic is ending and another beginning, so you can know when to start outlining.

Although you generally don’t want to start outlining a topic until you have finished learning about it in class, it is important not to wait too long to start outlining. Sometimes students will wait to begin their outlines until just a few weeks until the end of the semester. Waiting to outline until the end of the semester not only makes your studies more stressful, but you won’t be able to maximize the value of an outline. There is just not enough time at that point to develop the kind of outlines that allow you to fully understand the material.

How much time should I spend outlining?

If you outline topics as you finish them in class, you should be able to set aside an hour or two each week for each of your classes for outlining. At first, it may seem difficult to add additional time into your schedule, as you already are spending a lot of time reading and case briefing each week. However, as you establish a study routine that includes outlining, you will notice that outlining helps you to review course material and may actually help make the rest of your study time more efficient.

How long should my outline be?

The first draft of each outline is usually the longest, as it incorporates all of the course materials. However, outlines are a work in progress—you will continue to add to it and edit it over the course of the semester, and in the process you will condense it as well.

Although your early drafts may be fairly lengthy, an outline that is too long may signal that you are focusing too much on the details of the cases that you have read, rather than on the legal issues raised in those cases. As you review your draft outlines, you should continue to edit and reduce each outline to its essential components.

What should I do with this outline?

The outline is not an end product—it is about the journey, not the destination. Make your outline a living document. Revisit it regularly and fine-tune it to reflect your growing understanding of the legal issues you are studying and their relationship to each other. As you go through this process, you will gain even more understanding of the law, and you will increase your ability to recall information on the exam.

Check back tomorrow as I explain the steps for creating a strong law school outline.

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Using Technology to Make Study Groups Mobile

Yesterday, we explored some of the benefits of study groups in law school, as well as some techniques to make your study group more effective. One of the challenges that study groups face is the difficulty of getting everyone in one place at the same time. This is especially true if members of the study group have a job, live further away from the law school, have to arrange for child care, or otherwise find it hard to come back to the law school outside of class times. When your study group has these kinds of challenges, you can find solutions by thinking outside the box—try harnessing technology to make your study group mobile and more effective. Here are three types of technology that may aid your study group:

(1) Video chat platforms: There are any number of free video chat platforms out there, such as Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime, and many of them allow you to have several people participating in the same conversation. With a video chat, it doesn’t matter where the members of the study group are located—all each person needs is a good internet connection and a smart phone, tablet, or computer.

(2) Collaborative study platforms: There are also quite a number of free or low-cost collaborative study platforms that could be easily utilized by law school study groups. Some of these programs have some really good components. A non-exclusive list of platforms to explore includes mind42 (a collaborative mind mapping platform), Simple Surface (allows real-time collaboration and includes a digital whiteboard; can download what you’ve created to pdf), ThinkBinder (a free platform for study groups that includes text discussion, video chat, shared folders, whiteboard, etc.), and Scribblar (another collaborative platform with text chat, live audio, whiteboard, etc.).

(3) Study Apps: A number of study apps allow multiple people to collaborate in creating study tools and share what has been created. I’ve previously talked about some of the apps available for creating flash cards. There are also some programs that let you develop games that you could use to review material, such as FlipQuiz.

The key is to think more broadly about how you can use technology to maximize your study group’s efforts. Not only may these tools increase the opportunities for your group to work together, but they can capitalize on group members’ preferred learning styles and make studying more productive and enjoyable.

*Nothing in this blog post is meant to be an advertisement or endorsement of any of the referenced products.

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Should Law Students Join Study Groups?

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First-year law students always ask me if they should join a study group, and the answer that I always give them is “It depends.” What works best for one student may not work as well for another. For example, your preferred learning style may influence your decision to join a study group. Students who are aural learners or kinesthetic learners may find study groups particularly beneficial if the study group talks through legal issues or acts them out, while a study group that creates diagrams or outlines on a whiteboard may be more appealing to visual learners or reading and writing learners. How members of a study group approach their group studies may also affect how productive it is.

Here are some tips for making a study group a successful part of your learning strategy in law school:

(1) Accountability: The best study groups create a system of accountability for participants. Have members of the group create a set of ground rules at the first meeting. For example, what happens if someone is not prepared for the meeting? How will the group handle disagreements? Each member of the group will know what is expected, and there will be a predetermined way to handle any disagreements.

(2) Make a Plan: Also related to accountability, it is important for the study group to have a plan. If the group does not set goals for what it wants to accomplish and has no plan for each meeting, group meetings are likely to be less productive—in fact, a group meeting without a plan is often a complete waste of time. There’s nothing more frustrating than showing up for a group study session and having it turn into a social occasion instead, especially if time is at a premium (as it so often is in law school!).

(3) Optimum Size: Not every study group will be the same size, but it is important not to let a group get too large. A study group is not a workshop or seminar, but an opportunity for every member to actively participate and contribute. Some study groups only have two members; others may have as many as four or five. Much more than that and it will be difficult for everyone to benefit from the group. You will start having private conversations taking place on the periphery of the group, detracting from the study group’s larger purpose.

(4) Diversity of Membership: Law students often are drawn to people like themselves, but it is good to have diversity in a study group. What do I mean by diversity? Consider studying with people who are different than you—when people come at their studies from different perspectives and experiences, it benefits everyone involved. Invite people of different races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, or sexes to join the group. If you are from a rural area, study with someone from a city. Invite a law student with a disability to join your group. It can be good to have group members of different ages, with different work experiences. Even recruiting students with different learning styles can be good—sometimes it helps to change up the way that you study periodically. If you study with a diverse group of students, their perspectives may help you to have a better understanding of legal issues than you would have had on your own.

(5) No Shortcuts!: Finally, a cautionary word about study groups. Students sometimes view study groups as a shortcut. They may try to divide up the work among members of the group in an attempt to reduce their individual study loads. For example, a group might decide that its members will take turns creating case briefs for class reading assignments or will each create part of an outline for one of their courses. This approach is a recipe for disaster. If you take this approach, you will not understand the course material at the level that you need to know it for success in class discussion, the final exam, or the bar exam. Resist any temptation to turn your study group into a shortcut, as you will regret it in the end.

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