Tag Archives: checklists

Last Minute Bar Prep: Using Checklists

Image courtesy of lordjiew at freedigitalphotos.net.

Image courtesy of lordjiew at freedigitalphotos.net.

In a previous post I talked about how to create checklists to study for final exams in law school. Many of the techniques that work in law school are also helpful on the bar exam. In the final days before the bar exam, you are most likely reviewing your commercial outlines and taking practice exams. Maybe you have created some flow charts or flashcards to help you learn the material better. A checklist is a simple, quick way to focus your studies even more.

So how should you create bar prep checklists? You will create one checklist for each subject. Go through the outline, creating a quick list of all topics and subtopics—if the outline has a table of contents, this process can be even quicker. Don’t include any details–your checklist should be made up of key words and phrases, not tests, definitions, or other detailed information. Try to fit your outline on one or two pages. (You can create columns if necessary.) It shouldn’t take very long to create the checklist for each subject.

Now, what can you do with this checklist? Here are three good ideas for how to use checklists as you study and take the bar exam:

(1) Use your checklists to evaluate what issues you need to focus on during your final days of bar prep. For each item on the list, ask yourself: Do I know the law related to this issue? If I see this issue on the exam, am I prepared to analyze it? If yes, cross it off the list. Bar studiers often study by reading through the entire outline over and over again, but this is an inefficient way to study. You want to focus your attention on the issues that you aren’t as comfortable with, and the checklist helps you to do that. The next day, print out a new copy of the checklist and go through this process again. You should be able to focus your attention on fewer issues each day.

(2) Use your checklist to think about the relationship between legal issues. Sometimes when you are studying from an outline, it is difficult to see how issues relate to each other. But one of the keys to spotting issues in an essay question is understanding those relationships. Because a checklist strips everything away except for the key issues and sub-issues, it is easier to identify those relationships.

(3) If you commit the checklist to memory, you can use it on the exam to spot issues. It may not be possible to memorize every checklist, but usually bar studiers have trouble identifying issues for some subjects more than others. For those more difficult subjects, a memorized checklist can help you stay focused if you get an essay question on that subject during the bar exam.

Checklists are a quick and easy tool for focusing your studies in the final days before the bar exam. I wish you the best as you study for the bar!

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Learning from Mistakes: Editing Tips for Legal Writing

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We’ve all had that experience—you drafted an assignment for a legal writing class or upper-level writing course, or maybe a project for a legal internship or job. When you got the assignment back from your professor or supervisor, it was covered in corrections and comments. The real question: What did you do next? If you were required to revise the assignment, you probably made the corrections and submitted the final version. But did you take any steps to learn from your mistakes so that you won’t repeat them in future assignments?

Successful law students and lawyers constantly strive to improve their writing. One of the best ways to improve your writing is to learn from past mistakes. But learning from mistakes requires some conscious effort—simply making corrections to an existing document is usually not enough to reinforce how you should approach your writing in the future. Instead, one way to learn from your mistakes is to create your own customized editing checklist. You may already have an editing checklist that a professor or supervisor has given you. If so, you should continue to use that checklist as well. The customized checklist should supplement any more general checklist, focusing on specific issues that you personally have had trouble with in the past.

Here are some tips for creating and using a customized editing checklist:

  1. Divide a large piece of paper into five columns. At the top of each column, put one of the following headings: (a) grammar errors; (b) citation/Bluebook errors; (c) analytical issues; (4) writing style issues; and (5) formatting problems.
  2. Pull out old assignments that contain corrections and comments from a professor or supervisor. Go through each of those assignments, placing each error in one of the five columns you’ve created. For example, maybe your professor commented that you improperly used a comma to separate two independent clauses. That issue would go in the “grammar errors” column. Maybe you find a comment about your analysis being too conclusory. You would place that feedback in the “analytical issues” column. Maybe you keep forgetting to italicize “Id.” Put that error in your citation/Bluebook errors column.
  3. Each time that you see a comment or correction that relates to an issue you’ve already put in your checklist, add a star by that issue in the checklist. Making the same error multiple times is a sign that you want to focus on that issue more.
  4. For grammar and citation errors in particular, look up the appropriate rule in a grammar guide or the Bluebook. Make a note of the proper rule(s) that relate to that issue, as well as where that rule is found. When you edit documents in the future, you will then have easy access to the rule as well as the cross-reference for where to find further information if necessary.
  5. After completing a draft of a new assignment, use your customized checklist to make sure that you do not repeat old mistakes. Go through the paper focusing on one column at a time so that you don’t miss anything in the editing process.
  6. As you get feedback on new assignments, go through the same process. Add any new editing issues to your checklist. Regularly update your checklist to reflect your editing priorities. And, as you improve your writing, analysis, and citations you may remove old issues that are no longer a problem for you.

Creating a customized editing checklist is one of the best ways to learn from your past mistakes so that you don’t repeat them. Take an intentional approach to your editing, and your legal writing will continue to improve more and more over time.

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Filed under General, Legal Writing and Oral Arguments

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

Getting Past Panic in Law School Exams

We’ve all had that feeling—that moment when you are sitting in the classroom, your professor hands out the exam, and every rational thought flees your brain. You are paralyzed. Sweat begins to bead your forehead. And then the voice in your head screams out: “I can’t remember anything I studied! I’m about to fail my exam!” The challenge is how to move past that feeling of panic and successfully complete the exam.

While you can’t vanquish those feelings of panic with a magic wand, there are things that you can do to conquer panic during exams. As with so much else in law school, one of the most important keys is what you’ve done prior to the exam—your preparation. We’ve talked before about how taking the right approach to outlining can help you to predict what may be tested on the exam. One of the reasons why law students panic at the beginning of an exam is because they are afraid of the unknown. Law students view exam creation as a mysterious and unpredictable process. In reality, as I’ve explained before, professors tend to test the nuances in the law—areas where there are competing approaches, shifting outcomes based upon facts or policy approaches, and fact patterns that require students to recognize how a series of legal issues relate to each other. Identifying those nuances in advance through outlining will make the exam more predictable and reduce your feelings of anxiety.

I have also explained previously about how to create a one-page checklist of legal issues that may be tested on an exam. This checklist is a very specific way of connecting your preparation prior to the exam to what is going on during the exam. If you create a checklist of potential legal issues, you have a mental prompt you can rely upon when that feeling of panic rears its head at the beginning of the exam. How can you do this? If you immediately panic when you look at the exam questions, try this technique: Put your exam aside for a minute and take out your scrap paper. Quickly replicate a shorthand version of your checklist on the scrap paper. Once you have put that checklist on paper, you have a tool that you can use to answer the exam questions. You can literally take each issue on the checklist and evaluate whether that issue is raised by the fact pattern in the essay question. If it is, you can jot down quick notes about what facts you wish to talk about with respect to that issue. By the time that you get through the checklist, you have created a quick outline, chart, or list about how you will tackle the essay question, and the writing should go smoothly and quickly. The feeling of panic will go away as your preparation kicks in!

 

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Filed under General, Law School Exams, Outlines, Stress and Mental Health, Study Tips

Checklists: The One-Page Outline for Exams

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s that point in the semester when final exams are looming ever closer. What should you do as you finish up the last topics in your outlines and begin that last week of studying before exams? One thing that I suggest to students is to create a one-page checklist of issues they might see on the exam. It’s an easy thing to do. Take an outline that you have done for one of your law school classes, such as Contracts. Go through your outline page by page, making a separate list of all legal issues and sub-issues. 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. Write out the list in the order that it is organized in your outline.

Once you have a completed list, ask yourself: is everything in the order that I would want to use it? An exam essay fact pattern will not include every issue covered in a course, but there may be a set of issues that are related. If your professor covered one issue in the third week of the semester and a related issue in Week 10, you may not have thought to put those issues next to each other in your outline. But the checklist is the time to consider how you might link issues together. Reorder your checklist in the way that makes it most useful for the exam. Remember my Robonaut example from last week–it’s important not just to have the right tools but also to have those tools work best for you.

So, how should you use this checklist? 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 fact pattern. You can also use the checklist to test whether you know the tests, definitions, and other detailed information that goes along with the key words in your checklist. If you can’t easily access those details in your memory, it is an indication that you should go back to that part of your outline and review it again or maybe create a flashcard or two on that subject.

In the end, a checklist can be a great way to cap your studying for final exams–list away!

 

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