Tag Archives: flashcards

A New Culture, a New Language: Welcome to Law School!

I’ve talked about this subject previously, but it bears repeating as new students are getting ready to head off to law school for the first time this month. The first weeks of law school can be intimidating for new law students. For many students, it can be like you’ve been dropped into a foreign country–one where you don’t speak the language, don’t really understand the culture, and really wish you could figure out what happened to your tour guide. This experience can be stressful, but remember you are not alone in the process–many law students have traveled the path before you, and there really are many resources (the equivalent of guide books, foreign language dictionaries, and those tour guides) to help you along the way.

Image courtesy of bplanet at freedigitalphotos.net.

Image courtesy of bplanet at freedigitalphotos.net.

So what makes law school so different? First, you will most likely find the culture of law school very different from what you’ve experienced in undergrad and graduate school programs. There are new expectations for professional behavior, and you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your education. Many of your classes will be taught using Socratic method, with the professor guiding your learning by asking you questions rather than lecturing. If you are not prepared for class, you will quickly be left behind. Second, class assignments will require more time and effort than you have had to put into your studies in the past. And especially in the first several weeks of the semester, as you read course assignments, there will be many words you don’t understand; much of the law that you will study has a context that you won’t have learned yet.

Like learning a foreign language, learning the language of law will require significant time and effort during your years in law school. You will read cases multiple times, learning to “translate” each case into usable information for class and exam purposes. You will look up countless legal words and phrases in your law dictionary. You may create flashcards to help you memorize the key vocabulary and legal tests (the “grammar” of law), much as you approached taking Spanish, French, or Chinese in high school and college.

Although it really isn’t possible to learn most of the language of law until you are immersed in it during your 1L year, it is possible to develop some of the context for that language now, during the summer before you begin your life as a law student. Sometimes your law school will provide specific suggestions of things you should read prior to your 1L year—check with your law school’s Admissions staff or Academic Support professionals for additional guidance. As I’ve described previously, there are a number of books out there that provide good information about what to expect in law school, and many of those books provide some context for the legal language you will learn. There are also books you can read “for fun” and still learn some legal language and context. There are also some great websites, such as the Federal Judicial Center’s “Inside the Federal Courts” website, created to educate federal court employees but useful for incoming law students as well. Other state and federal court websites may provide additional helpful information.

So what types of information would be helpful to know before the first day of law school? Here’s a nonexclusive list of suggested topics to learn more about this summer:

(1) the differences between civil law and criminal law;

(2) the meaning of words and phrases such as “case law,” “common law,” and “statutory law”;

(3) the federal court system and federal appellate process;

(4) the state court system and state appellate process for the state in which your law school is located in;

(5) how the U.S. Supreme Court functions and who the current Supreme Court Justices are; and

(6) basic information about the types of law you will be studying during your first year of law school, which, depending on the law school, might include subjects such as Torts, Property Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, and Constitutional Law.

Remember, you don’t have to be a legal expert before you go to law school; you are just creating a context for what you will learn as a 1L. You will have your equivalent of “tour guides” in law school–your professors, law school administrators and staff, Academic Support professionals, and upper level students who have gone through what you are going through. But a little research before the first day will make you feel less like a tourist wandering in a foreign land.

Image courtesy of keerati at freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of keerati at freedigitalphotos.net

Stay tuned for more advice for new law students in the coming weeks! We will explore a number of topics, including Socratic Method, law school grades, reading and briefing cases, and numerous other subjects of interest to incoming students.

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Filed under Pre-Law, Study Tips

Tuning Out the Noise

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

At this point in the semester, I often have overwhelmed law students come to my office, worried or upset about the conversations they hear going on around them in the law school. Based on what they have heard other students say, these students are concerned that they:

  • aren’t studying hard enough,
  • are studying too hard,
  • are being too generous in sharing study materials with friends,
  • aren’t sharing enough,
  • should be participating in a study group,
  • shouldn’t be participating in a study group,
  • should have created a traditional outline instead of a mind map,
  • should have created flow charts instead of a traditional outline, or
  • have the wrong study strategy altogether.

You get the point—it’s easy to listen to what other students are talking about and let self-doubt creep in. You hear the person who sits next to you in Contracts or Evidence talking about how she hasn’t gone to bed until at least 2:00 am for the past two weeks because she wants to make sure her outline for the class is perfect. You begin to ask yourself if you are being irresponsible, throwing away your dreams of becoming a lawyer because you’ve been going to bed at 10:30 pm instead. Or maybe you have had another student warn you that law students should never study together because law school is competitive, and you might be giving that other person an advantage that will result in him receiving a higher grade than you. As final exams approach and you feel stressed about doing your best, you may be tempted to take what other students are staying much too seriously.

The problem with listening to what everyone else is saying around you is that a strategy for academic success in law school is not one-size-fits-all. Another student’s approach to his or her studies may not work as well for you, and comparisons between your approach and someone else’s is likely to be imperfect. The woman who stays up until 2:00 am studying may not get up in the morning until 9:00 or 10:00 am, just in time to make it to class. Maybe you get up early and do much of your studying in the morning, before class, while your brain is fresher. The fact that you go to bed 3 ½ hours before her then is irrelevant. Or maybe you are an auditory learner and remember information better if you talk through your study materials with a friend. The fact that you may be helping your friend do better on the exam becomes less of an issue because you’ve benefited from that process as well.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t periodically reevaluate your study strategies—all students should periodically assess their approach to their studies, trying new techniques and making sure that the time put in to their studies is used efficiently and effectively. In the process, you may realize that your study group is not really working for you any more, or you are spending too much time surfing the internet and not enough time outlining. You may decide you need to add flashcards to your study strategy, or that creating a flow chart for the Erie Doctrine will help you visualize how to address that legal issue on your Civil Procedure exam. Just make sure that the changes in your study strategy are based upon what you need to do to be successful on your exams, rather than just a reaction to what your fellow students are saying.

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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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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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Law Student Voices: The Top 5 Apps for Law Students

For two years in a row now, I’ve done a presentation titled “Technology for Law Students” as part of my school’s 1L Orientation program. Much of what I discuss in that segment revolves around the use of apps to make studying for classes or drafting assignments easier and/or more effective for new law students. While I rely exclusively on iPhone/iPad apps, there are likely equivalents on Android and other platforms. Here, in no particular order, are my five favorite apps for law school:

1. Dropbox (Free)

DropboxDropbox is great for accessing files across all of your devices (i.e., laptop, tablet, phone) and also for sharing folders with classmates. One of my professors had a ban on laptops in the classroom, but didn’t have a problem with tablets. I was able to take advantage of that exception to view my briefs in class, eliminating the need to print them out beforehand. Dropbox is also useful for working on collaborative projects by creating a shared reservoir for research material and work product drafts. An alternative to Dropbox that builds upon that particular feature is Google Drive, though my own experience with Drive is limited.

2. Black’s Law Dictionary, 9th ed. ($54.99) ***Update: 10th edition now available!!!

Blacks Law Dictionary 1I feel forever indebted to this app for giving me a competitive advantage in my first year of law school. Black’s 9th allowed me to quickly search for terms and find related concepts even in the heat of a cold call. Not only does the app boast an impressive collection of definitions, Black’s 9th also contains highlighted terms within those definitions to explore large sections of the law with ease and speed.Blacks Law Dictionary 2

***Update: The App for the 10th Edition is now available. You can find it here. According to the Thomson Reuters website, the 10th edition has added roughly 5,000 terms (bringing the total to over 50,000) and also doubled the sources quoted and cited over the 9th.

3. Genius Scan (Free + $6.99 for Full Version)

Genius scan 1The concept here is simple: Genius Scan takes pictures using the camera on your phone or tablet and makes the image look as-if you ran the document through a traditional scanner. The app also allows you to organize collections of scans. There is also a full version for $6.99 called Genius Scan+ that removes ads and allows for printing, cloud export, and customizable email signatures.Genius scan 2

Sometimes school-provided scanners can be a pain. Other times, they aren’t accessible because you’re home or at work. Whatever the case may be, the first year especially is filled with administrative hurdles and it never hurts to have a scanner in your pocket to send professional-looking forms in a pinch. Having the ability to organize your scans is important on its own as you can separate pictures of your reading assignments from those taken in your bathroom mirror (selfies).

4. Rulebook (Free + $39.99 for Bluebook)

Rulebook 1Rulebook is free. Content that you can download through its library function is not, however. For example, The Bluebook can be downloaded through Rulebook for $39.99. Much like my recommendation for Black’s Law Dictionary, I find the searching and indexing functions of a digital book far more effective for the purposes of law school than a hardcopy can provide. As a perk, the Rulebook creators update the Bluebook fairly often with bug fixes and also respond to tech support questions quickly.Rulebook 2

5. Flashcardlet (Free)

flashcardlet 1Many people learn best using flash cards. While there is a surprising lack of good apps for flash cards on the App Store, Flashcardlet is pretty effective. Cards can be created within the app or through an internet browser. Decks of cards can then be shared with friends or classmates for efficient studying (if you have a friend that you trust to make good cards). A personal example: I created cards for the note cases in my contracts class while two other friends split up the main cases. We then had a productive study session together where we were able to draw out other interpretations and points-of-view about the cases.flashcardlet 2

In addition to these five, the large research databases make spectacular appearances on the iPad, including HeinOnline, JSTOR, LexisAdvance, and WestlawNext. In fact, I personally find Hein’s iPad app easier to navigate than its website. Finding preferences such as that are essential to learning efficient practices. Students should experiment with technology early on in order to find their own path to success in law school. The students who understand their own habits and resources first have a unique advantage over others in their class.

I used the iPad’s built-in screenshot function to capture all images contained in this review, with the exception of the Genius Scan photos. Those images were provided to the App Store and I saved them from there.

This review was authored by Justin Iverson, J.D. Candidate, Class of 2015, Savannah Law School.

**This review is not intended to be an endorsement of any product. Its sole purpose is to provide useful information to law students.

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Flashcards and Bar Prep

By now, those of you who are studying for the July bar exam should be settling into a regular study routine. As you discovered during your time in law school, there are some legal concepts that you just have to memorize to be successful on an exam, whether it is the final exam in Torts or the bar exam. As a result, you may want to pull an old tool out of the study toolbox—flashcards. Flashcards can help you memorize important rules, tests, and definitions that you will need to recall during the bar exam. They can be especially helpful as you juggle learning and reviewing material from numerous bar subjects. Flashcards can also help you assess what you know versus what concepts you need to spend more time on, allowing you to make efficient use of limited time.

There are two possible approaches to flashcards: (1) the old school, index card type of flashcard that is either handwritten or typed (the “traditional” flashcard); or (2) digital flashcards that can be viewed on a computer, smartphone, iPad, or other digital reader. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, as discussed below. You just have to decide which type will work best for you.

Traditional Flashcards:

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, let’s talk about the traditional flashcard. For those of you who do not like to study from a digital screen or aren’t as comfortable using technology, the traditional flashcard may be your default approach. One of the benefits of the traditional flashcard is that many students find that the process of writing out each card actually helps them to remember concepts better, even before they actually start studying from the cards. For people who like a visual reference of what has been accomplished and what is left to learn, stacks of flashcards satisfy that need. It is possible to carry around a small number of traditional flashcards regardless of where you go, and you don’t have to worry about low batteries, loss of internet connectivity, etc.

On the flip side, making handwritten flashcards can be a tedious process, especially when you are creating them for every bar subject. They are easily lost or ruined (such as when your elbow catches that cup of coffee and knocks it over). And if you are one of those people who tries to reduce the entire BarBri outline to a comprehensive series of flashcards, you may take so much time on one subject that nothing else gets done before it’s time to take the bar.

Digital Flashcards:

So what about digital flashcards? Digital flashcards also have their benefits and drawbacks. One of the benefits of digital flashcards is their portability. If you have a smartphone with a flashcard app, you literally can carry your flashcards with you everywhere you go. As I’ve talked about before, there are any number of basic flashcard apps available on the internet for free or at a low cost, such as Flashcard Machine and Quizlet. You may have already discovered a program that works really well for you. Depending on the program, there may be limitations though. It may be difficult to separate out cards that you want to concentrate on for a single study session, or the ability to temporarily combine particular subjects together in a random way (how it will be on the MBE) may be limited. Not all apps work on all devices either. Some only work on Apple devices, while others work with android platforms. Very few seem to work with Blackberries, if you happen to have one of those.

Another benefit—and drawback—to many digital flashcard programs is that they allow you to share your flashcards with others. On the plus side, this means that you and two of your best friends could divide and conquer the flashcard creation process . . . if you trust those people’s judgment calls about what is flashcard-worthy. On the negative side, most people end up knowing best the cards that they created themselves.

A New Type of Digital Flashcard for Law Students and Bar Takers: SeRiouS:

There is also a new digital flashcard program specifically for law students and bar takers called SeRiouS.

Here’s a video explaining how SeRiouS works:

From my exploration of the SeRiouS platform, there are two different ways that you can use it. First, you can utilize flashcards, created by law professors, on a variety of bar subjects. As it stands right now, there are over 600 different flashcards on mostly MBE topics, but it appears that more will be added over time. Second, you and your friends can create your own cards as well. The benefit to SeRiouS is that it draws upon scientific research regarding memory. As you go through each flashcard, you rate how confident you felt about your answer. Based upon your level of confidence, SeRiouS applies an algorithm to determine how often you see that flashcard as you study—a process called spaced repetition. The principle is that, as you start studying a topic, you need to review it frequently in order for it to be stored in your memory. As you continue to review that same topic over time, however, you need to see it less and less often to maintain it in your long-term memory. (I’m not an expert on the subject, but this is how I understand it.) One of the drawbacks to this program is that the website is a little hard to navigate at first until you figure out where everything is located, but it shows a lot of promise. A plus is your ability to chart your mastery of the cards (it gives you an update about your status) as well as gentle reminder emails to get back to reviewing your flashcard deck. At this point, SeRiouS is in the beta stage and available without cost to law students and bar takers at least through the July bar exam period.

**This blog post is not an endorsement of any product mentioned herein; I am just providing some suggestions of resources that are available for you to explore.

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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