Tag Archives: study tips

Leveraging Your Learning Preferences in Law School

Although there is much debate on this subject, some people believe that understanding your preferred learning style can help you to make better use of your time—your studying will be more effective, which will also make it more efficient. Although there is not a direct link between maximizing your learning style and achieving academic success, thinking about your learning preferences—as well as other learning strategies—may introduce you to different study techniques that you might not have otherwise thought about.

It is also important to understand that, regardless of your learning preferences, you will encounter circumstances during class and while you study when the information is not presented in the way that you prefer. In those circumstances, you will have to find the way past your own learning preferences to learn the material anyhow, and your understanding of various learning techniques may help you to do that.

One of the most popular learning preference assessments, the Vark assessment, identifies five key types of learning preferences: (1) visual; (2) aural; (3) reading and writing; (4) kinesthetic; and (5) multimodal.

Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Pakorn/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Visual learners prefer to learn by seeing. They may prefer professors to use powerpoint slides in class, and they like to read books with diagrams, pictures, flow charts, and graphs. A visual learner may use different colored ink or type to label particular parts of their notes or case briefs, or may use highlighter markers when they read. They may also convert their notes into flow charts or mind maps to visualize how various concepts that they’ve studied relate to each other.

Image courtesy of Chaiwat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Chaiwat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Aural learners prefer to learn by hearing information. They believe they remember more by listening to lectures, and may find it helpful to make audio recordings of information that they want to study. Some aural learners use text to audio software to convert reading assignments into aural information that they can listen to as they read. Because aural learners are focused on listening in class, their notes from class may not be as helpful, and it may require more work to expand their notes after class by incorporating other materials from readings. Aural learners may also find it helpful to talk through legal concepts aloud, either by themselves or in a study group.

Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Suat Eman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Reading and writing learners prefer to learn through text. They may prefer reading information for themselves, whether through reading assignments or class powerpoints and handouts. This type of learner also tends to take extensive notes. They may study by reading and writing information from their notes over and over again, and they like to turn flow charts, diagrams, and charts into words instead of visual images.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Kinesthetic learners, sometimes referred to as tactile learners, may prefer role-play exercises or situations that allow them to act things out. They also like to practice doing things in order to learn them.

Finally, there are multimodal learners. Most students use a variety of study strategies, and their learning preferences depend on the situation. As a result, multimodal learners may use any of the strategies that I’ve described.

Regardless of what year you are in law school, thinking about how you learn and exploring other study techniques can contribute to your academic success. Your learning preferences are not key to your academic success, but they can inspire a variety of approaches to your studies. And don’t forget that sometimes doing something that feels less comfortable to you is a key way to reinforce memory. Just because a particular study approach feels right doesn’t mean that you are learning at your best.

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Filed under General, Pre-Law, Study Tips

Planning for Worst-Case Scenarios in the Bar Exam

I remember some of the nightmares that I had in the weeks leading up to the bar exam. Like many of you, I worried about all of the things that could go wrong before or during the exam. What if I forgot my pencils on the day of the MBE? What if my computer crashed on the first essay question? (I had heard a rumor that someone had failed the prior bar exam after freaking out when his computer crashed—the story was that, by the time he got himself back together, he didn’t have enough time to finish several of the essays.) What if my car broke down on the way to the exam, and they didn’t let me take it because I arrived after it started? What if I looked at the first essay question and realized that I hadn’t studied that law? What if . . . ? What if . . . ? What if . . . ? You get the point.

Some of the things that I worried about were a little silly, and other things, while highly unlikely, could have affected my performance on the bar exam if they had actually happened. My focus on these worries, regardless of their validity, increased my stress in the days leading up to the exam and absorbed energy and focus that could have been better spent on other things. The key to reducing your stress so that you can stay focused on what’s important, especially in the final days leading up to the bar exam, is planning. Many of the things we worry about can be avoided by planning in advance, and other problems can be mitigated by having an action plan in place before anything even happens. So how can you do this?

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of digitalart/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advanced Planning for Exam Rules: First, review all communications (letters, emails, etc.) that you have received from the bar examiners. Make sure that you are familiar with the rules going into the exam, and create any necessary plans so that you won’t be in violation of those rules at the last minute. (Those rules are often available on the bar examiners’ website as well.) Review what you are allowed to bring into the exam with you, and get things ready in advance so that you are not scrambling at the last minute. For example, Georgia only allows you to bring black ink pens in for the essay day, and pencils for the MBE day. Many states will not allow you to use mechanical pencils (although some states do). There often will not be a pencil sharpener on site, so you will need to make sure your pencils are sharpened in advance. Some states require you to put personal items in a clear plastic ziplock bag. Look for dress codes as well—some states may not allow hooded sweatshirts (concerns about hiding things in the hood), while others may ban flip-flops (because of the noise they make when you walk). Each state has a detailed list of what is allowed and what is prohibited, and you don’t want to be surprised by any of these requirements on the day of the exam.

Advanced Planning for Getting to the Exam: Second, create a plan for how you will get to the exam each morning, making sure to allow a significant time buffer. If you have not previously been to the bar exam location, do a test run in the days before the exam. If possible, do it during the same time of day that you will be traveling on the morning of the exam so that you have a good idea of how long the trip will normally take. If you are driving, scope out your parking options—and don’t forget that, on exam days, you and every other bar examinee will be arriving and parking at about the same time.

Advanced Planning for Taking the Exam: Finally, identify your worst case scenarios for what might happen during the exam and create an action plan for what you will do if any of those scenarios happens. For example, if your fear is that your computer will crash during the exam, then decide right now what you will do if it happens. Decide that you are prepared to hand write if necessary (actually, that is what most bar examiners will actually tell you to do anyhow). Think about how you will approach the exam at that point. Creating an action plan in advance allows you to let go of that worry—you know what you will do if it happens, so why worry more about it now. Moreover, if the worst-case scenario actually does happen, you won’t waste any time figuring out what to do at that point. Instead, you will just start acting on the plan and continue focusing on what you need to be successful on the exam.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You can take a similar approach to another worst-case scenario that many bar examinees fear: getting an essay question that you don’t know what to do with. Once again, a plan of attack can help you get through this situation without panic. For example, you could create a multi-step plan for attacking the question: (1) identify the area(s) of law tested by the question (i.e., property, torts, professional responsibility, etc.); (2) identify the issues and sub-issues that the question asks you to address (usually set out specifically in most questions); (3) create a quick chart with a row for each issue and space to list relevant facts for that issue; and (4) start pulling out and organizing those relevant facts. As you go through this process, it will help you to focus on what you do know rather than what you don’t know, allowing you to avoid panicking.

Take control of your bar exam fears by planning for your worst-case scenarios in advance. That way, when the exam begins, you can just focus on doing your best.

Good luck to all of you taking the bar exam next week!

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Taking Charge of Your Own Learning in Law School

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of lamnee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most empowering aspects of law school—as well as one of the scariest—is that you are in control of your own learning. So what does that mean? What can you do to take charge of your own learning in law school?

Law school puts you in the driver’s seat.

For example, you will have reading assignments for each class meeting—often those assignments take several hours to complete. For the most part, if you are not called on during class, no one will know if you don’t do the reading on any given day. You make the choice—you stay on top of your assignments each and every day, or you don’t do the reading and do something else instead, such as go to the movies or watch that TV show that you love. Doing the reading is the first step on the path to understanding the law. In contrast, skipping even one day’s reading makes it even harder to understand what is going on in class, and getting multiple days behind decreases your ability to be successful on later assignments and exams. You often won’t feel the consequences of your decisions immediately, but your choices will affect your long-term chances of academic success.

As the semester goes on, you will have additional choices to make about your studies. Will you devote the time to synthesizing course materials to further develop your understanding of the law and its applications, creating outlines, mind maps, flow charts, and flashcards? Or will you attempt to take a shortcut through that process, relying on a past student’s outline or a commercial outlines instead of creating your own study aids? Once again, your choices will have long-term consequences for your understanding of the law you are studying, your grades, and your ability to recall what you have learned after the course has ended (an important consideration, since many of the subjects you will study will reappear on the bar exam in a few years!).

Successful students make conscious, positive choices about their own learning.

Understanding that their choices affect their academic success and long-term goals of being an attorney, successive students are not passive in their approach to legal education. Instead, successful students take positive actions to improve their educational opportunities—establishing regular study schedules, avoiding procrastination, taking advantage of opportunities to improve their academic and legal skills, and keeping their academic, professional, and personal priorities in focus. They avoid taking shortcuts that make things easy in the short term but don’t improve their understanding of the law. They develop their own methods of holding themselves accountable for what they learn. Successful students aren’t perfect, but they learn from their mistakes and don’t repeat them. In short, successful students don’t just focus on learning the law—through their efforts they learn to be better learners as well. These traits help them to become better students . . . and also better future attorneys.

Stay tuned for related posts about how successful law students approach these topics—I will be blogging more about things that you can do to take control over your learning in law school over the next few months.

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Using Bar Exam Subject Outlines to Evaluate Study Priorities

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of iospherre/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As the date for the July bar exam approaches, prioritization becomes more and more important. It can be hard to decide what subject areas to focus on when there are so many to study and so little time. Most bar prep programs have completed their presentations of bar topics at this point, and the main focus is on reviewing your bar prep materials and taking practice exams. For many bar takers, it may be time to evaluate your study priorities. Here is one way that you can evaluate your current study status and prioritize your studies over the coming days:

Each year, the National Conference of Bar Examiners publishes an MBE (Multistate Bar Examination) Information Booklet, which can be accessed here. What many bar takers do not realize is that this booklet contains a subject matter outline for each MBE subject. These subject matter outlines make great evaluation tools. For example, one way to use the outlines is to go through each outline, assigning a rating between 1 and 5 based on your level of confidence in your knowledge of each subtopic (with 1 being the least confident and 5 being the most confident). Based upon that rating, you can then spend more time reviewing topics that you rated lower, rather than expending the same amount of time on all topics.

Another way to use one of these subject matter outlines to evaluate your study priorities starts with completing a series of practice MBE questions on a subject. For example, let’s say you take a 50-question set of practice MBE questions on Torts. You can then pull out the Torts subject matter outline from the MBE Information Booklet, and mark next to each topic every time you miss a question on that topic. Based on which topics end up with the most marks, you will then know how to prioritize your Tort studies.

There is also another way that the MBE Information Booklet can help you prioritize your studies. The Booklet provides additional insight into the emphasis that certain topics receive in the MBE. For example, at the beginning of the Constitutional Law outline, the Booklet states that approximately half of the Constitutional Law MBE questions will come from section IV of the outline, while the remaining half of the questions will come from the other three sections. This information may also be helpful as you decide to prioritize your study time during the last days leading up to the bar exam.

You can take a similar approach to prioritizing your studies by utilizing the basic subject matter outlines provided with most commercial bar prep programs. By taking an active approach to prioritizing your bar exam studies, you can make conscious choices about how to best utilize your remaining time before the bar.

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Diagramming the Bar Exam: Using Visual Prompts to Strengthen Memory

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Studying for the bar exam is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. It’s important to not to take a passive approach to your studies. Although commercial bar prep materials are helpful when you are studying for the bar, you should go beyond the pre-packaged outlines and videos. Don’t forget what you have discovered about your learning preferences as a student in law school. Using different approaches to attack your study materials can have a significant effect on what you remember for the exam.

I have already discussed one way that you can change up your bar studies approach: flashcards. Today, I want to talk about another technique that can help you remember more of what you study: the creation of diagrams, flow charts, and other visual materials. If you are a visual learner, diagrams and flow charts can help you to remember the steps required for legal analysis of complex legal issues or how various sub-issues are related to each other. The process of creating the diagram or flow chart helps you to synthesize important legal principles, and, having studied the diagram or flow chart, you should be able to recall it more easily in the midst of the exam.

Here’s a simple example of how such a diagram or flow cart could be constructed. Let’s say you are reviewing Contracts, and you want to make sure that you remember the key steps for determining whether an enforceable contract has been created. Here’s what a simple version of that diagram might look like:contracts flow chart

Keep in mind, this would only be the starting point. As you continued to study, you might decide you want to incorporate more concepts into the flow chart, such as: (1) Mistake; (2) whether terms were definite; (3) whether promissory estoppel should apply; etc. You may make several versions of the flow chart before you have incorporated everything you want into it. The process of thinking through where all of the legal principles should fit will help you to remember them better, and in the end you will have a study aid that you can reference over the next several weeks as you study for the bar.

The key is to not get stuck studying your bar materials in a passive way—figure out a way to make it yours, and you will know it even better!

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Making the Most of Summer Law School Classes

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of naypong/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many law students choose to take classes during the summer because (a) they want to graduate in less time, or (b) to reduce the number of classes they have to take in future semesters. Students often believe that summer classes will be “easier” because they are only taking one or two classes instead of five. Although there is definitely a benefit to taking fewer classes at one time, the drawback is that summer classes generally last half the time. Instead of lasting 14 or 15 weeks, the entire course is usually crammed into 7 weeks.

How can you make sure that you obtain the greatest benefit from taking summer classes and set yourself up for academic success? Here are four tips for making the most of your summer law school classes:

1. Create a study schedule, and stick to it. It can be tempting to take a relaxed approach to your studies in the summer, as there are so many distractions: summer movie series, outdoor activities, longer days . . . you get the picture. You should definitely make sure you take some breaks and enjoy your summer, but you still have to take a disciplined approach to your studies. The best way to do this is to create a study schedule for the summer semester. You don’t want to get behind in a class that only lasts 7 weeks.

2. Start outlining early; don’t wait until the last minute. Students often wait until several weeks into a semester to start outlining. If you take this approach in the summer, the outline will never be finished. Outline each topic as you finish it in class, and you will be better prepared for the final exam. Even though it’s summer, you still have to do the same things you need to do during the rest of the school year to be successful.

3. Don’t miss class unless you absolutely have to. Missing one class during the summer is often the equivalent of missing a week during the rest of the year. When a class has a condensed schedule, it can be difficult to get caught up if you miss even one class. Save class absences for true emergencies, and have a plan for getting quickly caught up if you have to miss class.

4. Learn from the past; don’t repeat it. Make sure that you review your exams from Spring Semester. If you did not do as well as you hoped in a class, set up an appointment to go over your exam. I’ve also discussed how to get the most out of past grades here and here. Use those past final exams as a basis for how to approach future exams.

Taking summer classes can contribute to your overall success as a law student if you approach them in the right way. Make the most of your summer studies!

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Accountability Creates Motivation: Studying for the Bar Exam, Part 3

It’s now only two months before the July Bar Exam, and everyone should be busy studying at this point. At times, it can be hard to find the motivation to study, especially when the exam date still feels like it’s far away. Your commercial bar prep program may seem a little monotonous, as you seem to do the same thing every day: watch a lecture (whether in person or online), study the outlines and supplemental materials, complete the practice questions, repeat. It can be tempting to watch TV, play computer games, or do something else when you should really be studying. Keeping yourself motivated at this time is key, and one way to motivate yourself is to establish some type of accountability system.

What do I mean by accountability? Sometimes it is easier to not focus on what we need to be doing when we feel that no one will know about our lack of progress on our studies. If your bar review course gives you the option of attending lectures in person or watching them online, attending them in person may help you to be more accountable for your studies—the people around you will notice if you are missing. It can also help to set up some type of accountability system with a friend who’s also studying for the bar exam. It may be that you just touch base with each other every couple of days to make sure you are each on track with your study goals, or you may actually schedule study sessions where you quiz each other on material that you have just finished reviewing. Another way to create accountability would be to reach out to someone in charge of Academic Success or Bar Skills programs at your law school. Explain what your study goals are and that you want to create some type of accountability system to keep you on track.

When you know that someone cares about your achieving your study goals and will know if you don’t achieve them, you will be more motivated to stay on focused on your studies. Accountability creates motivation!

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Sleep for Success: Stealing Time from Sleep Doesn’t Help You Do Better

The other day I had a student tell me that he planned to stay up all night studying for his next final exam. His statement brought back memories of my own years in law school, studying in a coffee shop early in the morning before the Civ. Pro. final as some of my fellow law students–those who had stayed up all night studying–either crashed with their heads on the tables or drank gallons of coffee in a desperate attempt to make their brains function. One of my friends once told me that, during one of her finals, a student fell asleep in the middle of the exam. Other students sitting around him surreptitiously tried to wake him up without causing a disruption to the rest of the class.  My friend looked over again about 20 minutes later, and he was once again asleep.

At the time, staying up very late–or even all night–may seem to make sense as you are studying for your final exams. The final exam period is a very stressful time, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day for studying. Law students may have four or five finals during a 10 to 14 day period, and often the entire grade for each course hangs in the balance. If you didn’t get your outlines done before the semester ended, you may still be scrambling to synthesize course information and memorize key concepts. If you don’t sleep less, then how will you get enough time to study before finals?

The problem with this reasoning is that sleeping less does not necessarily mean a better outcome on the exam. You’ll be more tired, have a harder time focusing on what you are doing (either studying or actually taking the exam), or even fall asleep at critical moments, like the law student in my friend’s class. Just because you study longer doesn’t mean you’ll do better. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived students don’t perform as well as those who get enough sleep, and they’re more susceptible to getting sick. It’s also important to remember that you are not just trying to learn this information for a short period of time–you are studying legal concepts that you will be tested on again during the bar exam.

So what should you do instead? Ideally you should study for your exams throughout the semester by outlining and creating flashcards. If you spread out your studying throughout the semester, you will not feel as much pressure during the exams period. It will be easier to balance studying with sleeping and taking good care of yourself by eating healthy and exercising.

At this stage though, you are already in the midst of exams. Lectures about the perils of procrastination aren’t going to help you with your immediate problems. Instead, you should take stock of where you’re at with each of your classes and how much time you have left before the final exams. Triage your studying. What are the most important things that need to be accomplished for each class? For example, it won’t be possible to create an entire outline for a course in 48 hours. A more productive approach at that point may be to start by creating the one-page checklist of topics I have described before, but this time drawing from your class notes and casebook table of contents. The checklist is a master list of the topics that could be tested on the exam. Once you have the checklist, you can evaluate which topics you feel pretty comfortable with versus those that you realize need more work. By consciously evaluating each course, you will be able to spend your time on those topics you’ve identified as needing more work, rather than on reviewing information you already know. Triage studying may not be a perfect solution (less procrastination would be better), but it is a better option than stealing time from sleep.

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