Sunday, February 19, 2006
Perhaps the most neglected yet critical activity in the typical law student's life is reviewing material throughout the semester. The pressure to complete daily class readings, case briefs, outlines, legal writing assignments, competition write-ons, and other ongoing activities each week can relegate reviewing earlier material to the "left over" time at the end of the week, which is an imaginary time in a fairy tale land of eight-day weeks. As a result, students often find themselves reviewing the semester's early material for the first time during their exam weeks.
Students who wait until the days before an exam to review the semester's material deprive themselves of important benefits. Regularly reviewing the semester's critical ideas allows students to begin building conceptual frameworks for each course early on, and such frameworks are ultimately essential for making sense of each course's subject matter.
In addition, as each framework develops, new ideas more readily find their places in the logic of the subject matter, and connections between new concepts and earlier material become easier to see. In fact, because new material in a course often puts new glosses on earlier material, the student who has remained familiar with the earlier material is always in the best position to refine his understanding of the earlier concepts.
Ongoing review is also a time saver in the short run. Because in most courses concepts build upon one another, extending earlier ideas and fleshing out ongoing themes, the more a student has internalized those earlier ideas, the more quickly she grasps the new. After all, new concepts are more easily understood and mastered when their connections to known concepts are apparent.
Final review for exams is, of course, radically different for those who have been regularly reviewing and reshaping their understanding of each course's critical concepts. They needn't expend the time or energy to build the semester's frameworks or internalize key concepts; they can focus instead on advanced review techniques. Like athletes who have trained throughout the off season, they can devote themselves to refining and perfecting their preparation for exams rather than straining to reach game readiness in a compressed time frame.
Now (actually, pretty much any time) is a good time to remind our students to schedule time in each week to review what has gone before. They should do so with one eye on internalizing the material (something most students understand must eventually take place) and with the other on piecing together the large and small conceptual frameworks that characterize mastery of complex subjects.
Students will nod in agreement, of course, flooded with guilt and anxiety about their unfulfilled good intentions; so we should probably not stop with mere reminders. We should offer some practical suggestions on how to work ongoing review into overloaded schedules and make clear its immediate benefits in making current class preparation more efficient and effective.
Most students understand the value of ongoing review, but they too often let the tyranny of urgent demands defeat their best intentions. We should do what we can to help them keep short-term demands from crowding out long-term strategies that will benefit them not only later but in the here and now of mid-semester. (dbw)