Friday, November 9, 2007

Practice Makes Perfect

I am doing a brisk business in my study aids library on practice question books right now. In talking with the students, I give them some hints for using practice questions wisely.

  • Use practice questions after reviewing a topic or sub-topic.  Learning the material initially through the practice questions is usually not very efficient or effective.  Testing oneself after study gives more information on what one does or does not understand and at what depth one has learned the material.
  • Remember that practice questions perfect test-taking techniques as well as application of the actual content of the course.  Examples of test taking techniques would include: reading the call of the question before the fact pattern; dividing one's time on an essay between analysis/organization and writing; charting an answer; coding of multiple-choice options for "good" and "bad" choices; coding multiple-choice questions for review if time allows.
  • Evaluate one's answers for errors in content as well as test-taking strategies that need to be improved.  Because both aspects help one perform optimally on the exam, it is important to hone both aspects before the exam.
  • Use the index or table of contents in a practice question book to determine which questions are on the sub-topics or topics that one wants to practice.  This way, time is not wasted reading through questions for ones that will match the study topic.
  • Realize that using only the commercial flashcard questions does not fully prepare one for the real exam.  Although the flashcard scenarios are memorable, they usually avoid complicated analysis.  Students may want to start with these to check understanding, but they should not end here.
  • Choose practice questions whenever possible that match the type of exam expected in each course: essay for essay; short-answer for short-answer; multiple-choice for multiple-choice.
  • Choose practice questions that match the level of difficulty for which one is ready.  Start with one-issue essay questions to check understanding of the concepts and rules.  Then, move on to multiple-issue essay questions.  Then, move on to past final exam questions from exam database at one's law school.
  • Complete practice questions on one's own in addition to any questions that are done with a study buddy or study group.  The study buddy or group members will not be able to help in the analysis during the exam.  Solo practice at questions is essential.
  • Complete as many practice questions as possible without reference to an outline or class notes.  Even if an exam is "open-book" (and definitions vary of that term), one does not have time to look up very much.  Therefore, thorough study and practice without looking everything up helps on time efficiency during the final. 
  • Complete some questions under actual timed conditions.  It is important to know whether or not one can complete the analysis within the time limits.  One can always complete the analysis when taking as long as needed, but that is normally not possible on an exam.
  • Complete some questions under other conditions that may be required, such as word limits or page limits.  Again, if one does not practice within these conditions before the exam, it is hard to stick to the limits in the actual exam.
  • Practice as much as possible.  One can never do enough practice questions.  Practice questions force thinking about the law in new situations and recognizing the nuances in its application.

Of course, students should ideally be doing practice questions all semester after each sub-topic or topic.  However, the reality is that many students are just now starting the process.  Depending on the timing of practce for a particular student, I will give additional pointers if needed.  (Amy Jarmon)   

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