Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Battles with the grapevine

I must admit that at times I grow weary battling the misinformation about exam studying that stays alive and well on our law school grapevine.  So much of the advice throws water in the face of memory and learning theories. 

Students need to remember that they must allow time for four types of exam studying for each course each week if they want to achieve high grades:

  1. cover-to-cover review of their outlines to keep everything fresh;
  2. intense review of material that they still need to learn;
  3. memory drills of the essential black letter law; and
  4. practice questions to apply the law.

Misinformation #1:  Cramming works.

We forget 80% of what we learn if we do not review it regularly.  Thus, the law student who waits until 4-6 weeks (or less) from exams to learn everything for the semester is really re-learning material.  Not very efficient.

Also, the same student will at best be using working memory (previously called short-term memory) rather than long-term memory.  Working memory is like one's desk top.  Long-term memory is like one's filing cabinet.    Working memory means that the person will likely only retain it long enough for the exam.  Not very helpful for bar review or future client discussions. 

Misinformation #2:  Shirking on reading and briefing allows for more study time.

It is as if these students forget that the new material will also be on the exam.  If one skims cases (or worse does not read them at all) and skips briefs, one is not going to know the material deeply.  Professors do not discuss everything in class that may be valuable for the exam.  This is not undergraduate school where class is all one needs to do well.

Deep understanding of material allows students to think and write like lawyers.  By understanding the nuances of the law, students can better analyze questions and make arguments.

Misinformation #3:  Memorizing the black letter law is all you need.

The black letter law is the minimal foundation needed when someone goes into an exam.  However, the good grades go to those students who can apply the law to new fact scenarios.  The memorized law is merely the toolbox that students use to work on solving legal problems.

In the past when I have asked professors what grade a student who merely knows the black letter law will get on their exams, the answers have ranged from some kind of "C" to some kind of "D."

Misinformation #4:  Working with your study group can get you through the exams.

Study groups can be very helpful for clarifying material, getting to the big picture, seeing a practice question from different perspectives, and other purposes.  Alas, a student is not able to depend on the study group in the exam itself. 

Each student has to balance group time with enough individual hard work.  Unless the individual student understands the material deeply and is prepared to analyze the scenario and write a concise and cogent essay answer (or carefully choose among answer options in multiple-choice), the game is lost.  

Misinformation #5:  Waiting until exam period to do practice questions is best.

Ideally one wants to complete practice questions at the end of every topic (and in some cases, sub-topic) throughout the semester.  Then as one reviews for the exams, one completes more questions.  During the exam period, one is then ready for even harder questions rather than just getting started.  Also, students who complete many questions are ready to complete questions under timed conditions long before others can do so.

Practice questions for essay exams are essential because they not only help one spot issues and apply the law but also help one practice the approach to questions and strategies for exam writing.  The sooner one works on all of these skills and strategies, the greater the chance of success on exam day.  It is all good and well to know what "IRAC" means but an entirely different thing to do it well.

Practice questions for multiple-choice exams are also essential because they too allow practice of both skills and strategies.  Because multiple-choice questions are usually "best answer" format, lots of practice trains one in seeing the nuances that make one answer better than another.

Misinformation #6:  Studying each course for two or more weeks and then ignoring it until later works best.

If one focuses on one course for a long period and then moves on to another course (for example, two weeks on civil procedure, two weeks on contracts, etc.), it is a recipe for disaster.  A variation that you start with your last exam for two weeks, then your middle exam, etc. is equally wrong-headed.  These methods ignore how memory works. 

As mentioned above, we forget 80% of what we learn if we do not review it regularly.  Also, as mentioned, long-term memory works to greater advantage on exams.  By using the four types of review mentioned in the beginning of this posting for each course each week, memory will benefit.

One would think that merely 1L students would fall for these poorly conceived study misinformations on the grapevine.  Surprisingly, 2Ls and 3Ls hang on to grapevine misinformation even when it has not worked for them in the past!  When I explain the reasons why the misinformation is wrong, most students immediately choose better strategies.  (Amy Jarmon)  

November 12, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Managing The Sickness Season, Part 2

Amy's wonderful post Oct. 22 on students and illness brings us to another issue of illness...our own health. As someone who has had two distinct stomach viruses and a cold during the month of October, it is important for us to remember to take care of ourselves. I strongly suggest you stock up on the following, and keep them readily available in your office:

1) Tissues where students sit. If a student starts to cough, I remind them of the tissues by mentioning that I have nice, soft ones, unlike the scratchy kind provided by the school. They usually get the hint.

2) Hand sanitizer. I use some as soon as a new student walks in, and offer it to them as well.

3) Disinfecting wipes. I try, my best, to clean off the area where my students sit with disinfecting wipes at the end of the day. Realistically, it doesn't happen that much because my desk is usually covered in papers, but some cleaning is better than no cleaning. 

4) Instead of a candy bowl, I have a cough-drop bowl. A big bag of cough drops is a cheap as candy when purchased from one of the big-box discount stores, and they can keep students from coughing on you and your desk. 

My last piece of advice is for you, not for the students. Take time off if you are sick. You are not doing students any favors by coming in when you are sick. You may hear some grumbling when you are not available at the students convenience, but most students are very gracitous when you cancel office hours because you are ill. If you teach a class, think about using an online module as a make-up class, or give students the opportunity to make up class in a non-traditional way. You may sacrifice some coverage, but three weeks of groggy lessons because you didn't recover from illness is less helpful than canceling a class and only missing one week of coverage.

Stay healthy, ASPers!


November 11, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

CALI Webinars: First One Is Friday, November 13th

A posting of interest to ASPers from Prof. Debra Cohen, Visiting Associate Professor and Interim Director of ASP at University of Baltimore School of Law (

I thought the ASP community might be interested in an upcoming CALI Webinar.    On Friday, November 13 at 3pm (eastern time) Professor Wise and I are going to speak about integrating CALI in our classes.  One of the things I am going to focus on is how I integrate CALI into my work in academic success.   If anyone is interested,  they can register at the below link.

REGISTER NOW: Using CALI Lessons in Your Teaching

Presenters: Professors Deb Cohen, Southern New England School of Law, and Sally Wise, University of Miami School of Law.

More upcoming webinars:

November 27: Using Moodle Management Software in Law School Courses
Professor Vernellia Randall of the University of Dayton School of Law will present on using Moodle (, an open-source course management system.

December 11: Five Steps to Promoting CALI at Your School

We'll cover free, easy, and effective ways to ensure your students know about CALI and CALI Lessons, some of the few free study tools available to them in law school. We strongly encourage CALI Reps to attend...this one's for you.

November 10, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 9, 2009

NECASP Conference

Just a quick reminder that the deadline for registering for the NECASP Conference is Friday, November 13.

·         Conference topic - Designing, Implementing and Nurturing Student-Assisted Law School Academic Support Programs.

·         Conference date and time – This will be a one day conference that will take place from 8:30 - 4:00 on Monday, December 7, 2009.

Download NECASP Conference Registration


November 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)