Friday, January 29, 2010

Evaluating one's study habits

Let's face it, part of success in law school is all about strategies and techniques.  How one studies can be the difference between a C grade and a B or A grade.  It pays big dividends to evaluate one's study habits at the beginning of each semester.  Ask yourself how you can get more "oomph" from your efforts.  Ask yourself what worked and what did not work last time around in your studies.

Here are some of the study skills that you should reflect upon during your evaluation.  The questions suggested are not exhaustive.  Make notes as you consider each study skill to indicate what you want to continue because it worked and what changes you want to make to improve your learning.

Reading cases.  Did you allow enough time to read the case for understanding rather than mere highlighting to learn later?  Did you focus throughout your reading or "zone out" at times?  Did you preview the case before reading it?  Were you an active reader, asking questions while you read?  Did you think about the questions your professor usually asked in class so that you could look for those answers?  Did you make margin notes to condense your reading to the important points?  Did you answer the editor's questions on the case?

Briefing cases.  Did you read every case whether or not you expected to be called upon by the professor?  Did you brief or merely book brief?  Did your briefs contain the essential points rather than everything?  Did your briefs go beyond details and consider the "big picture" of the cases and how they fit within the topic and related to cases on the same topic?  Did your briefs use bullet points, abbreviations, headings, and other methods to save you time?  Did you critique your briefs later to see what you missed according to class discussion so that you could prevent future mistakes in your briefs?  

Note-taking in class.  Did you review your briefs, cases, and prior class notes (on continuing topics) before class so that you had seen the material twice?  Did you focus on taking notes on the essential points rather than taking verbatim notes?  Did you answer silently in your head the questions asked of other students so that you stayed engaged in the class discussion?  Did you "zone out" in class?  Did you focus on class rather than surf the net, play solitaire, or IM during class?  Did you review your class notes within 24 hours to fill in gaps, re-organize them, and begin to condense them towards an outline?

Outlining course material.  Did you make your own outlines so that you processed the information yourself rather than use someone else's outlines?  Did you outline every week or at least at the end of every topic so that the material was fresh in your mind?  Did you focus your outlines on topics and subtopics with the cases as illustrations rather than focus on the cases?  Did you supplement your outlines with charts, tables or other visuals if they are helpful to you?  Did you supplement your outlines with your own homemade flashcards if they are helpful to you?

Reviewing for exams.  Did you review for exams all semester so that you could benefit from the way learning and memory work?  Did you regularly review your entire outline for each class to keep everything fresh?  Did you intensely review subtopics and topics to gain deep understanding of them?  Did you spend enough time on memory drills to learn the rules, exceptions, methodologies, and terms of art precisely?  Did you complete lots of practice questions so that you checked both your ability to apply the law and your ability to IRAC (or choose the "best" multiple-choice answer)?

Test taking of fact pattern essay exams.  Did you spend 1/3 of your time reading, analyzing, and organizing an answer and 2/3 of your time writing the answer?  Did you adhere to the format requirements from your professor (word or page limits, IRAC or some other style, client letter or motion format)?  Did you adhere to the time parameters for the exam (spent the time indicated for each question, used all of the time allotted for the exam)?  Did you "show your work" in your analysis so that the reader could follow all of the steps of your argument?  Did you write everything you knew about a topic rather than answer the question asked?  Did you apply the law to the facts and argue both sides?  Did you use policy arguments appropriately?  Did you refer to cases appropriately? 

Test taking of multiple choice exams.  Did you study the material in enough depth so that you could see the nuances in answer choices?  When you completed practice questions did you look for patterns in your wrong answers (misread the question, forgot an element of a rule, etc.)?  Did you budget your time well throughout the exam?  Did you analyze each answer option rather than pick by gut?  Did you avoid second-guessing right answers?  Did you "mis-bubble" any answers if using a scantron answer sheet?  Did you waste time looking up answers if the exam was open book/code?

If you feel that your strategies and techniques for studying were deficient, begin immediately to make improvements.  Your faculty members may be able to give you tips for studying the specific areas of law that they teach.  Visit your academic support office for assistance if those services are available to you at your school.  (Amy Jarmon)   

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