Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some Common Errors in Exam Study

Students often study for exams in ways that are counter-productive.  They may adopt old undergraduate methods for exam study because they do not understand how law school exams are different.  Well-meaning advice from upper-division law students may lead them into methods that go against memory and learning theory.  Here are some common techniques that do not work and why they are not wise:

Re-reading cases is rarely an effective strategy.  The professor is not going to ask a student to tell him everything the student knows about a case.  Instead the professor is going to ask the student to apply the essentials from all the cases on a topic to a new fact scenario.  Time is better spent on pulling together the topics and subtopics with the law for each.  The cases become illustrations in that bigger picture.

Reading an entire study aid right before the exam.  There is too much information to absorb at the end of the semester when reading an entire study aid.  The study aid may not match the specific professor's version of the course which will lead a student to learn the material in a way that actually makes it harder for the professor to find points on the exam.  Study aids tend to include multiple topics or subtopics that the professor never touched on in class.

Choosing to complete very few practice questions.  Exams in law school are all about applying the law to new fact scenarios.  Practice questions allow a student to check understanding of the material and ability to spot issues.  Practice also allows one to get really good at organizing answers and writing them out - especially if some questions are done under timed conditions.   

Treating all exam courses equally may lead to trouble.  It is the rare student who has a truly equal situation in all courses.  The amount of time spent for exam study in each course should consider: the amount of material covered in the course, the difficulty of the course for the student, the amount of black letter law to memorize, the number of practice questions to be completed, the format of the exam, and any other variables specific to a course and professor.  Time should be divided among the courses to reflect these variables. 

Studying X course for a week, then Y course for a week, then Z course for a week, and so forth.  By focusing on one course to the exclusion of other courses for exam study, the student merely provides time to forget the material for the courses not studied.  By the time the first course is cycled back to, even more material will be forgotten in that course.  It is better to complete exam study in each course each week if at all possible. 

Not preparing for classes in order to study for exams more.  This strategy can be counter-productive because one is limiting deep understanding of the new material that will be on the final exam.  By depending just on the highlights covered in class, the student loses the context as to why the law works the way it does. 

Taking all of one's remaining absences at the end of the semester in order to study for exams more.  Professors often give information about the exam during the last classes.  Many professors will pull the course together at the end.  Some professors will test heavily on the end material in the course.  For all of these reasons, missing class is not a good idea.

Smart exam studying is the key to success.  By using time and techniques to be efficient and effective, students can get higher grades on their exams.  (Amy Jarmon)

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