Friday, November 4, 2011

Use Study Groups Wisely

Many law students are forming study groups for the first time at this point in the semester.  Instead of using a group throughout the semester to consolidate material and compare outlines, they are narrowing their focus to problem areas in understanding and practice questions. 

Study groups can be very effective.  Students may benefit greatly from the practice question discussions when they realize they would have missed certain nuances in the law or confused steps in the analysis.  In addition, working through problems together helps one monitor preparedness on a topic in comparison to classmates.  Finally, study groups can serve an accountability function - if you promise the group you will do something before the next meeting, you have the motivation to stay on task.

However, students need to make sure that they do not overuse or depend on a study group to the detriment of their individual learning.  It has to be a balance.  After all, one's study group cannot answer the questions for you in the actual exam.

Consider these points to monitor the balance between study group and individual time:

  • Make a list for each course of all topics with subtopics that you must learn before the final exam.  Use monthly calendars for November and December.  Mark your last day of classes.  Fill in your exam schedule.
  • Lay out on the calendar for each day through the end of classes which subtopics for which courses you will personally learn during the remaining time.  This method helps you front-load learning so that you leave only a realistic amount for the exam period itself.
  • Consider how much time you need for the grunt memory work on rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, and other information.  Determine how you will do your memory drills: flashcards, writing the rules ten timex, reciting the rules aloud, mind maps for each rule.  Distribute that time throughout the calendars.
  • Decide when you will do practice questions with your study group to get group input.  You will get more from these sessions if all of the members think about the questions ahead of time and come with outlined answers.
  • Leave time for practice questions that you will complete on your own.  You should outline every one and write out as many as possible.  Take some of the questions under exam conditions.  (See Dennis Tonsing's November 2nd posting for more information on scheduling your exam study and practice questions.)
  • If you find that group time is taking away from your ability to learn the material in time for the exam, moderate your group time.  For example, if the group wants to meet for four hours, perhaps you will go for the portion that focuses on the course you find most difficult but not stay for discussion on other courses.  Or you might go for the practice question discussion but not the more general discussion of course material.  Explain to the group why you are not attending the full meetings so there will not be hard feelings.
  • If the study group becomes non-productive because of personalities, too much socializing, or other negative dynamics, diplomatically resign from the group.  You may be able to find one study partner who will be more compatible than trying to stay with the group.

Consider the efficiency of being in a group (wise use of time) and the effectiveness from being in a group ("oomph" out of the time).  (Amy Jarmon)

          

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