February 8, 2012
Choosing your study aids
Now that you have settled into your courses, you want to consider which study aids might be most useful for each of your courses. As you try to decide about your purchases or loans from other students, think about the following items:
- Study aids cannot substitute for your own learning and understanding. You need to wrestle with the material and spend time at your studies. Merely reading a study aid does not automatically transfer to your knowing the material well.
- Look at your syllabus or talk with your professor about any recommended study aids for the course. A professor will often recommend a study aid that s/he feels matches the professor's version of a course and best covers the topics for your course.
- Avoid purchasing every study aid series out there for your course. You will only have time probably for one commentary (what the law is) and one practice question book (preferably to match the type of questions that will be on your professor's exam). Look through different series to decide which is right for you before purchasing.
- Match a study aid to your learning styles whenever possible. Students learn differently from one another. Your ways of learning should assist you in choosing study aids. Some students benefit from hornbook-style aids; some benefit from audio CD's; some benefit from more visual study aids. Processing styles make for other differences. Some students benefit from study aids that preview the material with introductions or from study aids that delve into policies and synthesis. Other students benefit from study aids that sequentially discuss the parts of a topic and include later summaries for the overview and synthesis. (You can modify the way you use the study aid's internal organization to match your own processing style in some circumstances.)
- Learn your professor's version of the course for the exam. Your professor will find the points more quickly if you use the professor's buzzwords, steps of analysis, statement of the rule, and answer format. In addition, your professor may take a different slant on a course; for example, the professor may be looking for policy discussion that a study aid never touched.
- Use a study aid approriately. A study aid will be more useful to clarify a confusing topic after you have initially done all of your own work on the topic (read, briefed, attended class, etc.) and made a good faith effort to sort out what you do and do not understand. A study aid is best used throughout the semester as you need more information rather than read at the very end of the semester.
- Remember that commercial study aids can be wrong, outdated, or not match your course. Study aids are usually written for a national audience and cover topics that may not be covered by your professor. Volumes that are older editions or have not been revised recently may not include important changes in the law. Study aids that are not written by experts in the area of law may contain errors. Your professor's course may have different emphases or topics included.
- Do not forget that your professor is a study aid with legs. Go in to ask questions when your professor has office hours. Ask your professor to assist you if you are confused after making a good faith effort to learn the material. Talk with your professor about study strategies that might help you understand the course better.
Study aids are there to supplement your own work. They are not bound equivalents of magic wands. Use them wisely, and you can gain deeper understanding of topics. Practice questions can be especially useful in monitoring your understanding and application. (Amy Jarmon)
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