Monday, November 11, 2013

Heard it on the grapevine

The law school grapevine is working overtime right now.  All sorts of ill-advised exam study advice is out there.  Here are some of the recent grapevine ideas that are bad advice:

  • Stop preparing for classes so you have more time to study for exams.  This advice is bad because preparing for class leads to deeper understanding of the material.  Without preparation, one is merely taking class notes and hoping that the kernels of information are in there somewhere.  Unlike undergraduate courses where students were spoon fed what would appear on the exam, law professors expect preparation for class to provide a springboard for deeper discussion and hypothetical analysis.  Without a basic understanding from class preparation, the student will not connect the dots in class and will walk away without deeper knowledge and the ability to apply the material.
  • Use all of your stored up class absences and skip the maximum number of classes you can so you have more time to study for exams.  This suggestion is bad advice because many professors use the last days of classes to pull material together and to discuss the exam details.  Other professors cover course material which by its very nature will weigh more heavily on the exam than earlier material.  Either way means missing critical information and hoping other classmates will tell you everything that was covered.
  • Use your class absences to leave early for Thanksgiving Break.  This variation of the prior advice is bad for the same reasons - especially at schools where the classes before the break are the last classes for the semester.
  • Focus on your doctrinal courses and slack off in your legal skills/research and writing class.  This bad advice is usually based on the fact that these courses often carry fewer credit hours than the doctrinal courses (at our school, 3 credits versus 4 credits in the fall semester).  These non-doctrinal courses are critical to employment decisions during law school and later and to the performance level during those jobs.  It also never seems to occur to students that an A or B grade in a 3-credit course of this type comes attached to substantial quality points to determine one's grade point average.
  • Study only for your first exam until it is over, then switch to the second exam, then the third exam, etc.  First-year students who have nicely spaced exams are especially vulnerable to this bad advice.  But second- and third-year students also fall prey.  By focusing exclusively on one exam at a time, students are not considering which courses are most difficult for them, which courses covered the most material, which courses they have understood/kept up with the most, which courses have exam formats that are most difficult for them, and many other individual study characteristics.  One-size-fits-all exam study can lead to bad decisions about how to divide one's time.  Each study decision should be carefully weighed for that course in relation to the other courses.
  • You just have to memorize the black letter law to do well.  This bad advice stems from the undergraduate cram and regurgitate mentality.  Law school exams require students to apply the law to new legal scenarios.  A student definitely needs to memorize the law.  However, that alone is not enough to do well on final exams.  Understanding the law is important.  Completing practice questions is a critical step to exam analysis - for both fact-pattern essays and for multiple-choice questions. 

My advice to students is to take everything heard on the grapevine with a salt shaker's worth of salt.  Use your common sense to determine the soundness of the advice.  If in doubt, ask the academic success professional at your school for feedback on the study ideas that you have heard.  (Amy Jarmon) 

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