Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Making the Most of Practice Questions

Completing practice questions in courses is essential for the best grades on final exams.  Although students know they need to do practice questions, they sometimes make choices that do not reap the most benefit from practice question time. 

Here are some tips for making practice question time more effective:

  • Spend most of your time on practice questions that will match your professor's testing format if you know what that will be.  If fact-pattern essay, then complete fact-pattern essay questions.  If multiple-choice, then complete multiple-choice questions.  If short answer, then complete short-answer questions.  If a mix, then complete a mix of questions.  If you do not know the formats, then complete a variety of questions.
  • Complete as many questions as possible and more than you think you need to do.  That means lots and lots.  Completing more practice questions means that you are less likely to confront a scenario on the exam that is a surprise and also means that your exam-taking strategies are on auto-pilot.
  • Keep a log of your practice question performance.  Across practice question sessions, you will see repeated errors that you can self-correct long before the exams.  Why did you get answers wrong?  Missed issues?  Read too fast?  Did not know specific content?  Skipped steps in analysis?  Knew the law but not how to apply it?
  • Read the answer explanations for multiple-choice questions and the model answers for other questions.  Valuable information can be gleaned from this material.  Did you get an answer correct but missed a nuance in the law?  Did you miss sub-issues?  Did you structure an essay answer in the most organized manner?  Did you miss an argument for one of the parties? 
  • Always complete practice questions that your professor provides in class, on the course website, through the teaching assistant, on the law school's exam database, etc.  These are outright gifts!  You learn your professor's testing style.  If you have problems with these questions, talk with your professor on office hours to see how you could improve your answers.
  • Realize that practice questions come in levels of difficulty.  Some questions are testing your initial understanding: boxed flashcards, Examples & Explanations, Crunch Time short answer, CALI.  Some questions move to intermediate difficulty: multiple-choice practice question books, commercial outline questions, Siegel's.  Some questions are true exam style: exam database questions at your and other law schools.  Move through the levels of difficulty to prepare for the exams; do not hang out on the easy questions and expect to get your best grades.
  • If you are taking a course that does not have ready-made practice questions available, get with several classmates and write questions that you swap and discuss.  It is harder than you think to write questions; you will have to think carefully about the material.  Your classmates may see things in answering your questions that you missed entirely.
  • Write out fact-pattern essay answers as you would have to do on the exam.  Just completing a bullet-pointed list of what you would say does not prepare you for writing concise sentences that connect all of the dots in your analysis when you are under time pressure.
  • Wait to do practice questions until you have intensely reviewed a topic.  Doing practice questions instead of reviewing the material first is an inefficient way to study.  If you do not know the material yet, the practice questions will only tell you that you do not know it.  You will not get much out of the time.
  • Wait several days after intensely reviewing a topic before completing practice questions on it.  If you do practice questions too close to your review, you will get them right because you just reviewed the topic.  You want to see if you have retained material and can still apply it to the questions.
  • Start doing practice questions now if you have not already done so.  You do not want to wait until exam period to do practice questions for the first time.  You will not have enough time to hone your exam-taking skills.  You also will not have enough time to do lots of questions.
  • Always do practice questions on your own before discussing them with study partners.  You want to know that you can independently complete questions.  Discussion can be helpful to find points that you missed.  You will not have your study partners to do the thinking for you in the exam, so make sure you practice doing it on your own before the exams.
  • Complete some of your practice questions under exam conditions.  If your professor has a word count or page limit, practice to meet it.  If a question would be approximately one-hour on the exam, complete it in one hour.  If you will have one hour to complete 40 multiple choice on the exam, complete that number in that time span in practice. 

By using practice questions effectively ahead of time, you can increase your chances of doing well in the actual exam situations.  Practice questions can be your best friends if you cultivate your skills while doing them.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

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