Sunday, October 1, 2017
A wide range of study aids is available to law students. You need to choose carefully which study aids to use and when to use them. Otherwise you can be overwhelmed by choice and waste time and effort.
What type of study aid do you need for the task?
- Study aids that are strictly commentaries. These study aids explain the law in depth. Examples: Understanding Law, Concise Hornbooks, Hornbooks, Inside, Mastering, Foundation, Concepts & Insights, Nutshells, Law School Legends (audio), Sum & Substance (audio).
- Study aids that are commentaries with embedded questions. These study aids explain the law in depth with questions in the text to illustrate the concepts and provide the reader with practice on the narrow issues being discussed. Examples: Examples & Explanations, Glannon Guides.
- Study aids that contain short summaries of the material with or without practice questions/problems. Examples: Acing, Short & Happy Guides, Skills & Values.
- Study aids that are lengthy outline versions of the material. These study aids typically have exam tips and practice questions as well. Examples: Gilbert Law Summaries, Emanuel Law Outlines, and Black Letter Outlines.
- Study aids that are mixed volumes with summaries of material, visual organizers, and practice questions. Examples: Finals, CrunchTime.
- Study aids that are strictly practice question books. Examples: ExamPro, Siegel's, Friedman's, Q&A.
- Study aids that are flashcards to help you memorize the black letter law. Examples: Law in a Flash, Lawdecks, Spaced Repetition.
When and how should you use a study aid?
- To preview information quickly before starting a topic, scan a summary study aid to get a general idea of the terms and subtopics you will be studying.
- To pull together the information quickly at the end of a topic before outlining, scan a summary study aid to see what you studied. You may find the summary's structure useful for determining your outline structure if the table of contents for your casebook or your professor's syllabus does not provide a structure.
- To clear up confusion, a commentary study aid is often useful at the point of outlining. After you have pulled together your own notes and briefs into an outline, you will be more aware of what you understand fully, partially, or not at all. Read a commentary to help with the parts you do not understand and then flesh out your outline as needed. (It is very inefficient to read topics that you understand fully. Focus on what you do not know.)
- To review material while doing chores, on the treadmill, or on a trip, you may find it useful to listen to one of the audio commentaries for a course. Consider listening to a section and then stopping the CD to explain that section aloud to check your comprehension.
- To find questions to help you clarify information for narrow issues when you outline, turn to the commentaries with embedded questions. These questions will help you think through the material for that narrow issue as "starter questions." However, these questions may be easier than "exam-worthy questions" because they are so focused on a specific issue.
- To test your ability to apply the law that you have already learned well, use the practice questions in the mixed volumes, practice question books, or commercial outlines. These questions are often intermediate level in difficulty. For the hardest exam practice questions, visit your law school's exam database.
- To test retention of material, application of it to new scenarios, and exam-taking strategies, complete practice questions at least 2-3 days after the material is learned well. If you complete questions too close to the review, you will automatically get them right.
- To test your ability to perform under time restraints in an exam, do as many practice questions as possible under exam conditions. For essay questions, read/analyze the fact pattern, outline an answer, and write an answer in the time period that would be required for that length/difficulty of a question. For objective questions, complete question sets in a realistic time frame for segments of your professor's exam.
- To memorize the black letter law, use flashcards throughout the semester to learn items over time. Cramming for memorization at the end of the semester is usually very ineffective.
What are some cautions in using study aids?
- Study aids are written for purchase and use by all law students in the country. Tailor your use to what matches your professor's coverage of the topics in the volumes.
- If your professor's version of the course differs from a study aid, learn your professor's version - the grader of your exam is the person to please.
- Check the copyright date of a study aid: Is it recent? Do you have the latest edition? Has the law changed since it was published?
- Check the jurisdictions covered by the study aid: Is it national in scope? Is it state specific? Does it cover the variations (UCC, Restatement, etc.) that your professor will test?
- Greater learning occurs when you generate your own study aids because you process the information instead of just reading what someone else processed. Examples: flashcards, outlines, flowcharts.
Study aids can be great supplements to your learning - however, they are not substitutes for your being an active learner and doing the hard work. (Amy Jarmon)