Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Grapevine Has Some Good Advice and Some Bad Advice

Our last day of classes is the Thursday after Thanksgiving. Students have been telling me some of the things that the law school grapevine is full of right now. There is some good advice being passed around, but it is often mixed with misguided or downright detrimental information about successful exam study and exam performance.

Good advice: Outlines are important to exam success. Outlines whittle down your mountain of briefs and class notes into the a manageable summary of the course. As you make your outlines, you process and synthesize the material for deeper understanding with the goal of using what you learn to solve new legal scenarios on your exam.

Bad advice: Wait until Thanksgiving to outline so information will be fresh. The outline information may be fresh this close to exams, but you will not have time to commit that information to long-term memory for easy, in-depth recall during exams. This problem will be especially pervasive if you are outlining multiple courses over the break. Students who wait this late to outline often tell me later that they could remember the gist of their outlines but none of the details during the exams.

Good advice: Complete any practice questions offered by your professors. These opportunities allow you to see an example of how your professor tests, to check your understanding of the course material, and to monitor your ability to apply the law to facts in a coherent manner. Most professors will review the practice question in class, provide a rubric, or distribute examples of good/mediocre/bad answers.

Bad advice: You can wait until exam period to complete many practice questions. You can never do too many practice questions. Start with somewhat easy practice questions after you have outlined a topic. Review the topic in more depth and graduate to harder practice questions. During the reading/exam periods, you will want to complete even harder questions and do some questions under timed, exam conditions. Practice, practice, practice! It may not make you perfect, but it will make you proficient.

Good advice: Make strategic decisions about how to use your materials in an open-book exam. Each professor has a specific definition of "open-book." Make sure you know the specifics so you avoid an honor violation. Once you know the definition of the allowed materials and what you are allowed to do to those materials, consider which of the following strategies could assist you during the exam: tabbing, margin notes, highlighting keywords in statutes/rules, attack outlines written into the blank pages, notes on code/rule cross-references for certain topics.

Bad advice: You do not have to study as hard for open-book exams. This advice is leftover undergraduate thinking. You will have very little time in law school exams to look anything up. Study as hard as you would for a closed-book exam. Then think strategically about how you will use your open-book materials during the exam when you do have to look something up.

Do not abandon your common sense when you hear something on the grapevine. Think through whether the advice seems sound or has flaws. If you are not sure about the advice, ask the Academic Support Professionals at your law school to help you evaluate the advice. (Amy Jarmon)


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