Everyone knows law school involves a lot of reading. And, we’ve all heard about the importance of studying. But what actually works? If you are wondering how to accelerate your law school learning over the course of the semester, you may be interested in these evidence-backed study tips.
Read each case only once.
A student asked us just this morning whether he should continue to read each case three times, as he did last semester. Our first question was whether last semester worked out the way he had hoped. He said no—he had not been happy with his grades.
As it turned out, he had spent so much time just doing the assigned reading, that he didn’t have many hours left for other crucial steps, like practicing hypos.
This happens a lot! That’s because in law school, it’s all too easy to get swept into doing just the reading, briefing, and attending the required lectures.
These activities alone can easily take up all your time if you let them! The problem is, this is just treading water, and the goal is to teach yourself the butterfly — and then to swim faster and better than everyone else in the pool. So, while keeping your head above water is vital, it’s also not enough. You need to be extremely judicious in carving out time to engage in the necessary extra steps (like practicing) that no one ever tells you are actually required to do well on your exams.
Re-reading each case in excruciating detail more than once is a waste of time. That said, if you want to read once and book brief, and then skim that book brief later before class, I think that’s perfectly acceptable. Just be very cognizant of the time you’re spending.
If you think you might be spending too much time reading cases, ask yourself whether you are reading to retain the minutiae (because you are afraid of looking silly if you get called on), or whether you’re reading to understand the big picture of what the case stands for and the take-away legal rule.
The big picture is the goal.
Work first, play later.
Remember when you were a kid and you had to eat your vegetables before dessert and do your homework before going outside to play? Turns out, your parents weren’t wrong.
Empirical evidence has shown that delaying enjoyable activities until after you’ve finished studying is a winning strategy.
So, if you have a favorite TV show or activity, see if you can use it as motivation. I remember a classmate in law school always used to joke that, “You know it’s getting to be crunch time when your rewards for yourself for finishing all your work involve terribly mundane and completely necessary activities of daily living.”
For example, where she used to reward herself with a nice walk in the park or a movie with friends, as we got closer to midterms, her rewards were inevitably reduced to things like allowing herself the cheese, sour cream and guacamole upgrade on a typically basic burrito, or using her fancy shampoo instead of the plain old regular one. Hey, whatever works for you! Even though your rewards may digress into ways of feeding and caring for yourself as the semester progresses, if you can figure out a (healthy) incentive system that works for you, I say use it!
Seek out feedback.
Even law professors agree that feedback can be “one of the most powerful influences on learning.” Unfortunately, feedback isn’t just handed out in law school like it is in undergrad. A lot of you won’t have midterms or any formal means of assessing your performance before finals hit. So, what do you do? See if your class has a TA or tutor and talk to them. Ask if your school has some sort of academic support program that you can get guidance from. Go to your professor’s office hours with well-thought-out questions that you have already tried to answer on your own. Or, better yet, see if your Professor would be willing to give you comments on practice exams that you write. If you want extra, individualized attention or really detailed feedback on your practice exams, consider working with a tutor.
View each critique as a new opportunity for growth.
Feedback is useless if you don’t consider, incorporate, and learn from it. As we have said before — and as is wonderfully enumerated in Mindset, the book by Stanford Psychology Professor, Carol Dweck — your mental state really matters! It turns out, those with a fixed mindset are more likely to avoid, ignore or become embarrassed by negative critiques of their work, which can make it difficult to admit and learn from their mistakes. Those who adopt a growth mindset, on the other hand, can teach themselves to use constructive criticism as a chance to grow and improve.
Whether it’s the red ink on your citations in your Legal Writing class or seemingly-scathing feedback on a hypo from your Professor, TA or tutor, ask yourself, “Is this really just a chance for me to avoid making the same error twice?” If you make the big blunders outside the exam room and put yourself in a position to learn from them, you probably won’t falter as much when you’re actually being graded.
Check out the next post in this series to learn more evidence-backed law school study tips.
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And check out these helpful posts:
- 5 Study Tips for Auditory Learners
- 5 Study Tips for Kinesthetic Learners
- 5 Study Tips for Visual Learners
- The Three Most Important Things You Can Do as Exams Approach
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Great post. Very insightful, thanks. Any advice where to find hypos to practice?
You can find hypos in many different places. Your professor will typically throw out ideas in class, which can be good practice (you can use them to write your own hypos to share with friends, etc.). Old exams are a great source, and most commercial outlines and study aids also have lots. (We typically like Examples & Explanations for easier hypos, and commercial outlines for more challenging ones.)
Here are a few other ideas: Where Can You Find Sample Law School Essay Exams?.