Most law students and alumni will tell you that law school exams mostly require applied knowledge, not rote memorization. You’ll need to know how the information you’ve studied can apply to a novel problem and how all the information connects together. But before creating those important connections, you have to actually know the information. Here are my top five tips for memorizing that information:
1. Record Notes to Listen to Later
You can do this one of two ways. The first is to record your professor’s lecture and listen to that at a later time. The second way is to record yourself reading your notes out loud and then listen to that. I prefer the second way because it requires you to review your notes once while you read them, and also because you get the most important highlights of the lecture instead of spending a lot of time re-listening to the entire thing. Either of these techniques allows you to review information while doing other activities like driving or exercising.
2. Use Flashcards or Another Form of Self Testing
Many studies have shown that self testing is one of the most effective forms of memorization and learning. Flashcards are one of the easiest ways to test your knowledge. Self testing is effective because it shows you what you truly know and what you don’t, and ensures that you will be able to draw on your knowledge come test time.
3. Use a Mnemonic
The idea of using a mnemonic may sound silly and bring forth memories of learning things like PEMDAS in elementary school, but mnemonics can still be useful for college aged students. A mnemonic truly is: “a device such as a pattern of letters, ideas, or associations that assists in remembering something.” It doesn’t have to be silly to work (though a little humor can help). When you need to memorize a set of key terms for example, make up a catchy story using the first letter of each definition, and this can help you recall the definitions of the terms. Though this won’t help you if you haven’t thoroughly studied the definitions, it can help jog your memory come test time.
Now that we’ve gone over a few tips for memorizing basic knowledge, we can talk about how to use that knowledge to build connections between concepts and really understand the material. You can read more here about the importance of really understanding class material and how it relates to other knowledge you’ll gain in law school. Here are my top two memorization techniques for applied knowledge:
4. Be able to explain the concept you’re trying to memorize
One of the best ways to test your holistic understanding of a concept is by trying to explain it to someone else. As you begin your explanation of the topic, you’ll start to see where gaps in your knowledge exist, and spots where you stumble over your explanation. Write down these problem areas and re-study the concept until you understand it front and back. Bonus points if you can explain the concept to someone with no background in law, like your mom or your ten- year-old sister. If you have a true grasp on the content you should be able to explain it in layman’s terms. Explaining the material can also help you connect and relate it to other material, which will help you know where to “search” your memory come test time.
5. Create a mind map
Mind maps are diagrams used to visually organize information and show relationships among pieces of a whole. They can help you organize complex ideas and show how they relate to other concepts. This method can be helpful for visual learners because it actually shows on paper how concepts connect with other ideas. Here’s how you do it: start with your main concept in the middle of the page, and then write other concepts that relate to your main idea branching off your main idea. Then, write notes and definitions on the lines that connect the ideas. You can write notes about how they connect as well as what their definitions are if you think you might forget. Keep branching out ideas until you’ve connected many concepts together.
The key to being able to recall information when you really need it is encoding it clearly. You can’t recall something that was fuzzy in the first place. Using these tips, you can make sure you know the information. Then find ways to link it to broader course concepts. If you do that, you’ll be on your way to passing your law school exams. If you need a little extra help, check out the one on one tutoring offered here at Law School Toolbox. Good luck!
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