We previously explored the basics of a learning technique called spaced repetition. We looked at what it is and how you can use it as a law student to help with learning and understanding concepts. We’re going to continue where we left off, and look more at flashcards.
This flashcard system we are describing is called the Leitner system. This method was developed by a German scientist named Sebastian Leitner in the 1970s as a way to implement the spaced repetition system.
If you decide to give the Leitner system a try, you can do it in a couple of ways. You can keep your flashcards for your various topics separate and have multiple boxes for each class (so 20-25 boxes or piles total, depending on how many classes you are taking) or you could mix your classes together into one big pile and then sort them according to cards you have committed to memory.
If you are memorizing law school material, you might prefer to keep your cards separated out according to class, especially since you will be testing at different times.
If you would like to give spaced repetition a try but don’t want to make flashcards, there is an online program you might want to take a look at called SeRiouS or SRS.
The SRS adaptation of spaced repetition is a system of electronic flashcards organized in decks. These decks include MPRE, Boost, and Discover decks, as well as a patent bar deck. The Boost Deck currently contains cards based on the most frequently tested MBE topics. Subscribers can make their own Discover decks and choose to share or keep them private. There are Discover decks for state-specific bar subjects, like “Delaware Crimes,” and law-school-specific courses, like “Con Law with Prof. Lobel at Pitt.” While the Boost Deck is “created and vetted by law professors,” the Discover decks are crowdsourced by law students. The MPRE deck is free, but Boost Deck, Create-and-Share, and the patent deck are premium products.
To get started, you place decks in your “Stack” and click “Study Now.” You’ll work through ten flashcards – just ten. The face of the card poses a question, such as “What are a lawyer’s responsibilities when communicating with unrepresented persons?” Think about the answer. Click on the card to flip it and see if you’re right. Now assess how well you knew the answer, rating yourself on a scale from 1 (Know it Worse) to 5 (Know it Better). The scoring scale takes into account not only accuracy, but also ease or difficulty of recall. Your responses are collected, and they’ll influence what you’re assigned to study next.
One of our tutors tried the SRS program and this is how it worked:
During Day 1, our tutor spent about five minutes studying 10 MPRE cards. That didn’t feel like enough studying for the day, so she opted for “cram mode” and tried out the Boost Deck. Cram mode provides extra practice, but it doesn’t count for SRS purposes: you can’t rate how well you knew the answers, and your responses aren’t tabulated. Doing more than the assigned load violates SRS principles, because the algorithm is set to optimize your learning/forgetting curve.
At Day 2, our tutor was then assigned the original 10 MPRE cards to review, plus 10 new cards from her stack (MPRE and Boost).
When she logged in for Day 3, our tutor had 15 cards to review. The five she knew best had been eliminated, but they would be saved for her to review later. Her recall improved on at least 10 of these “old” 15 cards. She was then assigned 10 new cards to study.
The algorithm relies on your self-assessment of how well you knew the material – and how quickly you recalled it. If you rank your knowledge “worse,” you’ll continue to see that question more frequently. If you rank your knowledge “better” you won’t see that question as often. Because the program relies on self-assessment, it is possible, you might spend unnecessary time on a concept you know adequately or you might not spend enough time to truly master the information. Of course, this is also true with the paper flashcards.
It’s very easy to make your own cards. You can tailor the material and phrasing to your professor’s preferences, your curriculum, or your jurisdiction. Share with classmates, your study group, or invite your professor to make cards!
There are other apps and software programs available that can help you implement a spaced repetition study program, but the SRS program is specifically tailored to law students.
Who Should Use Which System?
Give spaced repetition a try, particularly if you like flashcards, studying in short bursts, and varying your study methods. It’s scientifically proven to help you commit more information to your long-term memory over fewer hours of studying.
Now, it is important, particularly if using this method for the bar exam down the road, that you *start early*! We recommend creating flashcards for concepts immediately after listening to your bar review lectures and beginning spaced repetition review at that point. For law students, we recommend creating flashcards at least once a week. Creating the flashcards is a great way to study because it forces you to actively engage with your class materials and make sure you have clear, concise and complete rule statements.
We definitely recommend giving spaced repetition a try and seeing how you like it. After you’ve spent time trying to learn material with this method, reach out and let us know how it worked for you!
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