Last week I encouraged you to evaluate your place of study. When you get to law school, ask yourself: Am I being most effective in the law library or at home?
Another common experience of the first-year law student is the study group. The same rule of self-evaluation applies: Are you most effective in solo or group study?
Oh, Study Group
I think the study group is the hardest practice to wrest from one’s routine because it makes us battle the notion that two heads are better than one, which is surely the case for many things.
The potential problem, then, is that the study group may make you feel that you have two heads — it is prone to giving the impression that what is understood as a group is understood by its members.
First-semester I spent most of my exam-prep time with a study group. We would evaluate our outlines together, run hypos together, take practice exams together, and then at the end of a very long day, go nuts together (I can vividly recall a chase-scene in an empty lecture hall).
Don’t Confuse YOUR Knowledge with the Group’s Knowledge
I later found that spending those precious pre-exam reading-period hours in a group was not all time well spent. After weeks of group-study, the collective understanding disguised itself as my understanding. On exam day, the rug was pulled out from under my comprehension.
Together, if we were conquering a fact pattern, we felt strong and right. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that you do not take a law school exam in a group. If we were testing one another’s knowledge, someone is nonetheless always prepared with an answer (right or wrong), so that little time passes before whatever it was that stumped you is overcome by another student. You then seemingly absorb that person’s knowledge. Don’t be so sure. Always test your own knowledge — the reality may be harsh.
That all being said, I do believe there is great value in checking in with your peers. After all, they are going through the same thing, studying the same material, and likely have insights and arguments to impart.
Test Your Assumptions
But as I suggested with testing your place of study, test the effectiveness of group and solo study. The difference may be a little harder to detect than moving your chosen location of study. I recommend that after trying to study with a group, you do a hypo or take a practice exam on your own to see if what you thought was made clear by the group, remains clear in your head.
Remember, you are the only one who can succeed on exam day.
A theme should be coming into view: Law school is notorious for sending the first-year student adrift, to be evaluated in one shot on exam day.
Thus self-evaluation is crucial to measuring your understanding of the material before exam day arrives. A study group can veil your understanding and/or be very valuable, but you need to know the effect it is having. In the coming weeks, I will continue to encourage you to check in with yourself throughout the term, regarding other such topics as stress, social life, and academic expectations.
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Did you miss any of Cara’s other posts?
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Introduction
- Lessons from My 1L Year: You Don’t Have to Live in the Law Library
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Have Fun!
- Lessons from My 1L Year: Make Friends
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