I don’t want to alarm anyone, but final exams are almost here! Fortunately, most law schools give their students a reading week (or at least a few days) where no classes are held so students can focus exclusively on preparing for exams. The reading week affords you a substantial chunk of uninterrupted study time, and you’ll probably want to maximize every minute as you make the final push before the semester ends. While you’ll need to spend some time simply memorizing the rules, you also need to incorporate activities that will improve your ability to spot legal issues and apply the rules you’ve learned to different scenarios. To make the most of this last study opportunity, make sure your reading week plans include the following strategies:
1. Practice Interleaving. Interleaving involves mixing up topics and skills in a single study session rather than studying one single topic for a long block of time. While you don’t want to skip around too frequently, shifting between topics and skills while studying will help you maintain your focus and improve your retention. To effectively use interleaving during the reading week, be sure to mix up your learning techniques and subjects at each study session, rather than doing the same activity over and over again. For example, instead of simply reviewing your outline for Contracts for four hours, review your outlines for each course, then complete a short essay question for each subject. Then go back and review subtopics that you still aren’t clear on, and work through some multiple choice questions, and so on.
2. Edit Your Outline. Your outline will likely be your primary study aid during the reading week, so having it in the best possible shape is key. Thoroughly edit your outline at the beginning of the week, being sure to check it for accuracy, adjust the organization as needed, and remove duplicitous material. If your outline is not completed by the end of classes, you need to evaluate whether you have time to finish your outline or whether you need to go into triage mode. While it’s always better to make your own outline, if you’re really far behind you may be better off using a reliable commercial or borrowed outline and devoting your time to review and practice.
3. Remember the Big Picture. Don’t get lost in the minutiae and lose sight of how the major concepts relate. Spend some time during the reading week creating an issue checklist or attack plan that succinctly lists the major concepts and displays then in the proper hierarchy. Creating a skeletal outline like this will give you a birds-eye view of the course and improve your ability to spot issues and logically organize an exam answer.
4. Recite Without Prompts. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we do by relying on cues or prompts to jog our memory. To help you retain the information and test how much you really know, try to recite the key rules and arguments from memory without glancing at your outline or looking at a flashcard. Explaining the concepts to another person or handwriting a condensed version of your outline are both good methods for practicing your ability to retrieve the key information without relying on cues.
5. Complete Mock Exams. The best way to improve your mastery of the material and your test taking skills is to get as much practice as you can. Take advantage of any past exams your professor has posted or find other practice questions to work through. Find out whether your professor favors long essays, short answer, or multiple choice questions so that your practice will resemble what you’re likely to see on the actual final. As it gets close to the day of the test, take some mock exams under timed conditions so that you’ll feel confident working under pressure.
6. Limit Re-reading and Highlighting. Some of the most common study strategies – re-reading cases and highlighting text – also happen to be some of the least helpful. While you may need to spend some time during the reading week reviewing a difficult case that you didn’t fully understand or highlighting some key headings in your outline, you shouldn’t rely on these techniques. Re-reading and highlighting (along with cramming, but that’s somewhat unavoidable at this point) are two of the least effective learning strategies, so use them sparingly.
Whether you’ve been a diligent student all semester or you’re scrambling to get caught up, you can get a lot accomplished during the reading week. Use the strategies above to help make your reading week as productive as possible so that you feel confident walking into final exams.
For more helpful posts, check out these articles:
- Meeting With Your Study Group Before Exams
- The Three Most Important Things You Can Do Before Exams Approach
- How to Use the Facts on Final Exams
- How to Move From Outline to Exam Answer
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