Law school presents a host of time management struggles. Between attending class, preparing for class, outlining for exams, reviewing supplements, practicing exam questions, writing papers, participating in pro bono and extracurriculars like mock trial, compiling applications for summer jobs, it’s a wonder anyone finds time to eat, sleep, exercise or socialize! In this environment it is especially important to study smart and efficiently.
One strategy that can help you maximize your study time is “interleaving.” Interleaving is a study strategy that involves interspersing practice of different skills or problem types, rather than spending long periods of time working on the same skill or problem type over and over again (a study strategy called blocking). Scientific literature often uses abcacbcab to help visualize and represent interleaving, while using aaabbbccc for blocking. These can give you an idea of what interleaving means in practice.
Studies have shown that interleaving appears to significantly improve performance on athletic skills necessary for playing baseball and basketball, as well as interpretive and mathematical skills. But, while, exam results were significantly better, results during the course of practice could be worse.
The benefits of interleaving seem to be that for the same amount of time spent practicing, exam results are much better. One study showed that comparable practice time spent studying using interleaving tripled scores on a math test over blocked practice time!
We’re not trying to conduct a scientific experiment here, but all indications are that the same would be true for the issue identification and logical reasoning necessary to study for law school exams as well.
Here are some general guidelines for applying interleaving to your law school exam studying:
1. Resist the Temptation to Practice One Thing until you’ve Really “Got It”
Law school tends to attract detail-oriented “perfectionists.” There’s nothing wrong with that, and it might be a great combination for good lawyers, but that combination can sometimes produce inefficient studying. It’s important to resist the temptation to keep working on one type of problem until you can ace it every time. Instead, be willing to move on and come back to it later. That doesn’t mean don’t try to understand what you did wrong if you missed an issue. You can check, reread the material, and write up some notes, but don’t immediately seek out and complete three additional problems of the same type without waiting a little while and working on something else in the meantime.
2. Mix Practice of Different Classes Together
Try to move between different classes and topics rather than devoting whole days or weeks to just one class subject. Although it may feel like it is difficult to switch between subjects during the day and immerse yourself in a new topic, that movement between classes and subjects is actually good for recall and helping your brain identify the correct strategy for a particular problem. And since law school exams (and the bar exam, and life as a lawyer) require identifying and applying multiple strategies with little context, this is exactly the skill you are trying to hone!
3. Start Practice Questions Early in the Semester
It is difficult to start working on practice questions early in the semester for a variety of reasons: exams feel far away, professors may not have posted practice exams yet, you haven’t covered enough material to feel “ready” to practice. Despite these hurdles, however, it is important to start practicing questions, and even practice exams, early in the semester, and not just one type of question or for one class!
4. Don’t Outline Just One Class at Once
Interleaving improves recall of information, and if you are going to be outlining for your courses anyway, you might as well do it in the way that is most likely to help you retain the information you review in the process. That means that when it comes to outlining, you shouldn’t wait and outline an entire semester’s worth of material for one class. Instead, you should intersperse your outlining throughout the semester, with practice problems, and with outlining and studying for other courses.
5. Don’t get Discouraged by Some Mistakes in Practicing
Remember, initial performance in practicing during studying with interleaving was actually worse than with blocking in one of the studies, but exam performance was better! So if it feels like it might be taking longer to master a skill, don’t get discouraged! Your practice questions and studying time are just for you, what matters is the end result!
The actual application of interleaving and these guidelines may look different for every law school student (and every schedule). For one student it might mean doing 10 hours of outlining per week split evenly across four doctrinal classes, and one practice problem each weekend, rotating between the classes. For another, it might mean one hour of outlining per day and 30 minutes of practice problems, with the two from different classes and each day having a different combination.
The exact form it will take for you will depend on your schedule, time, resources, and priorities. But it’s possible that interleaving could make your time studying just a little bit more efficient, and who doesn’t want that?
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- A Common Law Student Mistake: Spending Time Studying Material You Already Know
- What’s the Right Mindset for Studying?
- 5 Ways to Prepare for Law School Finals
Looking for some help to do your best in law school? Find out about our law school tutoring options.