For most students, law school is unlike any other educational experience. Unlike undergrad, the rigor, competition, and independent study required in law school will challenge even the most disciplined and high-achieving student. Because of these challenges, self-awareness is key. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, and specific learning preferences can help you manage the workload and perform your best. In addition to the VARK guide to learning styles, the Index of Learning of Learning Styles is a tool that you can use to gain insight into your learning preferences. While the VARK styles identifies how a person best absorbs material, the Index of Learning Styles broadly focuses on how a person prefers to process information once they’ve taken it in.
How Does the Index of Learning Styles Work?
The ILS is a 44-question assessment tool created by Professor Richard M. Felder and Barbara Soloman. It measures users learning preferences on four dimension: Active-Reflective, Sensing-Intuitive, Visual-Verbal, and Sequential-Global. After completing the questionnaire, the tool will assess which end of the spectrum a user falls on for each dimension. In other words, the tool will indicate whether a student is more of an active learner or more of a reflective learner, more of a sensing learner or more of an intuitive learner, and so on. You may show a strong preference for one end of the spectrum on a particular dimension or may fall somewhere in between.
ILS Study Tips for Law School
Once you’ve taken the on-line assessment and received your results, evaluate how your preferences could be influencing your study habits and exam performance in law school. Then, use the following study tips to help you craft techniques tailored to your preferences.
1. Active-Reflective Dimension
A student who tends heavily towards the active side of the spectrum may struggle with long lectures. To stay engaged, volunteer for the Socratic dialogue and answer the questions posed by your professor. Active learners will also benefit from study groups and problem-solving activities, so get some practice hypos to incorporate into your review sessions. Reflective learners will appreciate the independent study that law school requires. Embrace your desire to study alone and take time to process the information at your own pace. Be sure to create your own outlines and briefs so that you are giving yourself the opportunity to reflect on the material you are learning.
2. Sensing-Intuitive Dimension
Although inductive and deductive reasoning required in legal analysis may not intimidate intuitive learners, the rote memorization and attention to detail that is crucial to studying for final exams could be challenging. Stave off boredom by finding creative ways to study and encourage yourself to focus on the details, rather than just the big picture. On the other end of the spectrum, sensing learners will enjoy learning and memorizing the specific rules. Sensing learners will benefit from working through multiple choice and essay questions during the semester so that they are familiar with how the rules work in practice and so that they are comfortable with the problem-solving techniques they will need to use on final exams.
3. Visual-Verbal Dimension
Verbal learners – who learn best from written and spoken words – should be able to adapt to the daily reading and lectures that make up the bulk of law school classes. To make the most of this learning preference, be sure to paraphrase concepts in your own words, write out your own rule statements, and explain difficult concepts out loud to others. Visual learners should make an effort to convert the material into a visually pleasing form, whether that’s a well-structured outline or a flow chart. Try color-coding notes, tabbing key concepts, making charts and diagrams, associating concepts with visual images, or creating any other document that presents the material as a visual representation.
4. Sequential-Global Learners
As the name implies, sequential learners like to follow a sequential series of steps when they learn. Sequential learners appreciate a linear pattern, so take advantage of that preference by creating your own logical, linear course outline that you update each day. But, don’t lose site of the big picture either. If you’re a sequential learner, remind yourself to pull back from the details so you can see how each rule relates to the bigger concepts. Creating an attack plan or skeletal outline that shows the organization of the major concepts may help you make the larger connections. Conversely, global learners may find the traditional outlining process difficult since they prefer to see the big picture before processing the details. Global learners should provide context by reviewing the table of contents in their casebook to see how the specific rule or case they are learning that day relates to the overall course. Additionally, rather than creating a detailed outline first, try listing out the major concepts and working down into the details.
The ILS does not measure suitability for a particular subject (so it won’t tell you if you should go to law school), but it can give you insight into the teaching methods and study habits that may be more challenging for you. Essentially, knowing where you fall on each dimension can help you compensate for weaker areas, promote your strengths, and most importantly, bring balance to your study habits.
Check out these articles for more helpful advice:
- Active v. Passive Learning in Law School
- Law School Exam Advice: To Each His Own
- Ditch Your Highlighters: Science-Based Study Techniques
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