I have noticed that study habits vary from law student to law student. Some like to meet up with a group regularly, some study exclusively alone, some visit office hours, some prefer to consult supplements or videos, some seek a tutor or lean on their teaching assistants, or use a combination of any of the above. Of these, joining a study group is often a popular, but also controversial option. There can be pressure to either start one (and decide who to have in the group), or to accept a friend’s invitation to study together. As a 1L, I remember feeling so nervous that I was not doing something right. I especially panicked as I saw people in my section form study groups to review materials. Ultimately, I relied on the tried-and-true methods that had helped me succeed in the past to absorb and apply all the novel legal concepts I was learning. They did not involve meeting with a study group on a regular basis.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to study groups, and I do not believe that they are mandatory in order to effectively learn and prepare for the final exam. If you have decided that a study group is not for you, you might be wondering whether you are missing out on the benefits, or how you can ensure that you are on the right track.
Ideas and Tips for Scenarios that You Might Encounter While Studying:
If you are unsure about a concept…
- Ask your professor over email or in office hours
- Ask your teaching assistants
- Ask a classmate what their takeaways were from class
- Read about the topic in a supplement
If you are unsure how to apply a concept…
- Attempt problems from your professor’s past exams and check the model answers or with your professor
- Use practice problems and answers from supplements
- Create hypothetical scenarios and questions and answer them
If you want help with your outline…
- Ask your professor how the concepts fit together
- Ask your teaching assistants how the concepts fit together
- Play around with creating charts, timelines, or other visual aids, and consider how you can format your outline to be most helpful for your understanding
- Look to old outlines to see how others have organized and explained concepts
As you probably have noticed, a few themes emerge. You have your professors, teaching assistants, classmates, and external study aids at your disposal to check your understanding and hone your issue spotting and analysis skills.
What About Finding Community and Keeping Myself Accountable in a Study Group?
Admittedly, the community and social support aspect of a study group can be a helpful stress reliever. However, you can easily find someone to commiserate with in a friend or an upperclassman who has taken the class before.
Study groups can also be a great accountability mechanism, motivating you to keep up with your readings and to review the materials. You will also be more likely to discover topics that are confusing as you discuss them with classmates, or listen to others do so. On your own, you will need to have a lot more discipline. I suggest marking days or weekends in your planner dedicated to reviewing a unit and completing practice problems. Based on how confident you feel afterwards, you can seek additional support. You can also decide to visit your professors’ office hours on a regular basis. This forces you to think about questions or areas that you need clarification on. Check out this post for more ideas to keep yourself accountable.
Using a One-Off Study Group for Reviewing Practice Exams
While I did not join a regular study group, I did use a “study group,” for one thing: reviewing practice exams, especially when there were no model answers provided by the professor. Some friends and I got together, after separately completing a practice exam (or outlining the answer), to discuss. I always found these sessions valuable: more often than not, someone would suggest an argument (especially a non-legal one) that I had not thought about or spot an issue that I had completely missed. We would share thoughts about what words triggered us to think about a specific issue, how we outlined the answer, and why we decided to pursue a branch analysis or not (particularly when we were constrained by word limits). It was illuminating to see the different ways people approached and answered a problem.
At the end of the day, you know yourself best. Someone once told me: Keep doing what you did that helped you get to law school! Indeed, I often recalled how I studied as an undergraduate (while balancing work and extracurricular obligations) to inform my study methods as a law student. Of course, law school is a different beast. If you do decide to ditch the study group, studying can feel daunting and lonely at times. Don’t forget to use the resources around you and adjust as needed!
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