Why is memorizing in law school different? How can you improve your memorization skills?
Since memorization has played a role in basically every part of your academic life, you might overlook its role in your legal career. The truth is you will need to be an expert memorizer from the beginning of law school, through the bar exam, and beyond. And when we say memorization, we mean understanding material and memorizing a lot of material, word for word, in a short amount of time. In this post, we go over what makes legal memorization unique, how to memorize effectively, and how to adapt your studying to your learning style.
Law School Memorization Tips
One of the most important phrases to know regarding memorization is repetition equals retention. This phrase brings up the fact that you need to repeatedly study something and actively practice recalling it. Don’t just listen to a lecture about a topic, review some law, and then move on. You want to make sure you review it a few times, perhaps put it in an outline and do practice questions in which you write out the rule. If flashcards are your thing, then make them early and actually use them to review throughout the semester, not just before the exam. Your flash cards are only as good as the time you actually spend repeating your review of them. Just making the flash cards is all fine and good, but ultimately pretty useless if you never look at them after that.
Do not for a moment think that open book exams mean less memorization work for you to do. Open book exams lull you into a false sense of security. If you spend all your time during the exam looking up things you should have memorized, you will fall behind and not do very well on the exam.
If you teach yourself material in shorter bursts over a longer period of time, this is much more effective than cramming for a couple of days at the end of the semester. Most law students probably know this instinctively, but a lot of students still put off memorization until way too late in the semester. The whole premise of spaced repetition is avoiding the cram session at the end right before finals. When you cram for a few days during reading week, you’re less likely to see the big picture, and you won’t remember the material as well since you’re storing up all that information in your short-term, rather than long-term memory.
Why does practice matter so much? Well, for a lot of reasons – one of which is how much it can help you memorize. Your goal going into your exams should be that you’ve practiced writing about each and every legal rule you’ve learned in the context of a new fact pattern.
Memorizing vs Learning
The whole point of most law school exams is the big picture, or testing, if you know the law well enough to use it and apply it to new factual situations. That’s why you can’t just memorize it, you need to learn it. Knowing terms isn’t helpful unless you know what they actually mean, know their applications, and know their complexities.
Understanding, learning, and memorizing at the level you need to succeed in law school is achieved by first simplifying concepts rather than just staring at your class notes, or reading them over and over again. Deep understanding of legal concepts is needed to do the one thing professors most often ask you for on exams: your analysis and how you apply a rule to a new set of facts. The analysis is hard and takes legal reasoning and skill, not necessarily the memorization of a block of text. If you ever catch yourself memorizing an idea or term just for the sake of being able to spot it (or regurgitate it) on an exam even though you don’t really know what it means or why it matters, stop. Some small details make a big difference in cases, but many are not important. Ask yourself which facts really turned the court’s decision one way or the other. If you can’t tell which facts made the difference in a case, ask! Tell your professor you’re having a hard time deciding which facts were “legally significant,” and ask if you can talk through some more examples to test your understanding.
Learn Your Learning Style
We all learn differently and you know best how you have learned information in the past. Knowing your learning style will save you so much time when studying/memorizing! If you are going to law school, in law school, or studying for the bar, it’s time to really think about your learning style and adjust your studying patterns accordingly.
If you don’t know your learning style, take this learning styles quiz and see what you get! You will fall into one of the three main learning styles that numerous studies have defined: visual learner, auditory learner, or kinesthetic learner.
- Visual learners are students who learn through seeing, and they usually prefer visual aids like diagrams and pictures.
- Auditory learners learn best by hearing and learn best with verbal and written material.
- Kinesthetic learners learn best when they can get hands on and be active.
If you are a visual learner, you’re in luck because you will be seeing many outlines, diagrams, and textbook pages in law school. Using multi-colored highlighters when reading for class can help you organize and remember the material. Outlining is particularly effective for visual learners because it can create a visual pattern to remember material. When outlining or taking notes in general, use diagrams or other visual representation like charts and graphs to help you better understand the material.
Even though law school involves a lot of reading, there are ways you can maximize your studying as an auditory learner. When studying, you want to vocalize as much of the material as possible. Instead of writing down questions and answers to practice problems, say them out loud! Reading your notes out loud will also help you remember the information.
Although the law school learning environment suits auditory and visual learners more than kinesthetic, there are still things you can do as a kinesthetic learner. Take periodic breaks while studying to help your mind focus. When you are studying, try and actually be hands-on by writing and re-writing material you learn or typing your notes. Another way of staying active while studying is to create study tools like flowcharts and diagrams. By actually drawing and constructing a physical chart, you will be helping yourself learn the material. Flashcards are a great study tool for kinesthetic learners.
We hope this post has been helpful for improving your study habits! Remember, repetition and effective studying methods are the key to meaningful memorization skills. Good luck on those exams!
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