Even if you’re new to law school, chances are you’ve heard quite a bit of buzz about supplements. A quick internet search will reveal list after list of the best supplements for every subject that students just must have to succeed. While supplements can be useful when used responsibly (that is, as a supplement and not as a primary resource), they can easily do more harm than good if overused, or relied upon exclusively. Fortunately, there are a few things you can keep in mind to make sure you’re using supplements effectively.
Do be Sure to Choose a Supplement that’s Right for you
The first thing you should be sure to do when considering using a supplement is to choose one that fits what you need. Supplements are gap-fillers, not primary learning tools, so be sure to identify what you feel like you need help with and choose a supplement that fits that need. For example, if you need a clarification of the law, consider a supplement that explains the law in a narrative manner. If practice is what you need, focus on finding a supplement with plenty of questions and answers included. If you need recommendations on where to begin, professors and law librarians can be great resources to get input from, as they will likely be familiar with available resources in various areas.
Do use them to Clarify a Topic Before Class
One great way to use supplements is to help clarify a topic before you cover it in class. This can be especially helpful during the first year if you’re having trouble gaining clarity as to how the law works from just reading the cases and are nervous about cold calls. The right supplement can provide a helpful clarification of the law, which in turn may help you better understand the cases you’ve read, and how they relate to each other before you have class. However, be sure not to use a supplement to replace your assigned reading! In the long run, you will be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t practice reading cases and extracting the law.
Do NOT use them to Replace your Actual Casebook Reading
To reiterate, you most certainly should not use supplements to replace the actual assigned work and casebook readings for the class. As a lawyer, you will need to learn to actively read cases and identify the key legal rules and reasoning, and you will not develop these skills if you don’t practice critically reading cases for class. Further, your professor assigns specific work and casebook reading because that is exactly what they want you to learn for their course. Because they will be grading your exam, it is in your best interests to focus on your assigned work, and only use a supplement for clarification.
Do take Advantage of Practice Questions they May Provide
One way that supplements can be particularly helpful is by providing practice questions and answers. When mastering material and preparing for exams, it is invaluable to have access to as many practice questions as possible. While your first priority for exam prep should be any old exams your professor provides, supplements can provide even more valuable practice. There are a variety of supplements that provide practice essay questions with model answers that can be valuable supplemental practice, especially for areas where you may be struggling. Particularly helpful are supplements with multiple choice questions, as those are becoming increasingly common and are less likely to be available from professors.
Do NOT use them as your Primary Finals Study Material
While supplements can be a useful tool in preparing for finals when used correctly, they should not be your primary study material. First, they will not directly mirror what you were taught in class. For that reason, you should not rely on them to guide you in your final exam studying nearly as much as your own notes and materials from your class. Second, failing to synthesize and distill the material yourself will make it that much more difficult to perform well on your exams. The process of thinking through and organizing the material on your own is crucial to learning it thoroughly, so don’t skip that step!
Do use them to Help you Structure Outlines
Although it is not a great idea to use supplements as your sole study source, they can be a valuable guide when you’re thinking through how to structure your outlines. Be aware, however, that they will likely differ slightly from the exact way your professor taught the course, and will definitely contain far more information than you learned in your class. That being said, if you’re stuck on how to structure a particular topic they can probably help point you in the right direction.
While supplements should not be relied upon exclusively, they can be invaluable for clarifying information. When used responsibly, they can be great guidance tools for clarifying information.
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