Study Aids & Exam Strategies

Study Aids

Studying law is multifaceted. You:

  • read the casebook
  • brief the cases
  • attend class (listen, take notes, answer and ask questions),
  • and consult with your professors when you need further clarification. 

If you've done all that and still do not understand the material, you may decide to turn to a study aid. Study aids are materials other than your casebook that help explain the law. Study aids are not a substitute for doing the hard work yourself because working with the material, even when it is difficult, is essential to understanding. Often, reading a study aid may be all that's needed to pull together all of the work you've done. It can be like the proverbial light bulb going off in your head after you've read someone else's explanation of the material. Study aids can be especially useful to double-check your understanding of the material as you prepare your course outlines.

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Study Groups

Study groups, when they are well structured, can be very valuable in the learning process. Working with other students can provide support, discipline, and feedback. Study groups are most effective for discussing material before class, discussing concepts after class, outlining, and reviewing practice exams. However, study groups can also be very destructive and counterproductive if they are not well organized, if members compete with one another, or if the members are not well matched. Some of the pros of study groups are:

  • Discussions with classmates can help you understand materials easier than you could have alone.
     
  • Talking about the material can help you understand it. Either you will know the material so well that you can explain it, or you will see where you need further study.
     
  • Interaction with other students in a supportive environment. 1

Some of the cons of a study group are:

  • Not everyone's motives are pure. Some students may react to law school competition by trying to sabotage you. Other students cannot or will not deliver what they promise. Other students will collapse under the pressure of law school or pretend that the pressure does not affect them.
     
  • Some students will do everything but focus on studies in study group.

Tips for creating a Study Group

Time Management

By now, you're probably asking yourself: how can I get it all done?

There's no doubt about it--you have to put in a lot of time to succeed in law school. You have to study hard, but you don't have to be consumed by your studies.

Studying longer does not mean studying smarter, and studying longer does not always result in better grades.

But students who had more accurate expectations than others about the time required for particular law-school related activities performed better than predicted. Research has shown that students who prepare written schedules and stick to them, study more efficiently and get better grades than students who don't.

Scheduling

Several researchers suggest that you:

  1. Prepare Weekly Schedules
     
  2. Semester-Long Schedules

The weekly schedule allows you to schedule small blocks of time for day-to-day activities, while the semester-long schedule allows you to set aside large blocks of time for such things as writing a paper, extensive review, or taking practice exams. 

Helpful Resources

For a list of books, software, flash cards and study aids along with academic planning resources, please see the Study Aids, Strategies & Exam Prep LibGuide.

Exam Strategies

You've heard the old sayings: Fail to plan and plan to fail. If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up anywhere. Those old sayings have a lot of relevance when it comes to law school exams. You need a plan to do well on law school exams. You just can't show up for the exam, read the questions, put pen to paper and expect to do well. Or at least, most students can't. You need a strategy.

You can develop your plan by focusing on three distinct areas--before the exam, during the exam and after the exam. The following are some strategies that you can apply to the process of taking a law school exam. Some of the strategies you applied in undergraduate school, some are common sense, but most concern the unique skills and approaches that you need to succeed in law school.

First

If your professor gives you any advice or instructions about how to prepare for or take her exam, follow those instructions over any strategies you might read here. This includes any suggestions on exam preparation, the questions you are directed to answer on the exam, and the way in which the professor wants those questions answered. See the Study Aids, Strategies & Exam Prep LibGuide for advice concerning the following:

  • Before theExam
  • During the Exam
  • Special Types of Questions
  • After the Exam

Reviewing Exams

Now that grades have been distributed, many of you are wondering what went wrong and some of you are wondering what went right.

The big question is what to do now. There really is no way around it: You need to look at your exams. That may mean coming into contact with a professor who you would prefer never to see again, but that is the way to learn the most from the experience.


You may have a whole host of reasons why you do not want to meet with your professors. So, here are some rebuttals in advance to the top five most common excuses.

1. You are embarrassed.

  • Keep in mind that most professors do not take your grade personally. You shouldn't either.

2. You do not want the professor to know who you are.

  • The professor probably already knows who you are, and she will be glad that you are motivated to do better.

3. You just want to move on.

  • Putting the past behind you is a good approach; however, you need to nail down what went right and what went wrong so that you can start this semester with a positive frame of reference.

4. You are sure you know which questions you did rotten on so "why beat a dead horse".

  • You would be surprised at the number of students who are mistaken about their exam performance. You will not know for sure which questions you did well on and which ones you did poorly on until you look at your exams. Imagine how horrible this semester will be if the things you thought you did right, you did wrong, and you unwittingly repeat those mistakes.

5. The exam won't have any comments that make sense to me.

  • Your exam may not have comments on it, but you can learn plenty on your own if you know what you are looking for.

What exams should you look at?

You should look at those you thought you would do well in but didn't, and, if you have time, look at those you did well in.

 

How do I go about it?

Check with the professor to find out his exam review policy. Some professors will let their secretaries give the exam to you; others will require that you come to their office to pick it up and return it to them when you are finished; others will require that you read the exam in their office with them present.

You also should see if your professor has a sample answer that you can review. Some professors will distribute the sample in class, and others might make it available in the Distribution and Copy Center. When viewing a sample answer, look at the exam in terms of content and style. Try to determine just what made the professor think that the sample was a good answer.

 

What to look for when reviewing your exam?

  1. Look at the point totals to see how you did overall. Did you have trouble with one particular question or did you perform fairly evenly on each question?
     
  2. Look for patterns. Did you do poorly on all first questions/last questions. Did you allocate time well, have initial jitters, or did fatigue set in?
     
  3. Are there certain types of questions you did better on? How did you do on the policy questions? The issue-spotting questions? Multiple choice? What skills should you concentrate on improving?
     
  4. Focus on content. Did you really know the law? Did you state it correctly and thoroughly? Did you apply the facts to the law? Did you come to a conclusion too quickly without first exploring all the possibilities raised by the facts?

 

Should you talk to your professor?

In most cases, the answer is yes. But, unless there's a mathematical error, don't think that doing that will change your grade. Your goal in talking to your professor should be to understand what you did right and what you did wrong--not to argue.

Before you set up an appointment to discuss substance, make sure you have read your exam and have formulated questions in advance. Check you answer against your outline to see if you can spot missed issues. Tell your professor which issues you found after the fact and see if your list is complete. Pick a question and describe the type of answer you gave. See what else the professor wanted in the answer.

 

What else should I consider?

In addition to reviewing your exams, you should also consider and critically evaluate your study habits from the previous semester.  Take note of those study strategies that were effective, but also be honest with yourself and admit what did not work so well. Did you procrastinate or not manage your time well?

By closely examining and identifying those study strategies that worked well and those that were ineffective, you will be in a good position to adjust your habits. This will allow you to plan and implement new strategies and techniques that will help you succeed in the upcoming semesters. Try incorporating new study strategies into your course preparation.

 

What else should I do if I think I really bombed?

Talk with your advisor or the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs.

Adapted by Larasz Moody from material provided courtesy of Tricia D. O'Neill, Director of Student Affairs, University of Maryland School of Law.

For questions regarding grades or studying, students should contact their academic advisors.