Published weekly in SLU LAW News, this site contains all of the past hints and current hints. Read and learn something new each week!
Getting Those 700 Hours
Maximizing Learning by Using what Learning Preferences Work for You
Using Study Aids Effectively
Finding the Holding, Knowing What Is Dicta
Using the Best Way to Learn Material
Creating Exam Strategies
Review Like the Top Ten Percent
Making Sure Your Answers Covers the Issues
Outlining with Your Professor in Mind
Notice the big blue sign near Career Services that is proclaiming you need 700 hours to be successful during a semester? That translates to a 40-hour work week from the start of school to the end of exams.
So how do you accomplish sufficient preparation? Here are a few hints:
• Think of these 700 hours as "billable." Make sure you don't congratulate yourself for a study session when you have accomplished little. Be realistic - studying only works when you are focused and prepared.
• So ask yourself as you begin what you are trying to accomplish during a study session. What's your purpose? Editing your paper? Think about the flow of the paper and Bluebook. Learning an area of law in a course? Make sure you look not only at the cases and notes - but ask what is the rule, what is the meaning of the rule, what courts do to decide the rule, as well as a host of other outlining techniques. But know what you want to do specifically - don't just mentally tell yourself you are going to "study."
• Overestimate how much time you need to accomplish a particular task. Preparing for class when you only have a half hour, or when you waited until Sunday night is not a good plan. Don't add stress to your studying by waiting to the last minute. So don't wait until the end to prepare for your class, don't wait until the end to make your outlines, and certain you don't want to wait to reading days to practice and study!!
• Finally, remember that in any job situation, you do have a life. Make sure you take good care of yourself. Exercise, sufficient sleep, and proper nutrition are all important.
Get going on those 700 hours!
Learning law is not the same process for everyone. For those of you with a background in psychology, education or the like, you may have had exposure to learning theories. Simply put, different people learn in different ways, relying on different senses as the primary mode to learn material. Every year, first year law students are asked by LRW Director, Prof. Rollins, to take the VARK (Visual, Aural, Reading/Writing, and Kinesthetic). This quick and simple test helps determine what your learning style preference or preferences are; that is how you prefer to receive and learn information.
So why is this important to the law students? Because while you will all give professors the information that they seek through written examinations and in-class responses, how you learn that material can vary widely. While the first year law students have all taken the VARK in LRW, learning style can affect more than LRW. Moreover, learning style includes more than simply how you best absorb information. So, if you feel that the paper, pen and outline strategy is limiting for you, or you have a hard time determining the overall structure of the course - you may want to learn what your dominant methods of learning are.
The current class breaks down as follows:
|VARK TYPE||# OF STUDENTS|
|MULTIMODAL (more than one preference)||119|
However, this can be misleading, in that the Multimodal does not indicate that these students can learn in any fashion. Rather, the literature regarding this category suggests that these students require more than one method to feel confident that they have mastered the material. So if you receive a designation of Multimodal, check to determine what combination is your best way to learn. Try to use at least two of these methods so you have confidence in your understanding of the concepts.
|Multimodal||# of Students|
|VARK (all 4 relatively equal)||52|
|ARK (these top three are relatively equal)||18|
|VR (these top two are relatively equal)||12|
|AR (these top two are relatively equal)||10|
|AK (these top two are relatively equal)
|VAK (these top three are relatively equal)||6|
|RK (these top two are relatively equal)
|VAR (these top three are relatively equal)
|VK (these top two are relatively equal)
|VRK (these top three are relatively equal)
Once you have taken the VARK, and determined your own preference, you can then check out specific suggestions on my Academic Advising Fall-Spring TWEN site. Look for Learning Styles - I have narrated it so you can review it whenever you are interested in learning more.
Bottom line - learn the way you want to learn!
Don't believe everything lawyers tell you about the "secret" of how to do well in law school. There is no easy way to learn the law. Learning legal analysis takes time, intense thinking, many questions, and the input of professors. Don't shortchange this process by thinking that a study aid book - or another student's outline - can replace this process. There is a reason that we suggest "700 hours" as the amount of time you will need each semester to read, take notes, synthesize, outline, learn, and practice writing exams.
Moreover, there are many different kinds of study aids - and they are not created alike. Some are useful to provide context to the topic you are studying. Others might help you organize your thinking prior to outlining. Still others can fill in those "black holes" of missing knowledge that you just didn't understand. In addition, think about your learning preference and what method of delivery feels most comfortable to you. Are you an outline kind of person - or would a visual such as a map or flowchart help more? Do you like review DVDs or even flashcards? Consider all possibilities before you spend money on another book. If you need some help deciding, I have more details in my TWEN presentation on Study Aids and Study Hints. Check it out.
And if you are not sure what might help you - stop by and talk about your needs and what might work best. You might also be able to borrow some from my office for a few weeks to decide what works best for you.
What's the difference between holding and dicta? A holding is binding on future courts. Statements of law necessary to reach the result are also part of the court's holding. Other court statements about the law, while important but not necessary to reach the decision, are called dicta. Dictum is never essential to the outcome of that particular case. In fact, "obiter dictum" means "spoken along the side or way," which suggests the nonessential character of the statement. One way to determine if the statements are dicta is to ask yourself: "Did the court rule for/against the plaintiff/defendant because ...." Fill in the blank with the legal statements you are trying to decide are dicta. If it is part of the reasoning for the holding, it will make sense. If not, it is dicta.
As the positive side, however, dictum is often a good predictor how the court may rule in future cases - or to indicate the factual limitations of the holding. Nevertheless, there are differences between the two and you need to remember those distinctions.
Studying well is the logical result of good preparation and organization. However, you need to make sure you start in sufficient time so that you are not cramming at the end - and that you have time to practice review questions. One way to assure that you can get all that material studied, understood and able to be presented back on an exam answer is to set demonstrable goals. So take one or two minutes to prepare for studying by:
• Establishing measurable goals
• Deciding how you will organize your studying
• Engage in positive self-talk
• Example: "For the next 3 hours I am going to study the enforcement part of my contract outline. By the end of that 3 hour period, I will be able to define each of the various rules, their elements and their relationship to each other."
• Emphasis on concrete terms
• If you don't meet goal - know what you still need to do
People? (where you can discuss concepts periodically), or no people?
Home or library or coffee shop?
About every 45 minutes - 1 hour, take a "stretching" break
After about three hours, change the focus of your studying
• Total amount of time for this project?
So you know that you have sufficient time
Allows you to get less distracted thinking about when you are stopping
After you have made these preliminary decisions, you may find yourself less inclined to procrastinate until the last few weeks of class.
Collaborative learning through study groups can be useful. One important component of this type of studying, however, is that the learning activity must be focused. In other words, don't go to your weekly study group in contracts with some vague notion of studying "contracts." Instead, try to determine what the focus of the group will be - reviewing the week's notes, organizing the relationship of the current week's topic to the prior rules, etc. Pick a leader to direct the session each week; make an outline of the points to be covered; drop copies of hypotheticals to be discussed in mailboxes on the day prior to the meeting. All of these suggestions can improve the quality of your studying. Preplanning a study session, then, can shorten the length of the group meeting and increase its effective.
Students doing practice tests throughout their learning overall perform better than students who do not.
Recently a study from the Purdue University, conducted by Jeffrey D. Karpicke and Janell R. Blunt, indicated that active learning methods can result in a higher degree of learning. Specifically the study indicated that answering practice questions during the entire semester resulted in a better result in their final exam. This proved true even in the early stages of learning. So what does this mean?
Initially it means that staring at an outline or your notes is not the most beneficial methods to learn material. A better way would be to answer questions even if you have not fully committed the information to memory. Start by reading the endnotes in your casebook and attempting to apply what you just recently read. You might also want to fully answer hypos following your classroom discussion. Use study aids - Q and A, Exam Pro, and others - might also help test your knowledge. .
The advantage is two-fold. After you complete writing your answer, you can check to determine what you know - and what you don't know. Moreover, by frequently testing yourself throughout the semester you can gradually build on your basic knowledge of that area of law to a more thorough and complex understanding.
The end result? Practice does make perfect!
Mapquest is the next best thing besides owning a gps system. Type in the addresses and get the directions. Happily you can get the basics (turn right onto to highway 44 - exit at Exit at 102, etc,) if you want. But the real benefit of Mapquest (and gps) is the additional bits of information that keeps you on track (look for this store - if you see this road you have gone to far).
Exam strategy is much like Mapquest. Its focus is to help you maneuver through your exam answer, spotting the necessary issues and nuances. Rather than simply memorizing rules and elements, one of the best ways to learn material is by thinking through what these rules mean within the course and how problems could arise in those areas. Thinking like a lawyer means more than simply reciting rules of law. It's creating a method of how to answer.
So in order to best prepare yourself for the final examination, use your outline to organize your thinking. After going through the basics in your outline, add a section that specifically states how the professor would analyze a problem dealing with that issue. Listen to the questions asked in class and/or incorporate power points or other handouts from class to create this final analytical part of your outline. For an open book exam, this strategy section can become your "prologue" to the rest of your outline.
Need more information? Go to my TWEN (Academic Advising Fall/Spring Workshops) and click on Moving from Outlines to Exam Strategies.
Top ten percentage students sometimes do things differently when they prepare for exams. One suggestion was to study your outline by considering what factual scenario might generate a discussion of that issue or rule. For example, you might envision a situation when a person dies days after an assault, but only because of some rare physical condition. What analysis would that generate regarding premeditation? What would happen if a person were drunk when discussing an offer? Joking? Distracted by some other news? Think of factual settings that might show up on your exam. Figure out now out how to address these problems.
Moreover, recognize the exams are timed. Top students never forget that fact and work to become efficient by deciding how they might economically define the rules and elements - so that they might spend more time discussing what these mean and how they are applied. Success is not measured by a brain dump; rather, you need to work at maximizing the important points effectively. Again, practicing before the exam can hone your exam-taking skills.
So use the professors' Blackboard or TWEN to find exam sample, or go to the Past Exams - Academic Advising on TWEN as a way to generate this process. Looking at questions asked in prior exams is certainly a good way to prepare and to decide what the professors' expectations are.
In addition, the first of the Exam Taking Series, begins this week. This three-part program is scheduled to provide all 1Ls with all necessary information regarding exam taking techniques. So come to Exam Tips for 1Ls on Tuesday, November 1st in room 303 at noon, or Wednesday, November 2nd in room 02 at 6 p.m. and learn the basic process for succeeding on your exams!
Students sometimes make the mistake of not having sufficient analysis in their exam answers. Simply discussing the relevant rule and deciding the answer does not end your inquiry. So in deciding what the issues and rules are, and how you apply them to the examination rules, make sure you also show not only why you decided on your conclusion, but also why the other possibilities were appropriately rejected. So give MORE IRAC to your answer:
Identify the issue first
o Here it's important for you to consider all possible options that the facts of the question may trigger.
o So avoid tunnel vision - think alternatives!
Articulate the rule
o Part of the rule is giving a sufficient explanation
o Ask yourself how do the courts recognize the rule - what factors tend to signify that this rule is being applied (or not)?
Apply the rule - using the facts of your exam question and the rules you just discussed to create analogies and distinctions [by giving the professor MORE]
Opposing argument or position
Explaining your reasoning
Conclude - tell who will win and why!
Remember it's not just the answer; it's the process that the professor is looking for in an essay question. Thus connecting words, such as "because" and "under this set of facts," and "in this instance," are vital to making sure you sufficiently explain your conclusions. Answering essay exams is like answering a geometry problem - you need to show your work!
Professors are not cookie cutters and don't present information in the same manner. Equally significant, they write their questions to reflect what they emphasize in a course. So one professor might view criminal law as a way to investigate statutory analysis, using the MPC or other criminal statute as a method to teach how to read, understand and interpret statutes. Another professor might emphasize the comparison of common law to the MPC, with a goal of students understanding how the same topic - murder - has different elements which depend on the source of the underlying law. Still others may have other views, all valid and all seeking to help students apply legal analysis in a certain way.
Your outlining must reflect their focus. You need to always think what the professor wants from you beyond just the black letter law. So keep in mind these theories of why these laws, why this overall general definition that is applicable to the entire body of law in that course, or even why this political, or policy basis for such laws.
Outlining is more than just black letter. Incorporate your professor's voice into your outline so that you will remember to use her approach in your exam writing.