Start law school with exams in mind


Yes, you read that right. I recommend brand new 1L’s start law school in August thinking about exams taking place in December.

Stop the eye rolling. 2L’s & 3L’s are nodding their heads right now because they know I’m right. And, I have the data to prove it.

1L Orientation starts in two weeks and can be an overwhelming information overload. Most law school orientations teach basics like IRAC, reading and briefing cases, and outlining to prepare students for the first few weeks of law school.

Too many 1L’s mistake the advice on reading and briefing cases and outlining as the only steps necessary for getting “good” grades in law school and budget their time per day or week based on how many pages in a casebook they have to read and brief. Spoiler alert: over the course of a term, you will read 100’s of cases. For each subject.

Reading and briefing cases is the barest of bare minimums. Reading and briefing cases is a means goal, not the end goal. The end goal – getting an A on your law school exam – requires not just 100’s of individual cases, but how those cases fit together into complex rule structures, and how to apply those complex rule structures to brand new facts you have never seen in an organized, thoughtful manner, in the time allotted.

Now that you know your end goal – acing your Torts exam – how do you get to your end goal over the next 3-4 months?

Plan to read and brief your cases, and immediately quiz yourself on what the case means and what your prof wants you to get out of it. If you read two cases on the same topic, quiz yourself on what the cases have in common and how they differ. Test your understanding of the cases by asking if the outcome would be different if the facts were different.

Look for “Notes & Comments” after the cases you read in your casebooks. DO NOT SKIP THEM, they are law school gold. Work through the notes and questions after you read a case or a group of cases. Will it be easy? No, it will probably suck and you will hate it. But, it is medicine and it is good for you, so do it.

Recent research on law student study habits proves that law students who quiz and test themselves in addition to reading, briefing, and outlining are highly likely to have high law GPA’s, but students who spend all of their time reading and briefing to understand individual cases without practice applying the law are highly likely to have low law GPA’s.

Now, start planning to get that A.

Retrieval practice protects against stress

Stress, especially high stress testing like the LSAT, law school exams, and the bar exam, impairs our memory and decreases our performance. Some law students with text anxiety “blank out” during exams due to acute stress and cannot remember anything they learned. What if you could make your memory and all of the material that you learned immune to stress?

Learning by using retrieval practice and self-testing makes your memory more “stress resistant” than if you learn by rereading or memorization. Retrieval practice – recalling information from memory without any cues and taking practice tests – is a learning super tool, much more effective than restudying or rereading. Researchers have already proven that retrieval practice is better for learning than rereading because it builds knowledge and calibrates learning by helping learners understand what they do and do not know.

Now, researchers have now proven that retrieval practice also protects what we have learned against acute stress.

“[U]sing a highly effective learning strategy to strengthen memory at encoding inoculated memory against the deleterious effects of the delayed stress response.”

[Read more…]

Law Student Study Habits Survey

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First Year students at Seattle University School of Law are invited to participate in a voluntary survey to identify which law study habits are linked to better learning outcomes and academic success in law school.

Professor Jennifer Cooper, in collaboration with Dr. Regan A.R. Gurung (University of Wisconsin-Green Bay), has developed a brief survey about law student study behaviors. Your participation is confidential and voluntary and takes 5 minutes.

Take the Law Student Study Habits Survey 

What did we do last class? Integrating retrieval practice to make connections

The first five minutes of every class offers a unique opportunity to connect with our students, but is often squandered on taking attendance, announcements, or setting up our slideshow, etc. Instead, use the first five minutes of class to connect with your students and to connect your students to the course material. Many good educators begin each class with a capsule review, quickly summarizing what happened in the last session. But, asking your students to retrieve what they remember from the last class offers much more value and increases student learning.

The exercise is simple and quick. Have students tell you what they learned in the last class session, without looking at their notes, books, or laptops. Write their comments on the board, editing for clarity and correcting if necessary. This simple act of retrieval practice – recalling information from their memory without any cues – helps your students connect prior learning to new learning, make connections with the course material, and learn the material more deeply.

Learn more about this technique and other retrieval based teaching techniques here.

First-year legal writing mistakes & how to avoid them

Student LawyerIn undergrad, you were a term paper pro. You could crank out thought-provoking three- to five-page term papers replete with resplendent prose and droll, pithy observations, impressing your professors by transforming minutiae into master­pieces. You razzle-dazzled them with all your word bling.

In law school, no one is impressed by your word bling. Less is more, especially when it gets right down to business. Legal writers are rewarded for conciseness, precision, sophisticated analysis, and ef­fective communication.

Hot tips for new (and not so new) legal writers in my article, First-year legal writing mistakes & how to avoid them, in the ABA Student Lawyer. New legal writers often carry college writing tactics with them to law school like inflating ideas, using fancy words (word bling!), and “more is more.” This idea inflation conflates with students wanting to “sound like a lawyer,” cranking out papers loaded with legalese and quotations.

My article suggests a few easy fixes: cut to the chase, use your words, and lead your reader. Read all about it here.