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.

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.

Illusions of Competence: Obstacles to Learning & Which Learning Strategies Really Work

Illusions of competence are obstacles to learning. Yet, learners are unaware of the existence of such illusions or their own susceptibility to them. Such is the nature of illusions, right?

Learners unwittingly develop illusions of competence by an over relying on ineffective, passive learning strategies such as rereading, rote memorization, and cramming study. These illusions of competence made students believe that they have learned because the information seems familiar; therefore, it is perceived to be well learned. Research from cognitive science tells a much different story. Illusions of competence make learning “feel” successful, but actually impede learning.

[Read more…]

Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes Using Pre and Post Testing

I recently wrote about the counter-intuitive value of pre-testing, giving a test of material not yet learned, in order to prime the brain for learning to come and establish expectations for learning objectives.

I have since stumbled across an article published early this year by David J. Herring and Collin Lynch entitled Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class. Herring and Lynch discuss the ABA’s potential shift from input measures to output measures for legal education, increasing the focus on establishing learning outcomes as well as ongoing evaluation of the attainment of established outcomes.

Herring and Lynch used a pre- and post-test design for comparison within one particular subject, focusing on measuring the core skill of legal reading and cross-case reasoning. The researchers found that in contrast to traditional law teaching alone, pre-test followed by supplemental instructional interventions, produced significant learning gains. For more about the study and results, see Measuring Law Student Learning Outcomes: 2013 Lawyering Class.