The beginning of a new semester is always my favorite time to reflect on my study habits of the previous semester, figuring out what worked and what didn’t. I’ve compiled a list of five law school study tips I utilize that have made a difference in my learning.
Some of these are applicable only to law school, but some I think are useful no matter what kind of educational program you are in. Especially number one!
1. Hand write your notes.
Seriously, this is SO important. There are countless studies that show handwriting notes is much more effective than typing them, and for good reason! (If you don’t believe me, check out these links to some sites that I think you’ll find pretty reputable: this one from NPR and this one from Sage Journals, or google it yourself and see!) You are forced to synthesize the information as you take notes in class because you are unable to write down every word the professor says, as you could if you were typing. Plus, there are just less distractions when you hand write your notes. No Facebook or e-mail notifications that pop up! Because, seriously, are you NOT going to check that e-mail when the notification pops up? I know I’m going to, so it’s best for me to just completely eliminate that possibility of distraction.
Another side note about hand writing—your professor is likely to notice that you are more engaged if you aren’t on your computer. Professors are humans too. They like when people pay attention when they are speaking, which you are more likely to do if you are handwriting rather than typing.
I personally like to just have a notebook for each class, but my friend Anna writes on loose leaf paper that she then puts into a binder for her different classes. Whatever works for you! I also am that girl that uses three or four different colored pens each class, (post on my favorite law school tools to come) which helps my written notes to be more organized since you can’t make indents like you can when typing your notes.
2. Read the night before and brief the morning of.
This is honestly my absolute best tip for getting the most out of the cases to be prepared for class. I always try to read through each case twice before class. First, I will read the cases the night before (or a few days before, depending on when I have the time) and use a pen to underline important quotes as I read. I also am a big fan of margin notes. Then, the morning before class I will then go through and do a brief outline of the case. These sometimes are in the form of facts, issue, and holding. Most often, though, they are just brief notes that help me remember what the case was about if I happen to get called on in class.
I find this to be the most effective way to prepare for class because you are seeing the information twice. After your first read, you are given a chance to think about the case before you make your notes. When you actually go to take notes, you don’t have to reread every word, but can focus on where you underlined or made notes in the margins.
I know that it can be hard to get up earlier in the morning to do this, but it really doesn’t take that long. After a few times you will get a feel for how long it takes you to re-read and brief the cases. Then you’ll be able to plan out your morning accordingly!
3. Utilize your resources.
Use the Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg etc. resources that you get for free as a student! Total disclaimer: I am a Lexis student rep so I do prefer Lexis and know more about it. These features are on Westlaw and Bloomberg too, though. There are great case summaries on these sites that you really should be using if you aren’t already. Ideally, you do this after you have read the case and before you go to take your notes. That way you are making your own opinions on the materials before looking at someone else’s.
Lexis has even been rolling out case briefs for major cases, starting with those covered in the 1L courses! These are great resources to check that you are getting what is important out of a case and to make sure you didn’t miss any part of the holding. Again, I would highly suggest only looking at these AFTER you have read the case and mentally decided what the holding is. You don’t want to have a case of hindsight bias. i.e. saying that you would have gotten that answer had you thought about it on your own.
4. Date your notes.
This may be more of an obvious tip to some people, but I used to title my notes by the subject matter we were talking about that day, rather than the date. Now, I like to title my notes “Book notes: X date of class” and “Class notes: X date of class”. Book notes being the short briefs that I spoke of in number 3.
Dating your notes is most helpful when you have to miss a day of class. And yes, it is totally okay to miss class here and there. I’ve taken plenty of mental health days in law school. If your school/professor records classes, dating your notes will let you know exactly which class you need to go back to watch. Even if classes are not recorded, it will be easier to get notes from someone else for a day you missed. Which leads me to my next point…
5. Reach out to people when they miss class and share your notes, even if they don’t ask for them.
Okay this isn’t so much a study tip as it is me trying to make law school a better place. I know, law school is tough and the curve sucks and why would you go out of your way if someone hasn’t even asked you for help? There are two reasons why you should do this, one much more prolific than the other in my opinion.
So, we will get the self-serving reason out of the way first. Someone you help will be more likely to then help you in the future. Yes, it’s true. I’m all for making connections and being kind to people because you never know when you may be in a situation where you need help yourself. But there is an even better reason for being kind to people.
Point number two. The more powerful reason to shoot someone a text or a facebook message when you notice they are missing from class? That person is more likely to help someone ELSE in the future. Not just you, but anyone. The goal here is changing the atmosphere, the competitiveness, the every man for himself mantra. Because, guess what, the curve is the curve and you can’t control that. You can’t, the gunner who sits next to you can’t, your professor can’t. So why not focus on something you CAN control? Caring about other people and making the world a better place! I know how cheesy it sounds and I don’t care. I am so serious on this one that it makes my heart ache. You never know why someone missed class. Maybe they really just needed that one person to reach out to them to let them know someone cares. Isn’t that how you want to feel? We’re talking the golden rule here people. I know this last one isn’t really a “study tip”, but it’s a life tip. And one that I challenge you to use this semester.
Now, of course these tips are just what work for me personally, and everyone learns differently. I’m not guaranteeing that these will work for you, but I hope they at least give you some new ideas to consider. I would love to know if you are already doing any of these, or your own study tactics that you find most effective! Personally, number two is the most important for me. It is the technique that has made the most difference from my first semester to my last two semesters in engagement with the material. However, I have pretty much always handwritten my notes, so number one may be most important to you if you tend to take notes on your computer.
Even though we are already a couple weeks into the semester, it’s never too late to implement good study tactics!
Until next time,