With stare decisis imbuing law and legal study with a sense of tradition, you might hesitate to deviate from the well worn strategies to prepare for your finals. But the law is a dynamic beast, and if something isn’t working for you, it’s up to you to make a change.
Study aids are increasingly catering to the vast diversity of learning methods that suit different law students best, from visual aids such as flow charts to practice questions to audio and visual resources.
MAKE YOUR OWN FLOWCHARTS
Flowcharts guide you through a legal issue, asking questions about the facts each step of the way to determine whether an element applies, and whether the analysis should continue. The structure of arrows and boxes is a big help for visual learners who quickly absorb information in tools such as graphics and maps. It can also help break down a complicated legal analysis into manageable, bite size bits, demystifying questions about estates in land or the Erie doctrine.
You can make your own flowcharts in Google Slides. You can choose shapes with the shapes tool that symbolize steps along the way of a legal analysis, such as rectangles for yes or no questions and ovals for the various potential outcomes of the analysis. The line tool includes an option with arrows to help you organize a complicated analysis, including curves and angled lines to help you fit all elements of a rule into your document. Making your own flowchart helps you process the rules yourself, and understand the process in a different way from traditional distilling of the rules into words alone.
MAKE YOUR OWN FLASHCARDS
It’s no secret that part of the challenge of studying law is memorizing vast swaths of information. It’s a big part of the bar exam. Your outline is an important part of that process of committing the law to your memory, but reading and rereading does not always work optimally for everyone. Sometimes we want to hide the ball from ourselves and see if we can remember what res ipsa loquituris all about without seeing the answer right underneath, and that’s where flashcards come in handy.
The Law Library has a collection of flashcards in its study skills section, and online study aid platforms have a few more resources that may be helpful. Writing your own cards can help you process the information on a much deeper level, though, as you process the law and craft your own rule statements. Here again, Google Slides can help, with a template that helps you quickly craft slides with the title of a legal doctrine, say, promissory estoppel, on one side and the explanation or rule statement on the other. This also enables you to add images that you associate with particular concepts—say, a shoe for personal jurisdiction, or a barrel for res ipsa loquitur.
TRADITIONAL OUTLINING TIPS
- Organize your outline by topic. Your syllabus may be a good guide. Write solid rule statements that you can quickly transcribe or modify to use on your exam. As we can see from past exams on the library website, you won’t always have lots of time to reinvent good rule statements on test day.
- Write a one page attack outline just listing all of the legal doctrines you discussed in class and studied in your casebook. Test conditions can push your brain into overdrive and legal issues may be well hidden in a fact pattern. Just glancing at your sheet and seeing the rule that you should be analyzing can be the difference between spotting an issue before time runs out and realizing you missed an issue while watching Emily in Paris after you turn it in.
- Again, know yourself! You won’t have a lot of time to review your outline during the exam, so you want to be concise. Focus your attention on areas that might not be intuitive to you. Trying to rewrite your casebook, however, might just be an exhausting distraction from more productive study activities, such as running through practice questions.
Meet with a Librarian for more study tips. Good luck!
Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian