The answer to the question of where you should be with just a couple of weeks until finals is “it depends.” Of course, every law student knows that almost every question can be answered with “it depends,” so the following will discuss what it depends on and why.
First, it depends how you learn. What I mean by that is that while most law students are busy outlining, the students I coach (at lawstudentcoach.com) are doing a variety of activities, some of which include outlining. Why do law students outline or study from outlines? The simple answer is that your exams will require you to show that you can work with the law and use the law in a manner that is structured and well thought out. It makes sense, then, to prepare in a manner that forces you to examine how the rules of law fit together, that forces you to categorize and to make decisions about what rules are related and how they are related. Creating an outline can thus be a very valuable study activity.
The downside of an outline, however, is that it works best for those who think in straight lines. In a traditional outline, things are related in only one or two possible ways. Concepts are either separate enough to be side-by-side or one concept is a subcategory of another. However, legal concepts often have a more complex relationship….
For example, in outlining negligence, many will have “to whom duty owed” and “what duty is owed” as side-by-side subcategories of duty. But if you examine the rules closely, what duty is owed can be based on circumstances and among the circumstances can be the “to whom” question. In other words, the relationship between legal concepts is often too complex to show in such a linear manner. For me, that meant arrows and footnotes in my outlines. For some students, flow charts for individual concepts work better. The key is for each individual to work with the material in a structured and meaningful manner.
Examination of commercial outlines can play a role in that process, but I do not believe that studying from a commercial outline should be one’s primary means of study. People who learn actively have greater recall. Thus, a student who works with the material making decisions about structure and relationship is likely to do better than a student who merely memorizes someone else’s outline. However, there can be value in seeing how someone else organized things and trying to understand the decisions they made regarding the structure and relationship of legal concepts.
Where you should be now also depends on how early you began your exam prep. For example, the students I coach use old exams as a study method. They start writing selected portions of exams early in the term and build from there. Writing law school exams is a skill that is different from other forms of writing, and understanding those differences and practicing (writing and rewriting) can be quite helpful. Timing is important, however, because a student needs to be through a significant portion of the term before the old exam becomes a good issue spotting tool.
At lawstudentcoach.com, we also use class time for exam prep. Most professors exhibit certain patterns in their questioning and analysis. These patterns illustrate legal skills being taught by example and therefore provide students with important tips about how to write your exams. Remember, in the exam, you will be asked to analyze some legal problem or problems. Use of the skills demonstrated by your professor can enhance your exam answers.
In sum, as you approach finals, it pays to spend time thinking about study methods as you go about your outlining or other study activities.
Lawstudentcoach.com works one-on-one with students to produce an individualized game plan for exam taking — individualized to the student and to the professor. Founded by Aaron Gershonowitz, a former law professor and practicing lawyer, lawstudentcoach.com helps people get better grades in law school so they can get better jobs after law school. To contact Lawschoolcoach.com: email [email protected] or call 631-355-9959.