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A Helpful Comment

I found the following comment on “The Uncivil Litigator” and although it was basically a plug for the writer’s product, I thought it had some very helpful thoughts on a key bar exam preparation issue: active learning.

The most important thing about preparing the bar exam is actively learning the material. For most people, the most effective active learning occurs when they are practicing MBE or essay questions and thoughtfully reviewing answers. In fact, Scott Pearce at http://www.calbarexam.com/ suggests doing as little up front review of the blackletter law as possible and focusing most energy on constant practice. But practice doesn't mean anything if it is not deliberate practice.

This means one should be constantly testing oneself on the elements of the law; and even when doing something “passive”, constantly asking oneself questions. One must be very engaged in the material. For those of us who have two months of full time study in front of us, that means creating flashcards/outlines/flowcharts of the material and practicing. For the rest of us, it means practicing the hell out of the MBE’s/essays, and constantly being engaged with the process. The repeater’s time is even more limited than that of a first time taker, so it is useful to practice closely the most tested portions of the exam.

I reproduce the comment below in its entirety. Paragraph breaks are my own:

Make a List of Active Learning Strategies- And Use It!

Active learning and a positive attitude. It is a simple formula for bar exam success. By simple, I do not mean easy. I can give you the formula but you have to apply it. And that does take effort.But what is active learning? Active learning occurs when you study, question yourself, and actually learn or reinforce relevant information. Active learning does not occur when you zone out in a bar review class, aimlessly read over your outlines, or sit in from of an open book with friends. Lawyers who fail the bar do so simply because they are not spending enough time on active learning.

Perhaps you feel frustrated because you spend eight hours a day studying for the bar and you still failed the exam. You didn't fail because of laziness or stupidity. You failed because you didn't do enough of the right kind of studying, i.e., the kind that leads to learning.The difficulty with active learning is that it hurts your head. It takes concentration. Seriously. It is far easier to "read" an outline (or a novel or a magazine or anything else that takes half your brain) than it is to think about the subtleties of an executory interest versus a remainder. Skimming an outline is an almost complete waste of time but it makes you feel good, makes you feel like you are studying.

To combat the fact that active learning is really hard, you need an arsenal of different learning strategies that match with your mood and level of concentration at any given time. For example, when your concentration level and energy are good (say at 7:00 am if you are a morning person), then pick an active learning strategy that requires high concentration, such as doing sample questions in a tough subject. When you've really had it and your concentration level is low, do a stack of easy flashcards. I also recommend my book MBE Crossword Bar Exam Review. When you've generated a good list of active learning strategies, order the list from high concentration strategies to low concentration strategies. Monitor your level of concentration, then pick a study tactic. (If you find that you always pick low level activities, you need to work on your concentration. Check out the previous post on Instant Hypnosis, which will help with concentration issues). As you think of new strategies, add them to your list.

Some examples of high level strategies include doing challenging simulated questions, creating your own flashcards, creating your own flowcharts, and explaining a tough legal concept to a study friend. (If you don't have a friend on hand, explain into a tape recorder and then listen to what you said to see if it makes sense. Don't just read from an outline.) Examples of mid-level concentration strategies include doing flashcards, answering simple practice questions, recreating one of your own flowcharts from memory, and creating your own hypotheticals. Low concentration strategies include my Crossword Bar Reviews, my free products, and very simple flashcards. Be creative with your ideas-- you can make simple matching games (such as match the example with the definition) or substitute your own flashcards in a game of Trivial Pursuit. Make it fun, but make sure you are learning. Whatever you do, don't fall back on old study strategies that waste time. The stakes are high and your time is precious. Don't fool yourself into thinking you are studying when you are really just passing time. Make "active learning" your mantra. As with everything else in life, it is not enough to put up an act. You must put in the effort. Study actively and put the bar exam behind you. Your career is waiting.

3 notes:

Frustrated Bar Examinee said...

That is pretty helpful. I'm not very good about passive learning, and active learning has proven to work for me in the past, so I'll definitely be keeping that advice in mind! I'm not sure if I would go so far as to make posters and flowcharts since those would take up a lot of time.

Nate said...

Noticed I got a referral from your page. Just wanted to drop by and wish you g'luck this summer.

legis said...

Frustrated: Now if only I could put the advice to use!

Nate: thanks for the well wishes!