It’s easy to get caught up in preconceived notions of how you think studying as a law student should look. Every 1L hears about outlining and starts worrying about it before they’ve even learned enough material to put on an outline. It might feel like everyone around you is doing one thing, so you feel pressured to do the same. Don’t forget that you’ve come this far in your academic career because you’ve figured out what works for you. As with any other challenging endeavor, there are multiple ways to successfully arrive at the same destination. When it comes to law school studying, you should choose the method that suits you best. Read on for some tips on finding your study style in law school based on some of the VARK modalities of learning.
Visual learners like seeing information in diagrams, symbols, and colors. If this sounds like you, the common practice of compiling your notes into outlines may work well. Play around with the formatting of your outline; don’t just make it a dense wall of text. Assign your own meaning to bolding, italics, brackets, and arrows. Most rules can be efficiently represented by bullet point and numbered lists. For example, I use closed parentheses numbering (i.e., “(1)”) when all elements of a list are required, and a single parenthesis (i.e., “1)”) for a list of factors none of which is dispositive on its own. For some more complex rules or a set of interplaying rules, you may want to use tables and flowcharts. Try to make your own to maximize your absorption of the material, but if you need a model to follow, there are plenty to be found on the internet. Incorporate these diagrams into your outline.
Color coding can be a useful tool for visual learners. In an outline, you can use contrasting colors to indicate, for example, which rules come from case law and which come from statutes. Case text also lends itself well to color coding, as you can use different colors of highlighting to distinguish the issue, rule, analysis, holding, dissent, etc. and recall each based on its color; this process is known as “book-briefing.” Consider bringing your casebook to class and making annotations as your professor goes through the case. You’ll probably prefer to have everything printed out, but in case you like to go paperless, these methods work for digital materials as well.
Auditory learners prefer to hear the information out loud. If this is you, sit in the front of the classroom so that you can hear your professor clearly. If your law school is virtual, find a quiet space and invest in quality headphones so you can best hear your professor and class discussion. You’ll likely benefit from repetition beyond that one time the professor makes the point in class. Check if your class is recorded, or if your professor grants permission for you to make your own recording. Attending office hours—either in-person or virtual—is another useful resource for auditory learners. In addition to all of the usual benefits of attending office hours, you (as an auditory learner) will particularly benefit from additional time spent listening to your professor speak. Ask them about a point they made in class that was unclear or that you would like them to elaborate on.
Study groups can also be great for auditory learners. Take turns verbally walking each other through various concepts and cases. Test each other with hypotheticals and recall questions. If you prefer to study alone, you can still maximize your auditory engagement by reading to yourself out loud, speaking practice questions and answers out loud, using catchy mnemonic devices to memorize long lists, and simply thinking out loud whenever you’re dealing with complicated information such as a multi-step rule or a dense case.
Learning Through Reading & Writing
These learners prefer to see information as written words. This style of learning is, unsurprisingly, the most naturally compatible with the demands of law school. If you learn optimally through reading and writing, you can benefit from outlining in stages—a process that involves re-reading, processing, and re-writing the information learned. For each course, start with a general outline consisting of your class and reading notes. As you become more comfortable with the concepts and get a sense of what information is more or less important, gradually shorten your outline by removing information that you’ve internalized or no longer need to reference. Finally, in your final exam preparation period, condense the shorter outline into a highly concise “attack outline” to memorize or quickly refer to during the exam (depending on whether you are allowed to bring materials into your exam).
You can also transfer information from your outline onto flashcards that you can use to efficiently reinforce your recall abilities. Additionally, look into recommended or optional reading materials assigned by your professors, and look for supplementary books that summarize doctrinal concepts or provide examples and practice hypotheticals.
Kinesthetic or physical learners process information optimally through hands-on engagement. Law school isn’t the most hands-on learning environment, but those who learn best through tangible, real-world application can still find optimal learning approaches. When it comes to studying, while it is important to start by taking in the information via reading and outlining, kinesthetic learners should place greater emphasis on doing practice exam questions. This enables you to actually apply the concepts that you’re learning. The key is to do as many practice questions as you can find. Check if your school maintains a bank of old exam questions, or if your professor makes their previous exams available for your use. A variety of supplemental materials that provide practice hypotheticals are available for purchase and may be available to borrow through your school. Wherever you source your practice questions from, consider taking them into a study group, where you can share insights and walk each other through the analyses.
Law schools are increasingly committed to offering practical opportunities in and out of the classroom. Kinesthetic learners are in a great position to take full advantage of these efforts. Choose practical skills courses like moot court, trial advocacy, and transactional lawyering. Round out your academic experience with clinics and externships, where you can gain invaluable hands-on experience working on real cases. There’s no better way to engage with the law than to practice applying it to something that impacts real people and produces tangible results.
Social Studying vs. Flying Solo
Study groups can fit every learning style and can incorporate all of the above tips to appeal to the group members’ study preferences. Keep in mind that you’re there to collaborate and enhance each other’s learning experiences, not to constantly compete with or compare yourself to your peers. Yes, law school is competitive, but save that spirit for exams. If you know you can’t focus properly in a group setting, don’t be tempted to join study groups just out of fear of missing out on socializing with classmates. There will be plenty of other opportunities to catch up with friends and make new ones. Do yourself a favor and avoid putting yourself in situations where you know you’ll risk being dragged down by distractions. You know which study methods work best for you, so stick to the ways that will put you on the road to success.
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