“I’m looking into creating some sort of review and practice exam schedule and was wondering if you (or your associates) could offer some advice that might have worked for you. Did you set up specific nights to review specific subjects after your case reading and briefing or just fit it in whenever? When exactly should I start the review process?.”
I’m glad that you have decided to budget your time and set out a study schedule that will govern the next four weeks. Time management skills are going to be critical at this stage of the game.
I’m sure you’ve become much more proficient at reading and briefing cases. Despite your increased efficiency, however, you probably continue to spend most of your time preparing for class since professors typically assign more reading towards the end of the semester in order to finish all the material that they will cover on their exams. Depending on how well your professors have budgeted their time during the semester, you probably still have approximately one-third of the course material (or more) yet to cover. With so much left to learn, it is important that you do not skip your daily class preparation routine — which includes briefing cases. We know that briefing makes the day longer, especially as you begin to feel time pressure at the end of the semester. However, we built that into your schedule by asking you to start outlining/reviewing earlier than your classmates. Stick with your daily routine, you won’t regret it.
That being said, you need to expand your study schedule to make more time for review. There are two primary types of review: (1) reviewing your class notes/case briefs and synthesizing them into an outline that you can study from; and (2) reviewing exams and hypotheticals so that you can practice applying the law you have learned.
As you know, we suggested that you begin outlining in early October so that you would have enough time not only to finish your outlines, but also to study from them as well. A lot of your classmates are going to end up with 50- or 100-page course outlines; there is not much utility in this. A 50-page outline is a good first draft, but you’ll want to review, refine, and condense that down to a helpful study aid. The most successful students are those who can “boil down” a 50-page outline to four or five pages of the most critical material that can easily be committed to memory right before the test.
Outlining is tedious work. Make sure you take regular breaks — but that doesn’t mean hanging out with your friends in the coffee section of that cafeteria, it means doing some other type of studying other than outlining! When you finish a section of your outline (e.g., the consideration section of your Contracts outline), take some time and review the consideration flashcards to test your knowledge and solidify your understanding of that material. You’ll be surprised how much you can retain if you “double code” by outlining and reviewing flashcards.
Practicing Application Skills.
Learning the “black letter” law is not enough. A professor is not going to ask you to recite the four elements of a battery, or ask you to write an essay distinguishing the various types of contract damages. Instead, you will be given a confusing fact pattern that raises several disputes (or potential disputes) between the actors contained therein. Your goal will be to identify the legal rules that govern the parties’ disputes (i.e., spot legal issues) and, by applying the relevant law, provide a prediction of how the dispute would be resolved in court. This type of examination tests not only your knowledge of the black-letter law, but also your ability to spot issues and to apply the law and make reasoned arguments for how a particular dispute will (or might be) resolved in a particular jurisdiction.
Even if, through outlining, you know the black-letter law cold, you have to make sure that you get plenty of practice spotting issues and applying the law before exam day. Accordingly, you have to make time to review practice question and take old exams. If you cannot get your hands on practice questions, several commercial titles are availale, including: Emanuel’s First Year Questions and Answers, Siegel’s Essay & Multiple Choice Series, Kaplan/PMBR’s Final Series or Lexis’ Question & Answer Series.
All Classes Are Not Created Equal.
Despite what your professors might tell you, not all classes are created equal. Although the goal is to get an A in all your classes, keep in mind that when your GPA is calculated, a 6-credit “A” is worth twice as much as a 3-credit “A.” Therefore, when you are budgeting your review time, take a look at how many credits each class is worth in your cumulative GPA and then be sure that you are allowing more time for classes that are worth more credits.
In terms of when to review, evenings and weekends are good times to devote to this. On the sample calendar we circulated back in August, we suggested that in early-October you begin using Friday evenings to prepare for Monday’s classes, so that you can devote your entire weekend to exam review. If, for instance, you have four exams, you might want spend a half-day on the weekends reviewing for each. A typical weekend schedule might look like this.
8:00AM to 12:00PM (outline and review for 6-credit contracts)
12:00PM to 1:00PM (working lunch devoted to 6-credit contracts)
1:00PM to 5:00PM (outline and review for 3-credit civil procedure)
6:00PM (go to gym)
6:00PM to 7:00PM (dinner w/ friends)
7:00PM to 9:30PM (early movie)
8:00AM to 12:00PM (outline and review for 5-credit torts)
12:00PM to 1:00PM (working lunch devoted to 5-credit torts)
1:00PM to 5:00PM (outline and review for 3-credit property)
5:00PM to 6:00PM (go to gym);
6:00PM to 7:00PM (dinner and review briefs for Monday)
7:00PM to 10:00PM (free time)
To the extent that you have the energy, and you find that it is not counterproductive, you should also add an hour per day during the week for review. However, even if you don’t review during the week, the schedule above guarantees that you will have as many as 45 hours of review (per class) between mid-October and the first week of December — much more time than many of your classmates will spend.
After Classes End – The Reading Period
After your regular classes end, and the Reading Period begins, you should adopt a weekday review schedule similar to the “weekend schedule” set forth above. By this time you will have completed all your outlines and you can use the remaining study days to “boil down” your outlines to a usable tool, practice your application skills (using flashcards), and take and thoroughly review any practice exams your professors might have placed on reserve in the library. A sample daily schedule during the review period may look like this:
8:00AM to 12:00PM (condense outline and review for 6-credit contracts)
12:00PM to 1:00PM (working lunch devoted to 6-credit contracts)
1:00PM to 5:00PM (condense outline and review for 3-credit property)
5:00PM to 6:00PM (dinner)
6:00PM to 7:00PM (take 1-hour contracts practice exam question)
7:00PM to 10:30PM (review 1-hour contracts practice exam question)
It goes without saying that my final piece of advice is DO NOT BURNOUT. You are in the middle of the first semester of a TWO-semester marathon. You still have a long way to go, so pace yourself and keep your focus. But keep reminding yourself that the sacrifices you make now will pay off in the end. To keep yourself energized, you do need to enjoy some downtime (e.g., an early movie on Friday or Saturday night, or a trip to the gym) in order to clear your head and recharge your batteries but be sure to budget for these events so that you can maintain an efficient schedule.