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Study Groups and Fellow Students in Law Schools

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Study groups generally only work for first-year students. This is because first-years are assigned to particular sections where the same students are taking all of the same classes. Depending on whom you associate with at law school, there is a good chance that you will be asked to join a study group. Unfortunately, most law students do not have a clue as to what they are supposed to do in a study group. As a result, most study groups turn into gripe sessions about how difficult law school is and do not end up accomplishing much.

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If organized properly, however, study groups can be beneficial. One of us participated in a very successful first-year study group. The group had four members and met once a week. Each member was responsible for outlining a week of law school classes for one particular subject for each meeting on a rotating basis. For example, for the first meeting of the group, student 1 was responsible for producing a written outline for a week of contracts lectures, student 2 was responsible for outlining a week of torts lectures, student 3 was responsible for outlining a week of property lectures, and student 4 was responsible for outlining a week of civil procedure lectures. The members of the study group were members of the same first-year section; thus they all had the same classes taught by the same professors. Each week the assignments were alternated, with each student being responsible for outlining a different class. The meetings for this study group were short, consisting merely of the students exchanging outlines and then discussing them. Each of the students in this study group finished at or near the top of his class.

There are several advantages to participating in a study group organized along the foregoing lines:
  • It creates discipline and prevents procrastination and falling behind by forcing each of its members to outline her course material earlier in the quarter or semester than might otherwise be the case.
  • The rotating assignments and equal workloads prevent one or more of the members of the group from being unduly taken advantage of, and allow each member to do outlining work on each of the classes he is taking.
  • It allows group members to discuss course material and measure their progress against that of their fellow students without consuming an undue amount of time.
Thus, under the proper circumstances, study groups can be beneficial. To avoid problems, however, if you decide to form or join a study group, be sure to select people for the group who you like and who are not compulsive studiers. Teaming up with the wrong individuals will increase your anxiety and detract from, rather than enhance, your performance. If you do become involved with a study group that is not beneficial to you, is taking up too much of your time, or is otherwise counterproductive, do not hesitate to bow out gracefully.

Even if you do not participate in a formal study group, just talking about your course material with somebody in the course, even informally, can be very helpful to your understanding of the material. Simply verbalizing your thoughts will force you to clarify them in your own mind. Also, getting the benefit of someone else's perspective and understanding on a fairly frequent basis can help you judge your progress in a course.

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Exam-Taking Aids

Law school bookstores are usually filled with publications that are supposed to help law students improve their test-taking skills. Such publications come in various forms from booklets on issue-spotting to flash cards. Some of these publications contain nothing but sample essay and multiple-choice questions and answers. Our feelings about these study aids is that they can help a student improve his test-taking skills. However, the benefit that can be obtained from using these study aids is generally of marginal value. Specifically, good practice exams can usually be found in sufficient quantities in the back of commercial outlines and in law school libraries. Generic test-taking publications mostly just duplicate, albeit on a larger scale, this material. In comparison to a review of past tests given by a student's professor, they also do little to prepare the student for the specific types of exams his professors are likely to give during finals. Thus, while there is some benefit to be obtained from test-taking study aids, using these aids is far from essential.

Wisdom Books and Other False Prophets of Truth

As a first-year law student, you will undoubtedly be inundated with unsolicited advertising for various forms of study aids, including lectures, tapes, and publications on how to take law school exams. This advertising is designed to exploit the fears of the first-year student. The advertising usually represents that whatever is being sold is essential for success in law school.

Such claims are generally falsehoods calculated to prey on the apprehensive student. As set forth in this article, while we believe that judiciously using certain study aids and avoiding others will allow you to maximize your performance, no particular study aid can "guarantee" your success. Success in any class, and in law school in general, depends in large part on hard work, savvy, and a knowledge of the big picture and the rules of the law school game. An ability to control the inevitable law school anxiety also helps a great deal. Once you fully understand how law school works and have thus removed ignorance, intimidation, and anxiety as roadblocks to your performance, success is largely a matter of hard work and individual ability. Not using a particular study aid, in and of itself, is not likely to prevent you from doing well.

Instead of latching on to a miracle study aid hyped by a false prophet as some kind of salvation for troubled law students, you must evaluate all study aids and guides with common sense. If certain advice does not seem right for you, even though it may work for others, do not follow it. There are few things about law school, aside from hard work, that are absolute musts. Many outstanding and equally successful law students have completely different approaches to outlining, briefing, and studying for exams. In these cases, hard work is the only common denominator and the equally excellent results obtained counsel against any hard and fast notion that there is only one right way. There is not, so do not be misled by false "prophets" in search of "profits" at your expense.

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