Here are some ways to maximize the way you study so that you can learn the most in the shortest time, and make it all stick!
Learning vast amounts of material that can be regurgitated on an exam is vitally important for most of the core classes. Sure, you may never see those questions again, but for the four times each semester that you have your exams, you’ll be required to pump out facts about the various elements (e.g. criminal law), standards of review (e.g. constitutional law), rules (e.g. property), or other information. Law school is even worse for requiring students to memorize verbatim lots of information that they’ll never use again. Simply put, the key to success in most classes is to memorize everything you can. Memorization is important in certain law classes because so much of the material is fact-based.
I’m sure that when you were younger, you were required to memorize Shakespearean monologues or the capitals of U.S. states. You probably read over each sentence again and again until you could perfect Romeo’s speeches. The good news is that you have already seen how much material you can memorize. The bad news is that you’ve been doing it all wrong. The correct way to go about memorizing is by reading the words backwards. Here’s a demonstration. Look at this number:
Cover up everything with a sheet of paper except the last digit, 8. Now slowly say, “eight,” aloud three times. Next, slide the paper over one digit and slowly say, “ﬁve-eight,” three times. Again, slide the paper over to reveal 058 and say, “zero-ﬁve-eight.” Continue the exercise all the way until the ﬁrst number. Don’t try to get ahead of yourself by jumping two to three numbers at a time. Just continue working one number after another until you’ve ﬁnished. Once you’re done, test your new memorization skills by covering up everything once again and then saying the number aloud.
Are you impressed yet? Go ahead and try memorizing other random things just to get a feel for the backwards memorization technique. Practice on song lyrics and speeches. Just cover up everything but the last word and then work your way back to the beginning. For longer pieces of text, you may want to try memorizing only one paragraph at a time. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to retain large volumes of material in a short amount of time. You can impress your friends by showing them that you can memorize the serial numbers on dollar bills within seconds of staring at the paper. This technique is not only useful for learning long numbers and speeches, but can easily be applied to law as well.
The key is to make sure that you have a particular piece fully committed to memory before trying the next item. For the number example above, don’t move to 50058 if you cannot say, “0058,” without effort. If you want to learn the theory behind this memorization trick, read Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog! or you could go as far as taking behavioral and cognitive psychology courses.
As a ﬁnal, cautionary note, stay away from ﬂash cards. They are a waste of time to produce. Yes, some people do learn from them, but keep in mind that the time spent writing ﬂash cards could be better spent working on memorizing the material. By the time your friends are done writing their cards, you’ll be ﬁnished studying if you follow the method I described here. If you don’t like the backwards memorization technique that I've described, the book Learn to Remember by Dominic O’Brien (ISBN: 0811827151) details methods that use your imagination to create either sequential movies or static pictures of associations to help you remember things.
Another useful tool for learning is speed reading. You’ll need to wade through a lot of material very quickly whenever you read for classes. Like most people reading this manual, you’re probably reading every single word in succession. Nicholas Schaffzin’s Reading Smart is what I used to break this habit. There are plenty of other books on speed reading, but they all teach the same principle. Instead of looking at words as individuals, you should divide each line into three parts, glance at the sections, and then use your peripheral vision to pick up everything.
As an example, Figure 1.1 contains an excerpt from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Read the paragraph as you would normally. Now move to Figure 1.2 and read the section again—this time by glancing at the bullets. At ﬁrst this technique seems pretty odd. You’ll need some time to adjust to the new style of reading. The more you practice, however, the better you’ll get at speed reading. My own pace has doubled ever since I adapted to this method. Again, I only give a summarized explanation of how speed reading works. I strongly suggest that you pick up a book on the subject and learn from it.
Figure 1.1: Read this section as you normally would
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I ﬁnd myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I ﬁnd myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
Figure 1.2: Now read it again using only the bullets
Call me Ishmael. ∙ Some years ago—never ∙ mind how long precisely—having ∙ little or no money in my ∙ purse, and nothing particular to interest ∙ me on shore, I thought ∙ I would sail about a little and see the ∙ watery part of the world. ∙ It is a way I have of driving ∙ off the spleen and regulating ∙ the circulation. Whenever I ﬁnd ∙ myself growing grim about ∙ the mouth; whenever it is a damp, ∙ drizzly November in my soul; ∙ whenever I ﬁnd myself involuntarily ∙ pausing before coffin ∙ warehouses, and bringing up the rear ∙ of every funeral I meet; ∙ and especially whenever my hypos ∙ get such an upper hand of me, ∙ that it requires a strong moral ∙ principle to prevent me ∙ from deliberately stepping into the ∙ street, and methodically ∙ knocking people’s hats off—then, I ∙ account it high time to get to sea ∙ as soon as I can.
Whenever you get out of class, immediately go somewhere quiet and review everything that the professor covered for the day. You should go over the important cases, rewrite the important deﬁnitions that were written on the board, etc . . . Neurobiologists have discovered that if you repeat the work done in class within one hour of seeing the material, the information will become part of your permanent memory! While I’m sure that after you get done with class, the last thing on your mind is more studying, but trust me when I say that the thirty minutes you spend reworking the lecture now will save you hours later. It will change your life forever.