Focus on “Active Learning,” Especially as Exams Approach

By Professor Matthew Festa

Even if you know everything about the subject, and have the fanciest outline in town, that alone won’t get you prepared for a law school exam. I think that some of the most important pragmatic advice in Open Book is in Chapter 10, “Practice (Exams) Makes Perfect.” This is especially critical as you get closer and closer to exam day.

For many of us, it’s more pleasant to learn passively. We would much rather just sit down with a book than go to the trouble to take a practice exam. And especially as you get closer to the end of the semester, you might be more tempted to “cram” the substantive material, and keep putting off those practice exams until you completely finish editing your outline.

Don’t do it. Get engaged with the material: be an “active learner.” As Chapter 10 points out, the best way to get better at doing something—sports, law school, whatever—is to go and do it. As you know from reading Open Book, law exams are different from anything you’ve seen before. So as soon as you can, put your book down, stop outlining for a moment, and take a practice exam!

It certainly helps to sit down and write a full answer. But you don’t have unlimited time, so here’s a suggestion: you can also benefit a great deal from just seeing a lot of exam questions. The single most valuable thing I did as a 1L was to meet with my study group with a pile of old exams in the subject. We would take 15-30 minutes to individually read the questions, issue-spot, and outline our answers, in silence. Then we would start talking. It was very beneficial to force myself to work through the answers, but even better to hear what my friends saw in the same questions; where I had missed something, or spotted a different issue. Plus, it was a great way to make friends and commiserate.

However you choose to do it, get out there and practice!

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