Want an easy way to increase your grades at law school? Then start or join a (well functioning) study group!
Study groups are critical in law school because they provide the best platform to consider every aspect of a subject. An individual student might get through all the readings alone, but participating in a study group is the best forum to consolidate that knowledge and identify gaps – this is what separates the great students from the rest.
There are two types of study groups; those that cover the course material, and those that cover past exams.
A study group to cover course material
I don’t think this study group is very effective, but you may disagree depending on how you learn (and on how your group functions).
This type of study group reviews the course material by:
- meeting once a week, usually a few days after lectures;
- working through the reading list and making sure everyone understands the cases; and
- working through the lecture slides and making sure everyone understands the concepts taught.
While many students would benefit from this, it is generally too difficult to constantly get a group of 4 – 6 people together, who are all up to date with their study, and who are disciplined enough to focus on the work at hand (without wasting 50% of the time chatting about other things).
I found that my time was better spent reading the materials by myself and then joining a study group to review practice exams.
As a side note, don’t join a study group to split up readings and share notes. You will only understand the section you were responsible for, and will struggle with the sections the other group members prepared (due to the differences between active and passive learning).
A study group to practice exam questions
It is essential for all students to join this type of study group because doing well in the exam is the primary aim of studying (and I acknowledge that this is a very sad reality).
There is no secret to this study group; you meet only to review old exams.
Meet at least a month before the exam and bring one or two old exams. The first meeting (or two) might be awkward as everyone fumbles through their notes in an attempt to contribute, but don’t let this stop you – each time you cover a topic it will get easier.
If you do this, you will:
- consolidate your knowledge gained through lectures and preparing your exam notes or script;
- learn to identify all the legal issues in a question;
- learn how to best apply the law; and
- find out areas of law that you are lacking in knowledge, or have forgotten about completely.
The best study groups will:
- utilise the IRAC method when thinking about exam questions and the answers;
- ensure everyone is comfortable to contribute (that is, comfortable to be wrong!);
- discuss everything, from start to finish (this is more important early on, when you are just trying to figure out how the course material applies in an exam – later on, you will focus only on the relevant issues for the specific question); and
- consider all aspects of the question and provide reasons why one answer might be good, why one answer is worse, and whether the question doesn’t have enough information to provide a concrete response (again, this will be more important early on, whereas discussion closer to the exams should focus on answering the specific question only).
As the group covers more exams, legal issues will become easier to identify and preferable answer structures will emerge. That is, you will figure out what to address first, where to include the counter-arguments, and so on.
You would ideally catch up once or twice every week in the lead up to exams.
Because each subject will cover the same material from year to year, you will also figure out what the main questions will be on your exam (albeit with a different fact scenario), the key topics that will be examined (and therefore, what you need to focus on when you prepare your exam script) and any areas that need review.
There are difficulties with these groups. Learning comes from hearing everyone’s point of view and the discussion that stems from any differences. Therefore, you need to create an environment where everyone is comfortable sharing their views, and everyone needs to work to ensure they are up to a similar point in the course.
Find a group now!
At the end of the day, you won’t be able to replicate the kinds of discussion and lines of enquiry that takes place in a study group. Do yourself a favour and get your group organised early for your next round of exams!