On the journey towards law school exam domination, an important question must be asked: will it be more beneficial to study on your own or with a group of your classroom peers? After all, whatever helps increase the chances of doing well should be included as part of the game plan targeting finals. The easy answer is to chalk it up to the individual student and say that it depends on his or her past experience. Those same study methods that have developed over time and have presumably served the student well leading up to law school should be implemented by default upon entering law school. Although this argument has merit, law school exams are a different beast entirely. It is not a student’s memory that matters, but the analysis and application of the law to the facts. This often requires creativity, especially when presenting arguments for both sides. As a result, you can’t be sure that what has worked in the past will work in law school. Because of this, defaulting to your past study methods may work, but it is recommended that you at least experiment to see what happens. Because both methods have their place in law school, ideally your aim should be to incorporate both silent study and group study in an efficient manner to help prepare for exams. Efficiency in this context is based on using each method for the role it is best suited.
To begin, everybody does some form of silent study. It’s almost never the case that a student will rely solely on studying with others even if that is his or her preferred method of exam preparation. Silent study is important for several reasons. First, it should be used to learn the black letter law cold prior to any official practice exam preparation or group study session. You cannot take practice exams without knowing the law, and you cannot have efficient study group sessions if you all are spending time learning the law. Second, it is a valuable tool to use after any study group session to go over the material you covered together one more time on your own. Between any chit chat, things may get lost or inadequately skimmed. Silent study allows you to fill in those gaps and reinforce everything that has been learned.
The idea of study group sessions may seem weird to some students, particularly those students that have relied solely on themselves prior to law school. Often, it is hard to get anything accomplished because there’s too much off-topic discussions taking place. This seems like a waste of time. However, for law school exams it is beneficial to have a source of other people’s viewpoints, ideas, and perspectives. This helps you see things you may have missed, and it stimulates your creativity. Therefore, an efficient use of study group sessions should involve getting together after everybody knows the law cold and using the time to go over hypotheticals and practice exams. This will allow you to bounce ideas off of each other as you apply the law to the facts. Sometimes you will miss an issue someone else will spot, or you will see someone come up with an argument you missed. This is extremely beneficial.
To ensure study group sessions are efficient, you need to keep a few things in mind. First, they should be small. Either study with 1 other person or at most 2-3 others, although even four people total in a study group is pushing it. This means you have to try and make sure that the friends you do study with are also willing to be on point during these sessions and are knowledgeable and driven enough to be of value to you. There’s no reason to study with people if they will not issue spot well or get creative with potential arguments. After all, if you can do all of this on your own, study group sessions are pointless. The idea is to stick with people you know can enhance your learning. This isn’t easy to do, but hopefully you have someone in mind. Second, use these study group sessions only to the extent they help you achieve their purpose: analysis of hypotheticals and practice exams. This means you should not be going over the law with each other, because outside of clarifying some confusion, this should be done on your own time. This is why small study groups are so important, not only is the potential for off-topic banter diminished, but there’s less of a chance that someone will come unprepared.
Law school exams are not fun, but they do test your knowledge in a unique way. Use silent study to learn the law and go over what you have covered in study group sessions, but also try to take advantage of small study group sessions to get different perspectives on the analysis and application of the law to the facts. Model answers supplied by your professors can only do so much. An educated back and forth between a few people not only reinforces knowledge of the law, but forces you to consider different thought processes. This is ideal for what you will be doing on the law school exam. Unless you really have no one that can be of aid to you, you should try to make sure you include study group sessions when studying for your exams. If efficiency is preserved, they are a truly great supplement to your studying.