Calling all law school students and bar students!
Learning all of the rules, laws, elements can be super stressful.
Often times, we spend months learning a million things that will be tested in a single exam (e.g., final exam, bar exam, ethics exam).
No pressure, right?
Fortunately, I have five science-based memory techniques for you that work like crazy!
To succeed in law school, you first need to know your learning style.
With the five techniques in this post, each one is backed by cognitive research and is more effective than the traditional lecture/outline methods taught in law school.
Each technique also hits multiple learning styles. Therefore, you should determine which learning style best fits you and your law school environment.
Harvard researcher Howard Gardner initially theorized the seven basic learning styles, which we will simplify to four: Visual, Auditory, Verbal, and Kinesthetic.
We all have preferred learning styles. Adding different activities that use your best learning styles will enhance your overall learning of the law.
And activities that hit two or more learning styles will help you remember more and gain a deeper understanding of the legal concepts you are studying.
Want to know what learning style you are? Check out this quick resource.
Now that you know your learning style, let’s dive in!
Law Students should consider Ditching the Laptop in Class
Best for: Conceptualizing Difficult Subjects
Learning styles: Auditory, Kinesthetic, Verbal
Yes, I just said it!
Don’t use your laptop to take notes in class.
Ok, before every law student leaves this post, at least rely on it less.
Instead, law students should try to write longhand in a notebook.
I know what you may be thinking: Now wait a minute! Wouldn’t you retain more because you can type faster than you write?
The answer is emphatically NO.
In a recent study, aptly titled “The Pen is Mightier than the Sword,” Princeton and UCLA researchers found that students who hand-write information retain more.
This is called Constructivism -- students who construct their own knowledge of a subject by writing it in their own words develop a deeper understanding of what they are learning.
So, ditch the laptop because the act of writing actually helps you remember.
P.S. This goes for your flashcards too. Write them out!
The Memory Palace for Legal Concepts
Best for: Memorizing Sequences
Learning styles: Visual, Verbal, Kinesthetic
This game is also known as the “Loci Technique,” developed in ancient Greece and allegedly used by orators to memorize long speeches.
We can’t verify that, but this method is backed up by recent research studies that evidenced a 92% improvement in student recall of information using the Loci Technique or “Memory Palace,” as compared to those who were taught by traditional lecture methods.
Here’s how to use the Memory Palace technique:
First, visualize or diagram a location through which you will take an imaginary walk; a journey through a place with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Now, take each element in the sequence of information you’ve been tasked to memorize and associate it with a stop on your journey.
Next, make a mental video in your head and associate each object with a piece of the sequence.
Rehearse using this method and you’ll remember sequences more effectively.
The most important element is that you think of a journey or sequence that has meaning to you personally, one you won’t forget.
The second most important element is that this be a sequence of events that must be remembered in order.
Making up your own stories also works well when someone in your life simply fits the bill for memorizing some element of law.
In fact, this is how my sweet but highly aggressive cat, Lily, became “Lily, Queen of Torts.”
One day I realized she had committed every intentional tort on all the other cats.
By creating a story about Lily and her antics, I was able to remember all of the intentional torts and their elements
This is your opportunity to be creative!
Record Episodes of your Outline
Best for: Exam Crunch Time
Learning styles: Auditory, Kinesthetic, Verbal, Visual
Did you know that most adults remember information more effectively when they break it up into manageable chunks of four items or less?
When it is time to prepare for an exam, most law students solely rely on reading and re-reading their outline.
Instead, break up the topics into chunks and record yourself speaking them.
In other words, create episodes!
With this advice there's two things to cover.
The Purpose of Creating Episodes
You want to create episodes because “chunking” information prevents you from overwhelming yourself.
Think of phone numbers.
We mentally “chunk” those nine digits for a reason: recall.
Chunking is also proven to improve short term verbal memory, making it a great exam time strategy.
The Purpose of Recording Yourself
When recording themselves, people are sometimes hesitant because they don’t like to hear their own voices.
First, very few people like to hear their own voices.
If this is you, you are definitely not alone!
Second, what if hearing your own voice could get you a better grade?
In the grand scheme of things, hearing your own voice should be the least of your law-school concerns.
Getting out of your comfort zone can definitely be worth it. Recent research into speech and memory demonstrated that people who hear their own voices experienced superior recall of that information than those who heard someone else read or who read silently.
How to study your legal outline
To begin, you should break up your outline into brief chunks. Typically, you're going to want each chunk to be a different topic.
Before recording, you may want to practice reading each topic out loud several times.
Then, it's showtime! Simply record yourself speaking each topic, which you can treat as different episodes.
You can also add verbal quizzes within your recordings!
Once you're done record, you can go do anything!
Go for a walk. Drive to class. Go to the gym.
Whatever you decide to do, be sure to listen to your recording over and over so that you can better recall that material on exam day.
I've taken the recording process a step further by making videos.
When I was a professor, I made videos of my lectures “for the class,” but I soon found that watching those videos before class helped me remember what I was teaching the next day.
So, audio or video - or both - are powerful tools to help you engage every learning style for success at exam time.
Law Venture's “Top 10 Objections” video is a great example of how to use video as a memory aid.
Make your own flow charts and mind maps
Flowcharts for Law Students
Best for: Legal Analysis
Learning styles: Visual, Kinesthetic
This one is super popular for law students!
You can use Google Slides to create flowcharts for every legal analysis from personal jurisdiction in civil procedure to Battle of the Forms.
But, I don’t recommend taking this approach!
While making your own flowcharts improves your recall, making them by hand is even better.
Yes, I know you didn’t go to law school to become an artist, but you don’t need those skills, just legible handwriting.
Flowcharts are one type of visual explanation (a term coined by Princeton/Yale professor Edward Tufte), and there is ample research to demonstrate that creating them yourself is the best way to conceptualize a body of knowledge or an information workflow.
Students who create their own flowcharts and visual aids, rather than relying on those in books and on the internet, score higher at exam time.
Mind Maps for Law Students
Best for: Overall Conceptualization
Learning styles: Visual, Kinesthetic
I first discovered mind mapping in first-year Property.
So much information, so many rules!
How was I to link them all?
One night, I suddenly realized that all the concepts I had studied in the first semester --- including the cases --- could be linked to the five basic rights of all property owners - the right to use, the right to exclude, the right to possess, the right to transfer, and the right to destroy.
Boiled down, mind mapping is putting the central theme of a topic at the center of a page and creating branches for associated topics. Those topics can then have their own branches for other related topics.
Mind mapping is a powerful tool to build mental models and conceptualize whole bodies of law. The Center for Legal Pedagogy at Thurgood Marshall School of Law (Texas) has some great examples of mind maps to explore.
Like so many other learning tools, there are software aids for mind mapping, the best known of which is Mindmeister.
However, as you already know, the act of creating the mind map helps you retain the information.
Enjoy yourself with your mind maps!
Break out the highlighters and post-it notes!
Tape pieces of paper together for a wall-size mind map!
Again, this is your opportunity to be creative!
Memory Match and Personal Mnemonics
Best for: Memorizing rules and elements of law
Learning styles: Visual, Verbal, Auditory, Kinesthetic.
Who wants to play a game?
I’ll let you use the computer for this one, because PowerPoint or Google Slides is a great tool for creating memory match games for any subject.
There are many templates for creating easy memory match games, but my favorite one to customize is made by Nuts & Bolts for PowerPoint, which helps you create a Jeopardy-style game in just a few minutes with easy instructions.
They offer a free download with simple instructions as well.
Law Jeopardy and Memory Match are great social games for your study group!
If you are a social learner, like many of us, have each person prepare “Law Jeopardy” for a specific topic you are studying.
Law school nerds love mnemonics, and there are scores of them online.
Let’s ramp up this time-honored technique with a twist.
Link the topic, rule, or element to someone you know, a visual aid, or anything meaningful to you.
I love Allyson Dreamer’s creative visual mnemonics. She creates colorful sketches that use personal meaning to memorize elements of law.
Here’s a great one, linking first semester contract law (the Statute of Frauds) to her legs!
BONUS! Have an (exercise) snack!
Best for: Long study sessions
Learning styles: Kinesthetic
I don’t know about you, but I studied 12 hours a day in law school.
You can't sit for 12 hours and do nothing but study, because at some point you won’t be able to take in any more information.
Temptation looms . . . but don’t go to the fridge.
Instead, have an exercise snack!
Of course, research backs this up. This method of working out is known as high-intensity incidental physical activity, or HIIPA.
Take five minutes and do something active. Over 12 hours, that’s 60 minutes of exercise.
New research into exercise science calls this “the best bang for your buck” in terms of fitness, so if you can’t get structured workout into your study day, several exercise snacks will reset your brain and give you physical benefits as well.
Five minutes of climbing the stairs in the library every hour, a couple of sets of pushups or squats, or a brisk five minute walk around the block all add up to physical fitness gains that also reset your brain for more intellectual work.
Time to succeed in law school and conquer the bar exam!
I hope these techniques have helped you!
Now, let’s get after it!
I’d also love to hear some of the techniques that have worked for you, so feel free to comment on this post and tell me what you do to improve your recall in law school!