Are flashcards worthwhile during bar prep? If so, should you have a big stack or a little stack? Everyone has an opinion on flashcard use while preparing for the bar exam. It is among the great debates of bar prep. But the reality is that there is no objective answer to the flashcard debate. What really matters is whether making (or buying) flashcards will help you pass the bar exam. This post will cover some of the pros and cons of bar exam flashcards and how you might choose to incorporate them into your bar prep.
Flashcards have the ability to reduce daunting amounts of information into distinct, digestible bits that you can master. They are great for memorizing elements of crimes or causes of actions. They can help you commit factors or multistep analyses to memory. With repetition and objective feedback, flashcards present many undeniable benefits. In particular, kinesthetic learners tend to find flashcards helpful because they convert information into a tangible form you can flip. Also, flashcards are great for studying on the go. Whether you are on the bus or out back with the dog, flashcards allow you to make the most of your time even if you are not at your desk.
Flashcard advocates generally split into two subgroups. Some feel that making the cards is an integral step that helps you to struggle through and develop a deeper understanding of the material even before you flip through them. This approach is similar to the logic behind law school outlining. If you engage the material to make the resource, you will benefit a great deal. Others are happy to buy a set of commercial flashcards and move onto the benefits of using the resource discussed above. For an example of a commercial bar exam flashcard system, read Bar Exam Toolbox co-founder Lee Burgess’s review of Critical Pass Flashcards. As she notes in this post, buying cards can save you precious time and keep you moving forward through the material. (An additional benefit to purchasing a good commercial set of flashcards is the quality control—there is nothing more demoralizing than memorizing incorrect information.)
On the flip side, there are plenty of pitfalls to bar exam flashcards. Detractors will argue that the law just does not lend itself well to flashcards. Flashcards are good for presenting definitional-type information like that often tested in grade school or even undergrad, but they are bad at distilling complex concepts of law. All of the parts of the bar exam are designed more to test your understanding and application of concepts than your ability to recite definitions or rules. Additionally, flashcards tend to offer a dangerous false sense of security. Mastering your massive stack of flashcards could be rewarding, but it might not transfer into increased success on the actual exam.
For those that make their own flashcards, it is fair to question the time investment. When study time is at a premium, expending large amounts of time mindlessly copying elements and factors onto note cards can be a significant misstep. Alternatively, if you buy a set of commercial flashcards, you lose the benefits gained from making the flashcards and are in jeopardy of simply memorizing facts instead of gaining a better grasp of the material as a whole. Whether you are making them or just memorizing them, some rightly suggest that time spent on flashcards could be more wisely invested by taking and reviewing practice exams. (Read Megan Canty’s post Top 5 Reasons Why People Really Fail the Bar Exam – not practicing enough is #1 on the list.)
Should you Use Flashcards?
With some of the prominent pros and cons listed above, consider the place for flashcards in your bar prep plan. Consider how you used flashcards in law school as an indicator of their usefulness to you individually. For the most part, bar prep is not the time to reinvent the wheel. By this point in your academic career, you have taken plenty of exams, and you have had a good deal of success. Trust your experience. If you prefer other methods of studying, don’t feel compelled to make flashcards. If you are flashcard inclined, remember to keep yourself under control—making mountains of flashcards is likely not the best use of your limited bar prep time.
The good news is that the choice is not binary. Although some might shun flashcards all together, most will probably fall somewhere on a spectrum of heavy to light flashcard use. Whether you generally like flashcards or not, deciding when to reduce bar prep material to flashcards should depend largely on the type of information you are trying to learn. If the material falls into the category of distinct, definitional-type knowledge, flashcards can be handy. If it is tough to reduce the concept to a card short of writing or copying paragraphs, a flashcard will likely not be very helpful.