The bar exam tests many different skills: the ability to analyze complex factual scenarios, to spot legal issues, to perform under pressure, to draft cohesive arguments, and so on. But it will be difficult to sufficiently and accurately perform these skills without first mastering the skill of memorization. Knowledge of the legal rules is the foundation for performing all the other skills you need for the bar exam. You can’t spot issues, analyze key facts, or draft logical arguments (all under time constraints!) without knowing the legal rules that make those issues and facts germane. Of course, memorizing the vast amount material you need to know for the bar exam is no easy task.
It’s common for students to worry that they aren’t retaining enough information during the first few weeks of bar prep. These weeks are typically devoted to viewing lectures on the various subjects, drafting outlines, and completing practice tests – it’s a busy schedule that may not leave you much time to simply sit down and memorize the rules. So once you enter the final two or three weeks before the bar exam, you should plan on devoting time to really memorizing all of the material that you’ve been introduced to during the prior weeks. To help you memorize and retain this information during the final weeks of bar prep, try using these tried-and-true memorization techniques.
We tend to forget a lot of what we learn if we don’t constantly refresh our memory. To counteract this tendency, employ the principles of spaced review in your study routine. Spaced review is a study technique that requires you to review the material repeatedly over various intervals. During the final weeks of bar prep, you should be reviewing the rules you need to know for each subject at regular intervals each day. To further enhance your retention, make sure you’re mixing up the subjects you study. Rather than reviewing one subject each day, study multiple subjects each day for specific periods of time and then consistently continue to review the material at spaced intervals.
Our ability to remember visual images is much greater than our ability to memorize words. If you have a concept that you’re really struggling to memorize, try associating the concept with a visual image. For example, you may remember that the parol evidence rule prevents a party from introducing extrinsic evidence of a prior agreement by associating the word “parol” with jail, and imagining yourself locked in a jail cell furiously arguing with your contracts professor about something you agreed to that wasn’t included in his syllabus. The more unusual and detailed the image is, the better it will stick in your mind. If you can’t come up with a colorful visual image to associate with the concept, try organizing the material into a flowchart, table, or other graphic representation. Reviewing the information in a more visually appealing format, as opposed to just sentences on a page, may help it stick in your mind more firmly.
Don’t let the expensive outlines and textbooks provided to you by your bar prep company discourage you from making some of your own study materials. A skeletal outline – a one or two-page outline that includes the main topics and sub-topics for each subject organized in the proper hierarchy – won’t take you long to make but can improve your understanding of the rules. The skeletal outline won’t include detailed rule statements or hypotheticals, but will have keywords and concepts that you need to know. As you review the skeletal outline, see if the keywords you have included are enough to trigger your memory of the relevant rules. As you memorize the rules more and more, you should need less cueing from the skeletal outline. Remove concepts as you memorize them until you don’t need to refer to the keywords at all to trigger your memory.
Completing practice MBE and essay questions are a great way to determine whether you know a rule, but they can also help you remember that rule for future questions. If you thoroughly review the model answers and answer explanations for rules or issues that you missed, you’re less likely to forget those rules or make the same mistake again. So don’t stop working through practice tests in the final few weeks before the exam. Not only will completing practice problems help keep your test taking skills sharp, but it will also help you remember the rules.
Flashcards and Mnemonics
No discussion of memory techniques would be complete with reference to the two of the most common techniques: mnemonics and flashcards. Creating your own mnemonic devises to remember rule elements is a truly a great way to memorize the material. If you’re looking to go beyond the typical mnemonic device (such as “MY LEGS” for the Statute of Frauds) try the Peg System. Although I’m not a big advocate of flashcards for studying the law because they don’t help you see the proper relationships between concepts, you might them helpful for simply memorizing rule statements. If you are using flashcards, make sure you don’t spend an inordinate amount of time creating the flashcards. With only a couple of weeks to go until the exam, you need to spend time reviewing and working with the material, not creating a study aid.
You may be skeptical about your ability to memorize all of the information that is tested on the bar exam, but if you’ve been following a good study schedule, you are more than capable of memorizing and retaining the information you need. Stay focused during the final weeks and try some of these techniques to help solidify your understanding and memorization of the concepts you’ve been studying.
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Did you find this post helpful? Check out some other great articles:
- Using Peg System Mnemonics to Memorize Rule Elements
- Memorization is as Simple as 1, 2, 3
- Why Waiting to Memorize Until the Last Two Weeks is a Bad Idea
- Memorize This! Five Memorization Techniques That Will Help You Succeed on the Bar Exam
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