Want Better Law School Grades? Take an Iterative Approach to Learning

LabyrinthIt’s a fresh semester, a new year, and you’ve resolved to get better law school grades. Great! How are you going to do that?

If you’re like most people, you resolve to “work harder.”

For a few days, or maybe even a couple of weeks, you spend extra time in the library, making sure you’re well-prepared for class and don’t fall behind on the reading. Inevitably, however, things get in the way and you start slipping. Maybe your favorite TV show is on, or a big ball game, and your study time gradually drifts back to about what it was before.

There’s nothing really wrong with this approach, except for the fact that it’s unlikely to improve your outcome. What will improve your results is a new approach — iteration.

What’s Iterative Learning?

Iterative learning is just what it sounds like.

You go back over the same basic material again and again, and learn something new each time. Eventually, as one tutor puts it, you “see past the details of a problem and into the internal structure of the concept involved.”

How can this work for law school?

Here’s a typical iterative loop for law school:

  1. Read assigned cases and take notes. Try to understand what they reveal about the law.
  2. Go to class. Correct/flesh out understanding of the relevant law via class discussion.
  3. Review notes, adding and modifying concepts to reflect new understanding.
  4. [Repeat for several days or weeks with one topic’s worth of related material.]
  5. When one topic is complete, review all related notes and start compiling a consolidated outline of the material.
  6. If necessary, consult other sources (commercial supplements, prior student outlines) to aid your understanding.
  7. Test the outline you’ve made, to see if you really understand the topic.
  8. Go back to your notes or other materials to further improve the outline.
  9. Test again.
  10. Repeat as necessary.

As you can see, this approach moves from the very detailed (entire cases, full of facts and unrelated material) to the general concepts. It’s these concepts that you can then apply to new sets of facts, as you’re required to do on a law school exam (or in real life).

A Funnel, or a Labyrinth?

Arguably, you could envision this approach as a funnel, with lots of information at the top, and only a little bit at the bottom. I think it’s more accurate, however, to think of it as a labyrinth.

It might feel like you’re just pointlessly going back over the same ground again and again, but you’re actually moving closer and closer to the goal — one step at a time.

Read On:

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  1. this approach is really working for me!


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