The Need to Understand Course Material

[Editor’s Note: This month, faculty members are posting on their exam taking tips. This is the second post in the series.]

Law students dread the exam process. This feeling is no surprise given the fact that in many courses examination grades become final grades. Unfortunately, agreement on a simple technique that maximizes effective learning does not exist. But there is some agreement on pitfalls that every student should avoid during times of study and review. One pitfall is failing to process and understand course material. It is so easy to simply turn the pages of a textbook or stare at a course outline that appears on a computer screen and then conclude: “I understand this topic. It’s clear as can be and I don’t need to review it again.” Such confidence may, in fact, be a signal that the material has only been memorized and that there is little, if any, understanding of how it is used in specific contexts. The results can be devastating.  Simply memorizing principles and doctrines
makes it difficult, if not impossible, to identify and analyze legal issues presented in examination questions.  Under these circumstances, final grades may be very disappointing. It is important, therefore, that students always include time during the study process to ask: “Do I really understand how the principles and doctrines work or am I simply staring at words and watching time pass?”

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