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Flashcards: Memorizing for Law School and the Bar Exam

Flashcards: Memorizing for Law School and the Bar Exam | Quimbee
As a law student, it’s easy to laugh off the flashcard as something juvenile. You might’ve used flashcards in elementary school to memorize multiplication tables or historical facts. But flashcards are worth a second look. They’re a research-backed learning tool you can use to ace your next law school final or conquer the bar exam. 

Why Do Flashcards Work?

Flashcards harness the power of the testing effect. Simply put, when we quiz ourselves on information, we enhance our retention. Self-quizzing takes effort, and that mental effort pays dividends: we’re more likely to remember the material if we put effort into encoding it into our long-term memory. 

Flashcards also facilitate spaced repetition, an evidence-based strategy that distributes study sessions over days and weeks. Repeatedly revisiting the material at spaced intervals outperforms massed practice, in which we try to learn everything in one sitting. 

Finally, flashcards provide instantaneous feedback. When we flip over the flashcard, we see the correct answer. This immediate corrective feedback prevents us from consolidating the wrong information in our memory. 

Law School and Bar Exam Flashcards

In its most basic form, a flashcard contains a term on one side of the card and its definition on the reverse. You can adapt this basic form for studying legal rules. Instead of simply listing the term, it often makes sense to ask a question on the front of the card. Questions provide greater context. On the reverse, provide the rule that answers the question.
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Here are a few tips on creating effective flashcards for law school and bar exam preparation:
  • Find the key information. Consider what information you need to have memorized for the exam. Usually, it makes the most sense to focus on black-letter law and begin with core rules. Highlight or underline key phrases that you’d want to remember word for word when writing a rule statement on an essay exam.
  • Limit the amount of information on each card. Putting too much information on a card makes it hard to memorize. Flashcards shouldn’t look like mini-outlines. If you’re dealing with a complicated rule, consider segmenting it across multiple cards.
  • Add a mnemonic. Tie the rule statement to an accessible mental cue, such as a word, phrase, or song. Note the cue on the back of the card. If you can remember the cue, you might be able to drag the entire rule back into conscious awareness. 
  • Sort decks by subject and subtopic. If you’re preparing for the bar exam, you’ll need to memorize multiple subjects. Categorize decks according to subject area and topic—try color coding or labeling the fronts of cards. A subject label is a good start (e.g., torts, contracts), but getting even more granular (e.g., contract defenses) is also a good idea. Studying related concepts together makes sense. Fact patterns often require you to recall a group of related rules. 

How and When to Use Flashcards 

Your best bet is to think of flashcards as one tool in your study arsenal. Flashcards have a limited scope, covering only the most critical material, and they segment legal rules, making it hard to see a general overview of the subject. These characteristics make flashcards optimal for memorization but less effective for a learner’s first exposure to the material. It’s best to gain basic proficiency before turning to flashcards.

Also, you should balance flashcards with other exam-prep strategies. Most flashcards target recall of black-letter law, but succeeding on a law school exam or the bar exam requires you to apply the law. You’ll be best prepared if you use flashcards in conjunction with other study methods that target applying law to fact (for example, writing out practice essays and answering multiple-choice questions).

But adding flashcards to your study routine offers big benefits. Testing yourself on rules helps you retain them better than simply rereading them. Plus, the self-quizzing process pinpoints weaknesses before the high-stakes exam, when there’s still time to do something about them. 

Maximizing Memorization with Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition suggests that spacing out our study sessions can lead to a better and more robust memory of those materials. There are many methodologies for applying spaced repetition to flashcards, but one approach is the Leitner system, named after the German science journalist who conceived of the method. You’ll organize flashcards into different boxes based on your level of mastery.

All cards start in box 1, which is reviewed the most often. As you answer cards correctly, move them into box 2, which is reviewed less frequently, and finally into box 3, which is reviewed after even longer intervals. If you miss a card, move it back to the prior box for more frequent review. Students choose different practice intervals, but one simple approach is to review box 1 daily, box 2 every other day, and box 3 once per week.
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Don’t have boxes? Rubber-banded decks work just as well. And you can make other modifications to this system to fit your purposes. For example, for long-term bar exam study, try adding more study intervals (e.g., add box 4, which you’ll review every other week, and box 5, which you’ll review once per month).

Spaced repetition is powerful, but many students find the manual process cumbersome. If you don’t want to sort flashcards into boxes and keep track of varying review intervals, that’s ok. The magic of technology can manage spaced repetition for you. Quimbee’s flashcards use spaced repetition to ensure you're studying as efficiently and effectively as possible. Plus, they cover every topic tested on the Multistate Bar Examination, Multistate Essay Examination, and Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.

Quimbee has your back in law school and beyond. Expert-written case briefs, outlines, and a practice-oriented bar review course give you the edge you’ll need to ace law school finals and conquer the bar exam.

Make your first attempt at the bar exam your last with Quimbee

  • 96% bar exam pass rate*
  • 100% money-back guarantee
  • 1,450 real questions from past bar exams
* First-time takers who have completed at least 75% of the course.

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