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Using Flash Cards for Law Exam Revision

Brain drawing

If it were possible, I would marry flash cards. I love them that much! Many of us used them in primary school to learn vocabulary and times tables, but flash cards are also a fantastic tool for studying law.

We’ve all experienced that shocking realisation of the amount of material we need to learn for a subject. It’s even trickier when you’re faced with a closed book exam, where the only real way to commit everything to memory is the old fashioned way – by rote.

A great notes summary is the starting point of your memorisation efforts. What you need to do then is convert them to a format that will allow you to quiz yourself. Enter flash cards.

So how do I make an awesome set of flash cards?

To get started, you’ll need your summarised notes, index cards, a couple of pens, a hole punch and some split rings.

Take a card and write your prompt on the front. Then flip the card over and write the answer on this side. If you want to flip through them on a ring (or two) punch a hole in the card and attach the rings.

On the bottom right hand corner of the card draw three squares – I’ll explain this later.

What goes on these cards?

The most difficult part about creating flash cards is deciding what to write on them, and avoiding putting too much information on each card.

If you usually summarise your readings and class notes, making flash cards is relatively simple. If I define something in my summary, I make a flash card. For a legal rule, I try and put the entire rule on a card.

Cases are my favourite thing to put on flash cards. I’ve taken several different approaches to my case law flash cards over the past few years. Initially I wrote a memorable fact on the front and the basic legal principle on the other side, and have also tried using a mini case summary. For me, limiting the details I write on the cards assists in mastering the essentials.

Depending on yow you write them up, you can usually use flash cards to quiz yourself both ways: matching the principle with the definition or the facts with the ratio, and vice versa. I like to answer the cards out loud, mainly because it means that I can't cheat!

What about those little squares?

When I'm in study mode, I try to review my flash cards three times a day. Every time I get a particular card correct I use a pencil to tick one of the boxes.

The first review of the following day is important. If I get a card with 3 ticks correct again it gets moved to a separate pile. The cards that I know are reviewed once a day, as opposed to three times a day. The aim is to move all flash cards into that pile by the exam.

It takes quite a bit of time to work through all the cards, particularly if you have made cards for each case. The time it takes is in itself an incentive for getting the answers correct and moving them into the pile of cards requiring less revision.

The main part of this technique is getting the answer correct after a night of sleep. Sleep assists with transferring information from the short term to long term memory, so if you get the answer wrong the next morning then you don’t know the information, no matter how many times you answered correctly the day before.

What about electronic flash cards?

While I am personally a fan of the old-fashioned, handwritten flash card, there are many options available for those more technologically inclined. Anki, in particular, makes use of spaced repetition and allows you to sync across devices and computers, leaving no excuse not to study, no matter where you are! Some flash card programs include libraries of user-made cards, which may even include cards made by fellow classmates.

No matter what form you choose to use, be sure to try and make your cards yourself. Doing so means that you learn so much more than if you simply find some on the Internet or copy straight from a book of case summaries.

Why do they work so well?

Flash cards engage active recall, which means that you’re stimulating your memory during the process, as opposed to passively reviewing through reading. Active recall creates stronger neuron connections for that memory trace. Because flash cards also easily facilitate repetition, they are the best way to create multiple memory-enhancing recall events.

Although they’re an amazing way to commit everything to memory, flash cards aren’t magic, so you still need to do past exams to practice applying all those facts you’ve learnt.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: This story was first published on Survive Law on 7 November 2012.

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