Non-empirical law school study advice that emphasizes reading and briefing cases and memorizing rules, without frequent self-testing and formative self-assessment leads to a “law school learning trap.” Law students fall into a law school learning trap by focusing on memorization of cases and rules for class preparation, putting off “practice” application of the law as exam preparation. Law students and legal educators misjudge the power of testing as a learning tool, and instead rely on non-empirical, anecdotal resources to guide law student study methods.

A legal educator teamed up with an educational psychologist with a particular interest in pedagogical psychology, the study of how students learn, to create a unique Law Student Study Habits Survey to better understand how law students learn. Their groundbreaking empirical research from the Law Student Study Habit Survey shows that practice application of the law through self-testing, self-quizzing, and elaborative strategies positively correlates with academic success in law school, while reading and briefing cases, weak critical reading skills, and rote memorization of rules without practice applying the law negatively correlates with academic success in law school.

Both legal educators and law students need to incorporate testing and formative assessment as a study and learning strategy to learn each new topic, not just for exam preparation. Self-testing and formative assessment are not only critical for success in law school, but help students develop successful learning strategies for the bar exam and as lifelong learners in law practice.

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