Why practice tests matter

I have written elsewhere of my belief that practice tests must be part of your bar exam preparation.  Most bar students will do lots of practice MBE questions, but might skimp on practicing essays and performance tests.  Well, a recent article in the New York Times discusses a study published in the journal Science that provides strong empirical evidence that practice tests matter, and not necessarily full-blown practice tests.

The main conclusion of the study is that "retrieval practice" testing helped students learn more about a topic than any other method.  Retrieval practice is quite simple:  you study whatever you need to learn, then you take some time immediately after study to try and recall everything you just studied, then you compare what you remembered with what you studied to see what you missed, then you do another retrieval practice test.

It is clear that this format works well with small bits of information, but how to apply it to the bar exam monster?  One suggestion is to read your outline (or Conviser Mini Review, or whatever study source you have) on a particular topic, say Civil Procedure.  Then do the retrieval practice as discussed above. 

This could be a bit cumbersome, trying to retrieve an entire outline all at once, so maybe a better approach would be to break an outline into chunks.  So, for Civ Pro, you might read the part of your outline that deals with subject matter jurisdiction, then try to retrieve it from memory, review, then try retrieving again.  Then, move on to the next sub-topic.

Still another example would be to read a set of flashcards, then test with those flashcards, then read again, and test again.

Of course, do not forget to practice complete essays and performance tests, because a solid performance on the bar exam requires both knowledge retrieval and the ability to logically connect what you retrieve and put it into a written format.

[Photo: dcJohn]


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