FROM A FORMER LAW LECTURER
To Help You Survive Law School
How to Take Notes in Law School
Law students often fall into the trap of thinking that they will not be able to get a first in their exams unless they literally revise everything that is mentioned in the textbook. Because of that, when taking notes they try to copy the textbook word-by-word, which is a lot of (unnecessary) hard work. If you want to learn how to take notes in law school quickly and effectively, check out the advice I provided below.
Why You Take Notes in Law School
One thing that you need to know about taking law school notes is that they have two specific purposes. The first one is to help you focus your revision only on the necessary definitions, cases and statute sections. The second one is to help you arrange those definitions, cases and statute sections in a way which makes it easy for you to memorise them before the exam. What revision notes are not for, however, is helping you to write a good exam answer. In other words, even after you prepared your revision notes and memorised them, you will still have to practise writing exam answers as part of your revision, so that you are able to actually use all those definitions, cases and statute sections which you memorised to form an argument. But for now let’s focus on the things you need to pay attention to when creating your exam revision notes.
(Note: If you want to see examples of first class law notes and learn more about how to take notes in law subjects quickly, check out the 1st Class Law Exam Revision Course).
Keep your notes short
Once you get used to following the system I teach in the 1st Class Law Exam Revision Course, taking notes in law modules becomes pretty simple and straightforward. The key thing to avoid overdoing it. Your notes are there to help you memorise only the most crucial parts of each topic, so you should avoid copying your textbook word-by-word. When taking notes for exam revision you have to be very strategic about what you do and do not include in them. It might be difficult to do that at first, but with time and practice you can really improve your skills in this area. In order to learn how take legal notes effectively, you have to understand that only a very limited number of definitions, cases and statute sections from your textbook can be included in your notes. Those are usually the definitions, cases and statute sections which were mentioned by your lecturer in the lecture slides or other materials provided by them. In other words, when it comes to exam revisions, you should use the textbook mostly to expand your knowledge on those definitions, cases and statute sections mentioned by your lecturer - so that you can include them in your notes.
Pick 7 to 12 sources per note
This might sound a bit scary at first, but you should only pick up to 7-12 definitions, cases and statute sections to include in each revision note on a particular topic. This is realistically all that you will be able to memorise before the exam about each topic, so there is no point trying to squeeze in more resources into your revision note. Creating a revision note is in itself a good exercise which helps you to narrow down the content of your revision to the number of sources that are manageable in terms of revision. So you should take this opportunity and avoid wasting your time on revising unnecessary or irrelevant definitions, cases and statute sections. Once you pick the relevant definitions, cases and statute sections your task is to group them into themes which discuss similar concepts under the same headings. This will help you to memorise them better before the exams. For example, if you want to include in your note three cases which discuss section 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, you can group them under the heading “Section 3 interpretation” to help you remember that this is the section they relate to. This will help you to speed up your revision before the exams, and it will make your notes better organised.
Format your revision notes wisely
It might seem like formatting of your revision notes doesn’t matter that much, and that as long as they contain the right resources they will serve you well when revising for the exam. But the truth is that we are all naturally more likely to memorise better from notes which are aesthetically pleasing, clear and legible. So spend a bit of extra time to come up with the formatting which suits you best. For example, you could use a table in which all the sources (definitions, cases, statute sections) will be listed on one side and all the explanations on the other side. You can play with different formatting of the text (bold, italics, underlining) to help you distinguish between the cases and statute sections belonging to different themes within your note. You could even create a mind map with all the relevant sources. Whatever format you will decide to choose for your revision notes, you should make sure that it works for you and helps you to find and revise the relevant information quickly and effectively. If you are not sure what format to choose, you can check out the format which I included in my First Class Law Exam Revision Course which helped many students gain a first in their exams.
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