Although it would be great simply to come to class and absorb all the knowledge just by listening, most people cannot learn that way—especially when it comes to studying for the bar exam. There’s just so much information that you might end up having to recall and describe to in detail, that note-taking and months of review become essential. Rather than getting overwhelmed by the work ahead, check out these different note-taking strategies that can help you be as efficient as possible during every bar review lecture.
Here are 5 note-taking strategies that every future bar examinee should keep in mind:
- Actually write your notes out. It’s tempting to use your laptop, tablet, iPad or any other electronic device to record key details of a lecture. But if your hand can handle the torture, writing instead of typing notes is said to be the best approach for retaining information. Even if you plan on typing your notes in class, print them out single-sided and place them in a binder so that you can use the blank facing page to write out definitions, lists, and important concepts that you want to commit to memory. Writing helps you get the details to stick.
- Star any information that your instructor emphasizes. Your bar review instructors understand all there is to know about the bar exam, so they will have a good idea of what subjects will likely show up on the exam and how they'll be treated. Pay close attention to references to prior essays and any talking points they stress during class and star, highlight, or underline those notes to remind you later of their importance.
- Use bullet points and diagrams. This method can help keep your notes well organized. Rather than staring at full-page paragraphs that make it hard to determine where one topic ends and another begins, you’ll be able to comprehend the information effectively.
- Divide your notes into sections based on their topics. Separate your notes by their topics to maximize their functionality. If you’re not certain where topics start and stop or how they relate to one another, don’t hesitate to look at the table of contents in your Outline books. Understanding the big picture will not only help you systematize your notes, it will help you keep things straight in your memory.
- Create your own shorthand. You'll be able to increase how much information you can get down on paper and keep up with your instructor so you don't wind up missing vital details. Abbreviate K for contract, D for defendant, or make up your own abbreviations, and you’ll save yourself time without losing any of the substance.
After class, you may want to consider…
Exchanging notes with friends.
One of the benefits of taking a bar review course with friends is being able to share notes to see if they copied down something you may have missed during class, and vice versa. You can do this during group study sessions as you go over course material with them. You’ll be able to discuss in detail the topics covered in class. Maybe you didn’t quite understand a specific concept that your instructor was explaining—although if this happens, don’t hesitate to ask or email after class—or maybe you don’t remember what some of your notes mean because you are still mastering your shorthand skills. Conversing with your classmates is a great way to clear up any confusion and optimize your note taking.
Confirm to yourself that you understand the concepts you’re reviewing.
After class, it’s incredibly helpful to re-review your notes – you’ll be surprised how much you remember that your review will help engrain the concepts in your memory. When you re-review concepts that are either essential concepts that you are most likely to see on the exam, or especially complicated concepts that you think would be difficult to describe, for example, on an essay, see if you can define or explain the concept in your own words. It’s a great way to check that you really understand the concepts you are reviewing.
Part of getting the most from your bar review course is taking effective notes, so remember these note-taking strategies as you begin studying. If you would like to learn more bar exam tips, read our suggestions on how to get organized while studying for the bar exam.