Duly noted – The journey to finding the right study method

Well, it’s only taken 6 months, but I’ve managed to work out how best for me to work towards my GDL. Trouble is, there are only a handful of workshops and lectures left to put it into practice. Despite this, I thought I’d write about my new method and why it’s been good for me, as well as how I arrived at it. The hope is, as it is with many of my blogs, that at least one person will read it and find it useful.

I began the year working very hard. I would prepare for my workshops by doing the reading in the Study Manuals that the College provides, highlighting and underlining as I went. I’d do all the prep activities and come to the workshops full of beans. I found, though, that I wasn’t retaining much of the information once I’d learnt it. The College is big on its students consolidating their knowledge, but having tried it a couple of times and felt that it didn’t help that much, as well as feeling that it left me short of time to prepare for upcoming workshops if I was looking back at the same time, I abandoned consolidation.

I carried on with this method of working until my January exams. I then found that I had very few notes from which to revise (which should probably have occurred to me earlier, I’ll grant you) and tried making them from the things I’d highlighted and underlined in the manuals. These notes were serviceable, but not exceptional, because I’d forgotten what was truly relevant as a result of the time between those workshops and making the notes.

I then resolved to take notes instead of merely highlighting the book. This I did diligently, taking umpteen pages of notes for every workshop, colour coding cases and statutory provisions for ease of reference, and building up a stock of notes at last. I was doing all of this before workshops, which was time-consuming, but I was finding it pretty useful. I found, though, that my retention didn’t really improve all that much, and my involvement in workshops decreased because I was looking through notes rather than listening or participating. The other factor was the time it was taking me to make my way through the notes. Some of the chapters in the manual are very dense and I was having trouble distilling the information into something that was manageable. I’d often take notes, only to find that the workshop taught me something different, or at least placed the focus on certain vital cases that weren’t given that focus in the text.

Given these factors, I decided to combine my two approaches. I decided to read the relevant chapters before the workshop, understanding the concepts and underlining the occasional (and I mean occasional) sentence. I’d then do the prep activities that the classes required, and take them along to the workshops. I’d make as many notes as I possibly could about structure and content in the workshop as I could, augmenting my conceptual understanding with the structure required by “GDL land” as the tutors refer to the course. Then, once the workshop had finished, I’d go to the library and make notes from the chapter, making my workshop notes complete using the Manual, but retaining the emphases that I’d been given by the tutor and allowing the tutors, rather than the book, to give the lessons.

I’ve found that my retention and understanding has increased, I’m doing the consolidation whilst not fighting with upcoming workshop work so much, and I’m able to make notes with the benefit of knowing what’s vital and what’s less important.

I’m not suggesting that this method is for everyone – everyone works and revises and learns differently. But I’d advise that students be as critical as possible of their own working methods. The course is very information-dense, and not working as effectively as you possibly can for much of the course can be a bit of a problem. Everything’s starting to come together now in my mind, which is good, and I think it probably would have done even without the change of working habits. But they certainly haven’t harmed the process.

I wrote in a previous blog about the importance of constantly evaluating your own performance and knowing how to get the best out of yourself. This is yet another example of where I think it comes in handy. People may disagree with this statement or my methods – but I know they’re right for me. Which is, after all, the most important thing.

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About Ashley Connick
Ashley Connick is a trainee solicitor at an international law firm. For a full profile, please visit the "About the Author" section of the blog.

4 Responses to Duly noted – The journey to finding the right study method

  1. travisthetrout says:

    Although I am no longer a student I am always interested in seeing how others approach their work and this is an interesting post.

    I always find that note taking is the best way to learn and I wrote about this a number of times during my LPC – the method I found best was to simply DIY my own textbook using a mixture of the my research, tutors advice and the textbooks we were provided with. Yes, a lot of effort, but I learned so much during the process of putting it together and my use of summary pages and key pointers / exam tips as I went along saved a lot of time when it came to revision. (see my post on this for more details http://travisthetrout.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/design-your-own-textbook/ but I’ve also written a lot about revision and exam prep generally). Certainly how I dealt with my post-workshop review was often more important than the prep (for reasons you have mentioned above).

    Keep up the good work!!

  2. Kate says:

    Necro-comment from an ex-BPP GDLer. The only notes I made from the books during the course were the cases, writing down the name of the case, the facts (when necessary) and the law they established. That was mainly because I knew I’d have to memorise them for my exams so I thought it’d be useful to have a list for each topic. Not for everyone perhaps, but I found remembering the case names much harder than remembering the law itself and in the end I found that I just had to sit and keep going over them until I remembered the majority.

    I didn’t make a single note in the books during the year, because that way when it came to the revision period it meant I could highlight the stuff that hadn’t sunk in and focus on that, rather than try and filter it out through reams of stuff that had become second nature by that point. Then I typed up the notes in a shortened form, which was a bit of a laborious task but it helped me get a much better grasp of the structure and made it seem a lot less overwhelming.

    Not sure how that method will work with the LPC though. Still trying to figure it out.

    • Thank you…an excellent comment and an excellent method of working. Makes perfect sense – wish I’d have known about that when I started my GDL. Do you think it will work with the LPC? Or have you started it and found that it may not be suitable?

      • Kate says:

        I’m not sure that it will work with the LPC. The way the GDL worked at BPP was pretty straightforward: read the chapter, watch the lecture, answer the questions, go over the questions in the tutorial to make sure we understand everything. The materials on the LPC are much more scattered, and a lot more learning and application takes places in the SGSs (workshops). The topic areas are also much more varied due to the fact that a lot of it is skills-based as well as knowledge-based.

        So far I think the best way to work on the LPC will be to start preparing revision notes fairly early on by consolidating (something I was a bit rubbish at getting round to doing on the GDL). If I can make the time to make fairly comprehensive notes on what was covered during the SGSs then that will hopefully make my revision easier to organise by exam-time. The challenging part is finding the time to do it!

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