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When's the best time to start making my summaries as a 1L?

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  1. 1. When should I make my summaries as a 1L?

    • Now
      9
    • A little later
      5
    • Closer to exams
      7

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  • Poll closed on 10/19/17 at 01:31 AM

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Posted (edited)

Here's the deal. I am caught up with all of my readings--but when I say caught up, I mean I'm not ahead in anything. Which means I need to be reading all the time. I know, shocker. 

I'm hearing a lot of chatter from upper years and professors that now's the best time to start compiling my summaries. But some other kids say it works better if you make them somewhat closer to finals so that you're refreshing your memory as you're making them. Trouble is, if I opt for the former approach, I seriously don't see how I'm going to have time with all of these readings on the go. If I do start to make my summaries now, I'm going to be spending at least 8 hours in the library. I spend around 4-6 hrs a day as is. 

I'm cool with either approach, I just wanna see what the general consensus is. I'd also appreciate it if you could give me your reasoning in the comments! Please do not cite the criminal code when applying your reasoning. 

Edited by thereleasestg

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I would start in a few weeks when the course concepts start to make a bit more sense. I started making my summaries 3 weeks before midterms with the aim of having a rough draft for midterms (I gave myself 1 wk per course). This lets you practice using them and gives you enough time to change things you don't like.  You don't want to start too early because you can't see the big picture yet and you don't want to waste time including a bunch of irrelevant crap. At the same time you also don't want to start too late. A useful way of cutting down the time used to build the summary is to look to older summaries and use them as a guide. DO. NOT. RELY. completely on someone else's summary. As others may have told you, the benefit of having a summary is the learning that happens while making one. At the same time, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Find a template you like and update it.

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I agree with the above advice, especially as it pertains to making the course make sense as a whole. 

 

But compiling summaries as you go doesn't necessarily mean making 1-2 pages of your 30 page December summary as you go each week, then not touching it. Learning as you go is a different process than prepping for finals, and is arguably the more individualized of the two processes. 

 

I learn best by reading, going to lecture and taking detailed notes, then coming back and compiling my reading notes and lecture notes. It ends up being roughly a 5-7 page document. 

 

Come finals, each lecture which was a 5-7 page document I reduce to about a page, sometimes 2. And that's my summary. 

 

That middle step I've heard of so many different variations, I honestly can't count them. But I know they don't with for me (I found that out the hard way during my 1L Christmas exams). Figure out your way, and optimize it as you go.

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Start building your long summaries at the very beginning of the year. Then 2-3 weeks out from your exams/ once you are done all your readings start making your short outline that you will use for your exam. 

 

As a lawyer you you will need to work far longer than 8 hours a day, may as well start getting used to it now. 

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Woah, woah, woah, you didn’t start the minute you got your acceptance letter?  You’re doomed, DOOMED!

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Posted (edited)
  1. As far as I understand  it, when most people on here say "long summary" they just mean class notes. You should take those always and just keep organizing them in a coherent manner under proper headings and subheadings according to how the course is teaching you that area of law. I barely did anything with these unless I was in a lecture, it isn't hard to format on the go while also paying attention. I only ever brought these into exams for "emergencies". Those were rare, and it was usually a waste of a lot of paper.
  2. Your actual "summary"--the thing you take into your exam to help you answer questions efficiently--should be designed precisely to answer questions efficiently. You won't know how to do that until you know the kinds of questions that will be on the exam. Usually, professors are consistent (or will explicitly tell you what questions they will ask) so all you have to do is either look at past exams or ask the prof. Or do both! It is very rare that a law professor shrouds their exam formats in secrecy until the last minute (it does happen, but they are the exception not the rule).
    1. Note: some classes have non-standard exams (eg. take-homes, long essays, short answer only) so you should cater your summary exactly for this purpose;
    2. Note: I liked to have two things to bring into every exam: [a] my short summary which I used as a guide to answering complicated legal questions; and a document of case briefs for every case you study in that course. Usually I only used [a], but if I was stumped and needed to remind myself of situation involving a similar set of facts, I go to . If you understand the course, there's no need for anything else (unless your prof says so, like the Criminal Code or Rules of Civ Pro.);
  3. So take a practice exam. Don't worry about failure. Every practice exam I took in law school was an exercise in humility. That's fine. If you wait until December, it will cause panic. If you do it now, it will let you know everything you do not know (which may be everything!) but at least you'll come away going "huh, I guess I should know how to answer a question about whether something falls under Federal or Provincial Powers...maybe I should craft my summary to assist with answering that." That's when you should start building your official summary. Everything else, in my view, is a waste of your time. And until you're ready to start making one, there is nothing wrong with continuing to do readings, make a list of case briefs, and learn the relevant legal concepts. 
  4. By the way, the above is why following past student's summaries can be helpful, but not always the best approach. You never know if you're getting their class notes (useless) or their summary (helpful). Build your own from scratch, using past exams as a guide for how it should be structured. Again, if your exam is a different format or take-home, then you should adjust accordingly.

Good luck!

Edited by FineCanadianFXs
Formatting
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On 10/1/2017 at 5:53 PM, pzabbythesecond said:

I agree with the above advice, especially as it pertains to making the course make sense as a whole. 

 

But compiling summaries as you go doesn't necessarily mean making 1-2 pages of your 30 page December summary as you go each week, then not touching it. Learning as you go is a different process than prepping for finals, and is arguably the more individualized of the two processes. 

 

I learn best by reading, going to lecture and taking detailed notes, then coming back and compiling my reading notes and lecture notes. It ends up being roughly a 5-7 page document. 

 

Come finals, each lecture which was a 5-7 page document I reduce to about a page, sometimes 2. And that's my summary. 

 

That middle step I've heard of so many different variations, I honestly can't count them. But I know they don't with for me (I found that out the hard way during my 1L Christmas exams). Figure out your way, and optimize it as you go.

Can I just be pedantic and ask when you do the part I bolded? Because what I'm doing now is similar to what you do and I'm wondering when I should begin "condensing" all of this stuff. I feel like if I start now, it won't be as "fresh" in my mind as it would be if I start in a few weeks.

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Posted (edited)
26 minutes ago, drankcoffee said:

Can I just be pedantic and ask when you do the part I bolded? Because what I'm doing now is similar to what you do and I'm wondering when I should begin "condensing" all of this stuff. I feel like if I start now, it won't be as "fresh" in my mind as it would be if I start in a few weeks.

I'd say as late as possible while still leaving sufficient time to do it, PLUS "study" it more closely after and write a few past exams for each course before their finals. 

 

I started around mid November and found I was short on time for early December exams. For finals I started early March and found it was enough time for mid-late April exams. 

 

Each person's speed is different though, so midterms are basically your way of figuring it out :).

Edited by pzabbythesecond
I hate autocorrect, when it makes it incorrect
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On 2017-10-01 at 6:26 PM, FineCanadianFXs said:
  1. As far as I understand  it, when most people on here say "long summary" they just mean class notes. You should take those always and just keep organizing them in a coherent manner under proper headings and subheadings according to how the course is teaching you that area of law. I barely did anything with these unless I was in a lecture, it isn't hard to format on the go while also paying attention. I only ever brought these into exams for "emergencies". Those were rare, and it was usually a waste of a lot of paper.
  2. Your actual "summary"--the thing you take into your exam to help you answer questions efficiently--should be designed precisely to answer questions efficiently. You won't know how to do that until you know the kinds of questions that will be on the exam. Usually, professors are consistent (or will explicitly tell you what questions they will ask) so all you have to do is either look at past exams or ask the prof. Or do both! It is very rare that a law professor shrouds their exam formats in secrecy until the last minute (it does happen, but they are the exception not the rule).
    1. Note: some classes have non-standard exams (eg. take-homes, long essays, short answer only) so you should cater your summary exactly for this purpose;
    2. Note: I liked to have two things to bring into every exam: [a] my short summary which I used as a guide to answering complicated legal questions; and a document of case briefs for every case you study in that course. Usually I only used [a], but if I was stumped and needed to remind myself of situation involving a similar set of facts, I go to . If you understand the course, there's no need for anything else (unless your prof says so, like the Criminal Code or Rules of Civ Pro.);
  3. So take a practice exam. Don't worry about failure. Every practice exam I took in law school was an exercise in humility. That's fine. If you wait until December, it will cause panic. If you do it now, it will let you know everything you do not know (which may be everything!) but at least you'll come away going "huh, I guess I should know how to answer a question about whether something falls under Federal or Provincial Powers...maybe I should craft my summary to assist with answering that." That's when you should start building your official summary. Everything else, in my view, is a waste of your time. And until you're ready to start making one, there is nothing wrong with continuing to do readings, make a list of case briefs, and learn the relevant legal concepts. 
  4. By the way, the above is why following past student's summaries can be helpful, but not always the best approach. You never know if you're getting their class notes (useless) or their summary (helpful). Build your own from scratch, using past exams as a guide for how it should be structured. Again, if your exam is a different format or take-home, then you should adjust accordingly.

Good luck!

This. Lots of good advice in here. The only thing I will add is for point 4. I always used past summaries to begin with and followed them during the readings/in class. If they were bad, I made my own; if they were good, I used them and added my own notes and modified as I went. I definitely started that process from day 1 of each term. 

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In 1L, I used reading break to finish the course readings for whichever course had the highest reading workload. 1st semester was Contracts, 2nd was Criminal. I then used the extra time I had after reading break to do course summaries. I aced them both. Might work for you! I do agree that summaries later on in the semester is helpful for refreshing your memory. 

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FineCanadianFX makes excellent points and I endorse them. I would distinguish between what I called an "outline" and a "summary".

My "outline" would be a compendium of case law and what I was hearing in class, plus a smattering of info from treatises and Westlaw's CED (if you don't know what that is, find it quick. It stands for Canadian Encyclopedic Digest. It is the law student's wikipedia and a personal lifesaver). My outlines would typically run up to 50-60 pages in length. I worked on them throughout the year, adding stuff as I went along. The purpose of the outline was to better understand the principles and specific rules and see how they all fit together. You're going to be bombarded with a lot of law in the coming months and you should have some sort of document that keeps you oriented as to what you're learning and how it all works. The simple act of building an outline and being forced to write stuff down and make the whole thing coherent serves as an ongoing revision tool. I was really glad that I did that when exams came.

My outlines weren't much help in the actual exams because nobody has time to go through 60 pages of material to find the answer. Instead, I would rely on a "summary", which would be max 10 pages in length. This would be a short and sweet map of the law that I needed to know. Short bullet points, sometimes numbered test steps, and always annotated with the source case law. My summary would be the document that would be beside me as I wrote the exam, and I would glance at it periodically to trigger my memory about whatever I needed to write about. I would only go to my outline if I was really stuck or if there was something really specific that I needed. Making a summary was an exercise of trial and error. I would build a summary, do a practice exam, and then see what worked and what didn't work, and amend my summary accordingly. The objective was to make it as helpful and user friendly as possible.

See, the temptation with open-book exams is to think that all you need to do is write everything down and browse through it to just find the answer you're looking for. But it's not that simple. The reality is that you're going to be very hard pressed for time. You need to actually learn the law and the principles going in. Your summary is just there to remind you of stuff, not to tell you on the day what the law is. This consideration, ultimately, is what should influence your decision to make a summary/outline.

So here would be my advice: (1) get some outlines from upper-years, preferably those who you know did well/got some awards, (2) consult those outlines and start building your own outline right away, (3) use your outline to learn and revise, (4) come exam time, your outline will help you make a much shorter summary that you then take into the exam.

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On 10/1/2017 at 3:26 PM, FineCanadianFXs said:
  1. As far as I understand  it, when most people on here say "long summary" they just mean class notes. You should take those always and just keep organizing them in a coherent manner under proper headings and subheadings according to how the course is teaching you that area of law. I barely did anything with these unless I was in a lecture, it isn't hard to format on the go while also paying attention. I only ever brought these into exams for "emergencies". Those were rare, and it was usually a waste of a lot of paper.
  2. Your actual "summary"--the thing you take into your exam to help you answer questions efficiently--should be designed precisely to answer questions efficiently. You won't know how to do that until you know the kinds of questions that will be on the exam. Usually, professors are consistent (or will explicitly tell you what questions they will ask) so all you have to do is either look at past exams or ask the prof. Or do both! It is very rare that a law professor shrouds their exam formats in secrecy until the last minute (it does happen, but they are the exception not the rule).
    1. Note: some classes have non-standard exams (eg. take-homes, long essays, short answer only) so you should cater your summary exactly for this purpose;
    2. Note: I liked to have two things to bring into every exam: [a] my short summary which I used as a guide to answering complicated legal questions; and a document of case briefs for every case you study in that course. Usually I only used [a], but if I was stumped and needed to remind myself of situation involving a similar set of facts, I go to . If you understand the course, there's no need for anything else (unless your prof says so, like the Criminal Code or Rules of Civ Pro.);
  3. So take a practice exam. Don't worry about failure. Every practice exam I took in law school was an exercise in humility. That's fine. If you wait until December, it will cause panic. If you do it now, it will let you know everything you do not know (which may be everything!) but at least you'll come away going "huh, I guess I should know how to answer a question about whether something falls under Federal or Provincial Powers...maybe I should craft my summary to assist with answering that." That's when you should start building your official summary. Everything else, in my view, is a waste of your time. And until you're ready to start making one, there is nothing wrong with continuing to do readings, make a list of case briefs, and learn the relevant legal concepts. 
  4. By the way, the above is why following past student's summaries can be helpful, but not always the best approach. You never know if you're getting their class notes (useless) or their summary (helpful). Build your own from scratch, using past exams as a guide for how it should be structured. Again, if your exam is a different format or take-home, then you should adjust accordingly.

Good luck!

Yup, my long summary is my reading and class notes combined together. Going into class it is just my reading notes, then after class I combine my class notes to it.

 

also had a tip going into law school that worked for me,  was to try and read your long summary before class/ once a week as it gets longer. Really helps you keep all the info fresh and helps you see the big picture.

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Uh, you're in first year right, none of the cases are really very laden with material so as to not be condensed into a paragraph. Sure, maybe some of the compound tests require additional lines (see Gallen or Pao On/Nav Canada)  but really your summaries for most of those cases should not be very long.

As to the 4-6 hours you spend per day in the library, what exactly are you doing? You're talking 20-30 hours per week of what? Reading? Either you're a terribly and inexcusably slow reader or you're not in the right environment to be reading and studying. If you're stopping to chat with someone every ten minutes and getting through less than 30 pages per hour, then you need to adjust your habits, soon. God help you if you get to upper year courses which require 100-200 pages per week, per class, of reading and you're sitting in the library chit-chatting and sloppily reading through course material for 60-80 hours per week in addition to lecture time.If you are actually that slow at reading (my friend had a similar problem) then you need to work on reading faster or learning how to skim certain things.

I did all my readings before every single class and it took about 15 hours at the most to complete. I took poor notes, in looking back, on what we discussed in class and then made outlines in the three days before the exam. Usually I completed the outline by rereading every case for the rules and any additional commentary and jotting it down into a summary then doing practice exams with people at school and filling in my outlines with any information that I may have missed or needed when I was answering practice exams.

I have never done a brief of any case before or after class, except when mandated. I was in the top 10% of my class, just to be clear.

All of that being said, I'm not you and I don't know how good you are at learning or learning law or retaining what you read or whatever other metric you can think of that determines how your absorb material from case law. If you find that you're not really understanding the point of some cases or groups of cases, then maybe doing summaries for the class and set of cases will help you wrap your head around the concepts involved.

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4 hours ago, celli660 said:

Uh, you're in first year right, none of the cases are really very laden with material so as to not be condensed into a paragraph. Sure, maybe some of the compound tests require additional lines (see Gallen or Pao On/Nav Canada)  but really your summaries for most of those cases should not be very long.

As to the 4-6 hours you spend per day in the library, what exactly are you doing? You're talking 20-30 hours per week of what? Reading? Either you're a terribly and inexcusably slow reader or you're not in the right environment to be reading and studying. If you're stopping to chat with someone every ten minutes and getting through less than 30 pages per hour, then you need to adjust your habits, soon. God help you if you get to upper year courses which require 100-200 pages per week, per class, of reading and you're sitting in the library chit-chatting and sloppily reading through course material for 60-80 hours per week in addition to lecture time.If you are actually that slow at reading (my friend had a similar problem) then you need to work on reading faster or learning how to skim certain things.

I did all my readings before every single class and it took about 15 hours at the most to complete. I took poor notes, in looking back, on what we discussed in class and then made outlines in the three days before the exam. Usually I completed the outline by rereading every case for the rules and any additional commentary and jotting it down into a summary then doing practice exams with people at school and filling in my outlines with any information that I may have missed or needed when I was answering practice exams.

I have never done a brief of any case before or after class, except when mandated. I was in the top 10% of my class, just to be clear.

All of that being said, I'm not you and I don't know how good you are at learning or learning law or retaining what you read or whatever other metric you can think of that determines how your absorb material from case law. If you find that you're not really understanding the point of some cases or groups of cases, then maybe doing summaries for the class and set of cases will help you wrap your head around the concepts involved.

I think everyone is different. I know some people take 1 hour to read 10 pages, where others can do 30 in that time. I reckon for the people who take notes while reading, it takes them a lot longer than someone who skims the reading beforehand. Not saying whether that method is useful for me personally, but it does help some people parse the reading better and stay more alert during class. 

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Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, celli660 said:

As to the 4-6 hours you spend per day in the library, what exactly are you doing? You're talking 20-30 hours per week of what? Reading? Either you're a terribly and inexcusably slow reader or you're not in the right environment to be reading and studying. If you're stopping to chat with someone every ten minutes and getting through less than 30 pages per hour, then you need to adjust your habits, soon. God help you if you get to upper year courses which require 100-200 pages per week, per class, of reading and you're sitting in the library chit-chatting and sloppily reading through course material for 60-80 hours per week in addition to lecture time.If you are actually that slow at reading (my friend had a similar problem) then you need to work on reading faster or learning how to skim certain things.

Seems a bit speculative and harsh. OP merely wanted some advice about summaries; they had no concern about overall study habits. 4-6 hours of daily study is fine, especially if one is caught up with their readings. Moreover, most students I know did just fine without ever catching up fully with assigned readings. I worked about that much in school, if not more. I certainly don't consider myself inefficient or a slow reader. And though I did not come remotely close to reading everything, I did quite well. Still, I would never advise anyone to adjust their habits before those habits actually translated into negative results.

Also, I can't think of any good reason to believe upper year classes at any school become consistently more arduous. I don't remember that ever being the case. In fact, in my experience, law school got exponentially easier as I went. 

Edited by FineCanadianFXs
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Well I think that as people progress through law school they sort through the 'setting it up' portion of cases and get right to the meaty bits, but I certainly see an increase in the expected volume of work and readings in my second year classes over my first year classes.

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21 hours ago, celli660 said:

...
As to the 4-6 hours you spend per day in the library, what exactly are you doing? You're talking 20-30 hours per week of what? Reading? Either you're a terribly and inexcusably slow reader or you're not in the right environment to be reading and studying. If you're stopping to chat with someone every ten minutes and getting through less than 30 pages per hour, then you need to adjust your habits, soon. God help you if you get to upper year courses which require 100-200 pages per week, per class, of reading and you're sitting in the library chit-chatting and sloppily reading through course material for 60-80 hours per week in addition to lecture time.If you are actually that slow at reading (my friend had a similar problem) then you need to work on reading faster or learning how to skim certain things.

...

[portion only quoted, emphasis added]

My law school experience was many years ago, but assuming reading hasn't changed that much (while ebooks may be faster studies suggest retention better with physical print), from discussion late in first year among a dozen or so students, many people (i.e. the mode) indicated they got through 10-15 pages per hour of readings (including taking notes and/or highlighting). Some were a bit faster. I thought that was quite slow (though I was more diplomatic); and I'm a very fast reader, and I still averaged only about 50 pages per hour. So I think your suggesting that a 1L a month in should be reading 30 pages an hour is ridiculously extreme.

Maybe it has changed, can others recall what their and their peers' typical reading speed in law school is/was?

Now, I would agree that I thought that many students focused too much on highlighting and notetaking at the expense of reading, and so could/should read faster for that reason, but that's something that one has to learn.

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1 hour ago, epeeist said:

[portion only quoted, emphasis added]

My law school experience was many years ago, but assuming reading hasn't changed that much (while ebooks may be faster studies suggest retention better with physical print), from discussion late in first year among a dozen or so students, many people (i.e. the mode) indicated they got through 10-15 pages per hour of readings (including taking notes and/or highlighting). Some were a bit faster. I thought that was quite slow (though I was more diplomatic); and I'm a very fast reader, and I still averaged only about 50 pages per hour. So I think your suggesting that a 1L a month in should be reading 30 pages an hour is ridiculously extreme.

Maybe it has changed, can others recall what their and their peers' typical reading speed in law school is/was?

Now, I would agree that I thought that many students focused too much on highlighting and notetaking at the expense of reading, and so could/should read faster for that reason, but that's something that one has to learn.

3

I'm a relatively fast reader (nothing compared to you or @kurrika), and I read about 20 pages an hour. That's with me briefing each case, which is thus far how I've decided to take notes for most classes. For state and citizen (our public law class) I've decided not to fully brief cases, and that's gotten me up to about 35 pages an hour. 

Most of my peers read around 10 pages when taking notes, with seemingly not much variance despite different note taking styles. 

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Seems like this thread could use some alternative perspectives.

OP, the best piece of advice I ever received in 1L was to not waste time making my own summary (assuming some really great summaries are already floating around from upper-year students). Instead just edit as needed based on what you hear in class/what you see in the syllabus. Also, don't bother diving into the cases regularly unless you're confused on something (either from your summary or from class discussion). 

Of course, the fuller response is that I believe studying is completely different for every person so please don't do exactly what I did just because I said to. My real point is that in 1L I never made a summary, didn't focus on reading the full cases, and I think I did pretty well overall. Just do what works best. Your first semester is a great opportunity for some trial and error.

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I personally think the process of making a summary is invaluable and I would not use someone else's. As to when to make a summary, don't do it until you understand the material.

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