Although everyone knows that memorizing is useful for the bar exam, and most lawyers have memorized at least the first few lines of an oral argument, memorizing is deeply unfashionable. New research, however, suggests that we shouldn't save
Surprised? We all use our memories so intensively that we may take them for granted. We remember our telephone numbers, what we are supposed to buy at the grocery store, and what happened last year. Without memory, we would be lost in the hell of amnesia. And all of us also know how to put things into our memories systematically, by practicing new skills. As our parents and teachers always said, practice makes perfect. For verbal skills and information, practice produces memorization.
Yet critics talk disparagingly about "rote" memorization. Perhaps they think that understanding and memorizing are incompatible. Certainly these critics have not read the latest research. Research indicates that when we repeat things, whether piano exercises or tennis strokes or verb paradigms or rules of law, our brains actually change. They wrap around new pathways, and those changes in our brains make further learning faster and easier. Take a look at Scientific American for March 2008, where you will find "White Matter Matters," by R. Douglas Fields. And Daniel Coyle's well-reviewed recent book The Talent Code stresses that new research shows high achievement resulting from three things: coaching, motivation, and repetition. Yes, repetition. As John Biesnecker puts it, "Memorization, if done right, is simply priming your brain for processing material that you're going to encounter frequently." http://www.GlobalMaverick.org. The title of his blog post? Repetitio est mater studiorum.
Watching what happens as students learn the law, I find it easy to believe that when we memorize, we actually change our brains. If bar candidates have not mastered the standard for the motion to dismiss, for example, they not only have trouble remembering and applying that rule, but they also have trouble learning the rules for the motion for summary judgment and the motion for a directed verdict. On the other hand, once a student memorizes one of those rules, he or she can relatively easily go on to learn and apply the others. Learning one rule by heart can open up whole new areas of law. As the research suggests, the initial change makes further learning faster and easier.
That's why I recommend that bar candidates memorize the most-frequently tested rules of law. If they memorize that relatively small number of rules, they will not only put those rules into their inventory for use on the bar exam, they will also give themselves a foundation for learning additional law. Memorizing will not only help raise students' scores on the bar exam, it will also help prepare them for the masterful practice of law.
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