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First year law students will quickly realize they have a variety of study aids to choose from. These aids include quick reference sheets, course capsule summaries, generic course outlines, case outlines customized to individual textbooks, and courses on tape. Depending on your professor and your study habits, some of these will be more useful than others. Many students’ first mistake is to buy the laminated quick-reference guides found in many bookstores. These double-sided sheets of paper tend to incorporate too much important information and oversimplify complex issues. The guides are generally overpriced and often outdated. Material on quick-reference guides is also typically included in the back of the more thorough course outline books. If students don’t already know the material on these sheets, they will have a tough time on the exam. Capsule summaries are what the name implies, an abbreviated outline of a course. Publishers will often extrapolate the critical material from their retail course outlines and make summaries available for free. A capsule summary looks like a student’s outline for a course. It will contain the important terms, along with concise definitions. The downside to summaries is that they often don’t cover all the major cases that a professor may discuss in class. The short definitions are good for remembering terms, but they should only supplement class notes — they could never be used to learn a subject. Since they can now be easily downloaded for free from many publishers’ Web sites, students may wish to use them as a supplement to their own outlines. Generic course outlines are similar to capsule summaries, but much more extensive. These books will contain thorough definitions of terms, practical examples, and often major cases with briefs. A course outline may also have an index, glossary of terms, and charts. Reading a course outline can be helpful for seeing a different explanation of difficult terms, especially since some professors are overly abstract. Spending a few hours reading these books can’t hurt. Some students rely heavily on the books to prepare for final exams or the bar exam. However, course outlines (and their respective capsule summaries) are typically only available for first-year classes and material widely tested on bar exams. Case outlines are “keyed” to individual textbooks. These outline books will offer a short brief of every case contained in a particular textbook. While some students use these books to avoid having to brief the cases themselves, this is not advisable. It is important that students learn how to extrapolate the important components of each case quickly and efficiently themselves. These books do not cover enough information about the facts of each case to enable students to discuss the case fully in class. The value of a case outline book is that it allows you to compare your own case brief to the brief in the book. If any critical information is inaccurate or missing from your own brief, the book will tell you. This can be useful, since many cases are long and complicated. Students should be sure that the case brief booklet is keyed to the edition of the textbook they are using; otherwise, they may not have all the cases they need. Courses on tape are the audio version of course outlines. They often consist of eight hours or more of a professor lecturing on a given subject. The tapes can be extremely helpful, since these presenters may be able to explain concepts in a way that is easier to grasp than your classroom professor. Since individual tapes often have labels showing which topics they cover, students can choose to listen to only those sections they are having trouble with or that they know will be on the exam. The tapes may also come in handy when studying for the bar exam. They are generally worth the money. There are several things students should remember when using study aids. The most important is that they should not be used to avoid going to class, taking class notes, briefing cases, or making outlines. The materials discussed here should be used only to supplement your own work. One pitfall to avoid is using terminology that a study aid uses to describe the same concept covered in class. Since many professors do not look favorably on study aids, you should avoid using terms found in study aids, rather than those used by your professors, even if they have the same meaning. Finally, whatever you do, do not pull out your study aids while in class! John Okray, a third-year evening student at Suffolk University Law School, serves as the ABA Law Student Division First Circuit Governor and Treasurer of the Suffolk Law SBA. He can be reached at [email protected]

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