What are sparse learning methods

The means justify the end - the seven most popular learning methods

I. From the favorite tree and primeval forests

One of the great difficulties in law school is the task of finding the right one from the numerous methods of acquiring the material. Two approaches are particularly dangerous, which are presented by the following little parabola:

Once upon a time there were two brothers. They liked nature, so they lived in the forest far from the city. They didn't like the other. Udo thought his brother Thorsten was narrow-minded, but Thorsten found that Udo was nothing more than an old Raffzahn. Thorsten was content with a single tree. It was big and mighty and Thorsten had built a tree house in the middle of the treetop. He felt safe. Udo couldn't get anything out of that. It lived in the dense neighboring forest, which was dark and opaque and where one tree chased the other. He felt no less safe. One day a great storm struck the country. He stopped at nothing and devoured all the houses in the city. The storm had already cut a voracious swath when it reached the brothers' rows of trees. Thorsten believed that nothing could happen to him on his massive tree. But he was wrong. The storm furiously destroyed the tree and the tree house. Thorsten died. Udo felt confirmed: The storm ricocheted off the many trees that surrounded him. But the treetops swayed and Udo got scared. He ran deeper and deeper into the forest until dozens of trees surrounded him so that he could no longer see anything. At some point the air calmed down. But Udo no longer knew how he got into the middle of the forest and - even worse - how to find his way out of the forest again. Days after days passed during which Udo desperately tried to find his hut with the food that saved him. But he didn't succeed. Udo died. A veil of sad certainty fell over the land: Neither of them were safe.

But now we want to meet your legitimate interest in a learning article. After all, we are not the Brothers Grimm. But what we already suspected back then as a child, we know today: Every fairy tale has a statement from which we can learn. Just think of Thorsten's thick tree as a single, mature learning method and Udo's jungle as an army of learning materials. The storm is the most serious case of a retreat. Ultimately, the death that hits both of them is failure to pass the exam. Although both felt secure, both strategies could not keep what they promised: security.

For your studies you have to learn the following from this: Neither a single learning tool will help you to achieve legal success nor the application of all the tools that are available. So you have to make a selection and cleverly combine the learning materials. In order to be able to choose, you first have to know about the learning materials (II.). As such we will introduce you to: textbooks, scripts, lectures, teaching essays, court judgments, case books and collections as well as written exams

The private learning group is also an (extremely effective) learning tool. Because of its importance, however, it will be excluded from this article and will be discussed in detail in our final article next week.

So that the request for a profitable combination of learning aids does not ebb away as an abstract tip, we give you a few examples and practical tips on how to combine the learning methods and thus massively increase their effectiveness (III.).

II. The "magic seven"

First of all, the following note: We have divided the 7 core learning materials into three categories: those that help to get the material in the head, those that deepen the material or supplement the content and those that help enable the transfer of knowledge in the exam case. We are aware that such a categorization disregards the fact that some methods have a kind of “hybrid position”: So scripts can not only serve the preparation of material, but also the transfer of knowledge (think especially of exam scripts). Teaching essays can not only promote in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, but can also be helpful in developing them, especially if the essays convey the basics, such as those from JA or JuS. In these cases, we have classified the respective learning aids where they fulfill their core function.

1. Methods of material processing

a) textbook

One of the most widely used learning tools is the textbook. In the lecture you will receive a corresponding textbook recommendation from the professor (it is rumored that sometimes people particularly like to recommend their own works ...).

However, the teacher's recommendation for literature should not be followed unconditionally and blindly. Rather, you should go to the bibliography or bookstore and grab at least two, or even better, more works on the topic. Then you look for a typical section that is mentioned in each of the books, for example the principle of abstraction in the textbooks on the BGB AT. Then you compare which book, according to your subjective feeling, suits you the first time (be it because of the way of expression, the presentation, the clarity or the topicality of the work). Alternatively, you can first borrow the relevant books from your departmental library so that you can compare in peace and then make your purchase decision. Often these textbooks will accompany you throughout your studies. Textbooks are also not cheap (between 20 and 30 euros) and cannot simply be "exchanged" with the mostly tight student budget. For these reasons, your choice should be made carefully. Of course, this does not mean that you can no longer correct your decision retrospectively.

The textbook is particularly useful at the beginning of your studies. The work can then be read there to accompany the corresponding lecture. This works just as little at a time as it does as a whole. You may be able to summarize the main content of the book in your own words and then refer to the notes you made later. This saves you from constantly looking at the textbook, which can otherwise tire you quickly.

Textbooks are often very detailed and it will take you some time to read them in full. This seems like a disadvantage at first, because time is short in law studies (as in other courses). However, if you take a closer look, the problem no longer appears as serious: You can safely skip some parts of the textbook, e.g. those in which the standard text is simply reproduced or paraphrased. You will also benefit from “consuming” a textbook: They can help you very well in acquiring the legal fundamentals. They represent the overall context and, through more comprehensive representations, provide the information that has to be left out of other learning materials (mostly for reasons of size). In this way, textbooks often give a realistic picture of what is expected of you in terms of the scope of the material in exams or homework. Ultimately, the length of a textbook results to a large extent from its scientific nature - many of the author's statements are confirmed by a quotation or he gives tips for further reading at the beginning or end of a chapter. You can either skip these notes to save time or benefit from them by looking up sources that deal with a topic that is particularly interesting for you. A textbook is also helpful for housework (in contrast to the non-quotable scripts). Textbooks are also very up-to-date - they often reflect the latest state of the art in case law and literature or offer an overview of legal reforms. You will find the "new tenancy law" much faster in a textbook than in a script, for example.

The most serious disadvantage of textbooks is that beginners in particular are (can) overwhelmed by the scope of the textbook. It is not always easy to extract a structure from the hints and information given there that organizes your own knowledge. Before or during the exam preparation at the latest, however, you will have acquired enough structures to be grateful for the “thinking outside the box” or the explanatory hints that a textbook offers.

b) scripts

Scripts are short summaries of a field of law that do not pursue any scientific claim, but rather want to convey the most important aspects of a field of law to the student from a didactic perspective. The more extensive scripts should be excluded here because they differ only insignificantly from the textbook in terms of didactic objectives, scope and price (!).

Scripts are helpful when you want to memorize the basic structures of a field of law. You can therefore read them to get an initial access to the topic or to organize textbook knowledge and press it into a structure. Problem scripts in particular sharpen your awareness of exam problems and help you to set priorities. Because scripts are usually kept short, they can be read quickly. This time saving is particularly valuable if you have to acquire knowledge in a short time for an upcoming exam. Scripts are also useful if you are learning less important areas of law that you do not want or cannot deal with in detail due to lack of time.

Scripts are unsuitable for the principle of active learning because they are so short that it is difficult to summarize them in the form of index cards and computer notes. Another disadvantage is closely related to the above. Because the learning material has evaporated considerably, scripts are sometimes too superficial or do not contain all the problems relevant to the exam. This can be dangerous if, due to its brevity, one succumbs to the fallacy that more knowledge than that disclosed in the script is not required for the exam. In the worst case - namely when you only work with short scripts - the depth of your exam suffers. You have the option to reproduce the sparse explanations from the script instead of being able to fall back on more in-depth knowledge from the textbook. Remember: For both learning methods, arguments learned by heart are generally not honored in the exam.

Scripts are also usually unscientific - this can be an advantage because the author is not forced to present the 4th opinion of a dispute or the body text does not "drown in footnotes". But especially if you are very interested in a topic or you have not yet fully understood it, scripts usually leave you helpless. You will often look in vain for references to further literature.

c) lecture

Alongside the textbooks, the lecture is probably the most common method of acquiring the exam material. It is also the learning tool that is most likely to be associated with the keyword “university”. During the lecture, the lecturer stands in front of the students and teaches them the subject matter chapter by chapter.

The lecture has several advantages. First of all, it can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of your learning, because listening gives you further access to processing the material. In addition, the lecture will help you directly with the exam. Concentrate on what the professor says often, in great detail, and with particular enthusiasm or fervor. If all three factors come together, then you can be pretty sure that you have recognized them: The lecturer's hobbyhorses. You should focus your exam preparation on those “hot spots”. In this way you reduce the risk that your learning will miss the requirements.

There is also the “entertainment factor”: in the lectures you usually meet friends or fellow students and can chat with them. Since you want to stay human with all this learning, you shouldn't underestimate this point. Good lectures are also quite entertaining, interesting and sometimes even entertaining. Experiencing dry material as entertainment can significantly increase your motivation and give the learning content a lively note.

Lectures bind you in time. This has the advantage that your day gets a certain structure, you are forced to get up at early lectures or have to follow up on the material. Make sure, however, that you don't load up too many lectures, so that each one makes sense for you for some reason. All possible motives are acceptable, only one is not: “I go to the lecture to calm my conscience!” Because lectures can only serve that purpose to a limited extent. They should promote your learning, help you to maintain your social contacts during your studies or create a pleasant time for you. However, they are not intended to make you feel, "I heard the material and now it is good". That won't work in the long run. Those who take a rest from lectures, i.e. do not follow up on the material (as actively as possible), will gradually open up learning gaps that will be difficult to fill later before the exam.

You don't like a lecture at all, e.g. because you find it unstructured, the lecturer does not speak to you for some reason or you have the feeling that you are sitting in a comedy hall more than in a lecture or (worst of all) that feeling about you It is clear that you have just received an anesthetic injection because you are about to deep sleep, then you should go and ideally not come back. A textbook or script will then be more profitable for you!

Tip: You should write down the most important things during a lecture that conveys knowledge. This not only has the advantage that it seems more entertaining to you, but also increases the learning success, as you can remember more by writing in parallel. In addition to hearing, the brain receives another signal input, so that the lecture content is better established. Ideally, you can look at your transcripts again later, although in the experience of the authors this rarely happens. Make sure, however, that you are still able to follow the instructor. As soon as the understanding of the material presented on the stage suffers or is lost, the profit from the lecture is zero and you could have stayed at home better. The transcripts are primarily intended to help you work through the material and are not an end in themselves. In such lectures, where case competence is trained (especially large exercises, but also the revision course), it is worth taking partwrite only a little - here it comes down to the withthink at. Because you have to be able to follow the train of thought of the teacher who reveals the ideal solution. This is only possible if you concentrate fully on the statements of the lecturer.

2. Methods for in-depth study

a) Teaching essays

Essays are a very good addition to imparting knowledge in the lecture or rep. Especially in the well-known training magazines (JuS, JA, Jura, etc.) the essays are of a very high quality and can help you with complex problems based on reading understand. For this it is not necessary to subscribe to one of the journals, because you can access their contents free of charge in the library. Attention should be drawn to the danger that lurks in the teaching essays: Sometimes they go into too much detail. This can come in handy when you want to deepen a topic out of personal interest or for housework purposes. However, it can be overwhelming if you study for the written exam or the exam, where, as already mentioned in the earlier articles, the most important thing is basic knowledge.

b) Court judgments

Sometimes it can make sense to read court judgments during your studies, especially if they are current judgments that could possibly come up in the written test or the exam.

The problem with this, however, is that these judgments in the official collections unfortunately do not adhere to the structure of the exam that is essential for you. There, on the one hand, the judgment style (which you frowned upon in your studies) is used and, on the other hand, only problematic matters are addressed there - so you will not find a comprehensive expert solution there, as is expected of you in an exam. However, reading prepared judgments in the RÜ or Life & Law can be recommended. There the judgments are largely resolved in the way that is expected of you in a retreat. It should be noted, however, that knowing the relevant judgment does not release you from carrying out a full and comprehensive expert assessment of the facts. It only enables your exam solution to stand out from the mass of case studies and stand out positively. So you can get into the two-digit point range.

There are of course worthwhile decisions in which the missing expert solution takes a back seat: They can be worthwhile because of the scope that enables an overview (such as the Rastede decision of the BVerfG (E 79, 127), in which almost all of the municipal law is described).On the other hand, a content-related or dogmatic insight into a legal area can be offered. One example is the “Katzenkönig” case of the BGH (St 35, 347), which enables you to understand the difference between injustice and guilt and the dogmatics of indirect perpetration.

One advantage and one disadvantage should also be mentioned: By reading the judgment, you will improve your legal ability to express yourself. Many recognized definitions have been developed by the courts. In addition, numerous key words come from important court decisions (so-called “leading cases” or “leading judgments”). Examples include the definition of the contingent intent ("accepting acceptance") or the development of the 3-step theory through the pharmacy judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court (E 7, 377). The disadvantage of court decisions can be that in a written exam that takes up the content of the judgment, one feels so strongly reminded that the content of the decision is reproduced without reference to the case and, in the worst case, the differences between the exam facts and the real life facts that the Judgment was based, overlooked.

3. Methods of acquiring case solving techniques

a) Case books and case collections

Case collections can better align learning with the exam (but do not have to!). Even with case collections, you should learn actively. For cases this means that you should not only "consume" them, i.e. simply read the case solution, but that you try to solve the case as far as possible. Use as few tools as possible (see tip 10 in the last article). Many case books are structured exactly according to this model: the facts are on one page and the rest of the solution cannot be seen without turning the pages. Make sure that the case collections are of a level that corresponds to yours. Means: If you are an exam candidate, then leave the fingers of the beginner's exam courses and if you are at the beginning of your studies then watch out for cases with exam level.

b) Exams

Writing exams aims to achieve a similar learning effect as when dealing with cases in a case book. There you can check under realistic conditions whether you can actually apply and implement the knowledge you have learned in the exam. It does not matter what kind of exam it is (basic study exam, advanced exercise or exam course). What speaks against the exams is the time factor: Nothing else can be learned during an exam, which also lasts 5 hours in the exam course and the exam. Even if the exam results in a bad result or at least one that is below your own expectations, there is a disadvantage: Writing exams can be unsettling. But remember: The exams before the exam are intended to train and do not count towards the final grade. So you are quite free and a bad result is and remains without consequences. And maybe you do well every now and then? The motivation from a good result will be at least as high as the “setback effect” of a bad exam.

III. How to combine the individual learning materials profitably

As already indicated above, these learning aids do not bring you very much on their own - only the combination of the different learning aids will bring you success in your studies.

If you have attended a lecture (or later the revision course), you have to follow up on it yourself. This can be done by reading it from a script or a textbook. If the information from the textbook or the script is not sufficient for a comprehensive understanding, you can fall back on teaching essays. They represent a topic in greater depth. You should work through key judgments, to which the lecturer or textbook author specifically points out, using the original court judgments. Here, however, the processing of the judgments in the training magazines often helps for a deeper understanding.

In addition to the theoretical acquisition of knowledge, you have to train to bring this knowledge to an exam. You can achieve this with the help of a case book or, at best, by writing practice exams. The exams have the advantage that they enable direct performance control through grading. With case collections, on the other hand, you have to see for yourself whether the case has been solved according to the requirements. This cannot be done without a certain amount of uncertainty.

Now consider the following three rules of thumb for the learning materials:

1) The relationship between knowledge acquisition, deepening knowledge and case-solving should tend to decrease at the beginning of the course and increase towards the end. This means that you should initially focus on the acquisition of material knowledge and, towards the exam, on the case solution. Because at the beginning you build your knowledge base, so to speak, which you then have to apply in the final exam.

2) You have to definitely either read a textbook carefully or make good use of the lecture, but preferably both. According to the experience of the authors, the textbook has a somewhat more important meaning: in extreme cases, you can get through the course without a lecture, but not without a textbook!

3) Only deepen your knowledge where it is really necessary. A deepening is necessary either where you actually have difficulties understanding or in the places that are objectively particularly difficult or important. This applies equally to teaching articles and court judgments. So do not get lost in the depths and confusion of legal literature, but always keep the specific case or exam reference. Exception: You are very interested in the deepened area. Of course, that's always okay - after all, studying should be fun!

Preparation for the legal traineeship It is easy to say after your studies what you would have done differently "ex post". It would be nice if you already had this perspective for your legal clerkship, because then you would be much more successful! We give you this perspective with the help of a top lawyer.

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