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black letter law

How To Memorize Black Letter Law

To say that the bar exam requires a lot of memorizing is an understatement. Memorizing rules for the bar exam is different than studying for law school finals. While you had one week to study for two to four finals in law school, you now have three months to study for the bar. So you might be wondering, how am I going to memorize 17+ subjects (depending on your jurisdiction) in 3 months? In this post, we give practical steps to memorize black letter law.

How To Memorize Black Letter Law

1. Understand the law. 

Learn and understand legal principles before jumping directly into memorization. Know what the rules state and how to apply them to the facts. In order to understand the law and how it applies, it is very important to practice past questions. During this phase, it is okay to practice with your notes open and without timing yourself so that you can focus on the substantive material.

2. Actively memorize the law.

Once you fully understand the law, you may move on to the next phase: memorization. We don’t suggest simply reading dense outlines filled with black letter law over and over, as it won’t prove very helpful when you’re trying to recall the law and apply it in factual scenarios presented in questions.

Instead, one very effective way to memorize material is to do what is called “active learning.” Remember that your level of attention must be at its peak when you are in the memorizing phase. To employ active learning, read a rule only once or twice and then look away and try to recall it multiple times. If you can’t recall it, don’t look back to your notes right away. Instead, try it again. Read and recall aloud. If doing things aloud doesn’t work for you, you can use the same method by writing the rule down and recalling it in your mind.

Studies have shown that this process helps us to retain the information in our long term memory. So read the black letter law once, cover your notes, and try to write it out.

Last, make it personal and make a connection. Try to relate the law to you personally. This step does not have to do anything with the law. Maybe a word in the rule reminds you of something in your personal life. Try to make a connection- any connection, to help you remember the information. Forming a connection with a rule is also possible through mnemonics devices. An example of a mnemonic device you can use is BARRK for felony murder. Felony murder is when death occurs during the course of BARRK (burglary, arson, rape, robbery, kidnapping).  The bar examiners are sticklers for elements, you do not want to miss any one of them. Mnemonic devices will help ensure you list each element.

3. Review the law.

Reviewing the law and doing practice questions is essential after memorizing the black letter law. This will help solidify your understanding of the rules and their application. Unlike in the first step, where you might practice questions to help learn how the law is applied, you should now test yourself without looking at your notes or doing the question open-book.

If you’re taking the California Bar Exam, be sure to utilize past essays and review student answers that the State Bar provides. You can find free California bar exam essays to help you in this endeavor.

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