By Kevin Sherrill
There was a very interesting article published recently in the New York Times titled "Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing." The main idea of the article is that students learn better when they take exams, fail them, review their mistakes and the underlying material, and then get tested on that material again later on in a different manner. Students learn the material much better in this format than the tradition lecture-study-exam format.
This makes sense to myself and my colleagues. We know from experience that students learn better when they practice - meaning they practice the thing they are going to be asked to do. A common example is driving a car. You can spend hours reading about how to drive a car in a book or manual, and this may make you somewhat better at it when you do actually attempt to drive. But you will not know how to actually drive until you try it. So you are much better off reading a little about how to drive, trying it, making a few mistakes, reading about how to fix those mistakes, and then trying again. You have gained experience actually driving along the way, and learned from that experience.
The same thing applies to law school. You can read and study all you want about negligence, let’s say. And that will help you on the final exam, for sure. But you have not practiced how to do the actual task you are going to be asked to do on the exam - write an essay about it. Until you do that, you are unprepared.
The most common complaint we get about his approach is that students don't like to write the essays until they have the law down, even memorized. They don't like to be uncomfortable, and they don't like to fail. Understandable, but as the study points out, you are cheating yourself if you follow this approach.
To overcome this, you have to have a little grit. You have to understand, as Angela Duckworth puts it so well, that failure is not a permanent condition. You have to understand that the first time you do anything, you are not going to be good at it. You also have to understand that as with almost anything in the world, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
So get comfortable with failure. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And understand that you WILL get better if you do so, and in turn you WILL perform better on your exams.