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what are good study habits to take up for political science classes?

I plan on majoring in political science and I've noticed that study habits such as using flash cards for memorizing key ideas or court cases is not as helpful as I thought. I plan on being an immigration lawyer, and I hope to find better strategies to help me prepare for exams. #political-science

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Allison’s Answer

Great question! As a newly graduated law student who just took the bar, memorization is the name of the game. The trick is finding “fun” ways to repeatedly see that information. So, I encourage you to be creative and really try to have fun. For example, when I was learning criminal law, I “created” my own coffee shop to memorize all the different rules. I drew a coffee cup and labeled all the different ingredients as an element to the rule. For example, Murder in the first degree was a vanilla latte (vanilla syrup = willful intent), murder in the second degree was a hazelnut latte (different kind of intent requires a different kind of syrup!). This process allowed me to engage with the material in a way that did not feel like learning. When I was studying political science, I found that looking for real life examples of the theories and doctrines you are learning is helpful. These techniques worked for me because I am a visual learner and have some anxiety. They required me to “dive in” to all the cases and wrestle with the material until I could process it in a way that makes the most sense to me. You may have a different learning style, so do not be afraid to try new things. Maybe one day you draw and the next day you read outloud to yourself. My last most important piece of advice is: do not give up. Some days you will feel like you learned a lot, other days you might feel like nothing you are doing is working. Keeeeeeep working and don’t get discouraged. It’s all about trial and error until you find what works for you and know that what helped you learn one subject may not be helpful for another, and that is how it is! So be patient with yourself and curious about the material you are learning and about how you learn :) best of luck!

Allison recommends the following next steps:

Breathe and get ready to learn
Have fun with the way you organize and digest the information
Don’t give up!

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Jon’s Answer

Allison Lee (above) is right about memorization being a key skill for anyone wanting to get into law. There is no getting around it. Anything that you can do to improve your concentration when you are memorizing course material will help.

If you are having trouble with memorization that may be because you are not connecting with the material. In short: work on making your studies more relevant and interesting to yourself. It is hard to remember things when you don't know why they should matter to you. Fortunately, politics is something that we all have opinions about -- even if we don't always know it. Pay attention to current politics and actively look for connections to what you are learning.

If you see yourself pursuing a public policy issue like immigration then you already share one of the key qualities of people who do well in political science and law: you have an issue. If you use some time of your day to find out how your studies connect with your issue you will find that your memory for the material improves. The process of a bill becoming a law is a lot more interesting when it is your law. Not to mention the long, complex histories of due process litigation, naturalization, and so on . Historical and legal facts are valuable tools that you will not forget when you have a reason to remember them. You have chosen to pursue an issue that reaches out in many directions of law and politics. Follow that. Use that. Have you tried looking at and following immigration policy websites, like https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org? Those kinds of sites go deeper than the news and help to point out the connections between what's happening in the news and processes of policy and legal change(bear in mind that many/most are advocacy organizations with a particular slant).

Are there opportunities at your school to pursue independent studies, experiential learning, or internships in your area of interest? I found that looking forward to things I could do in my junior and senior years helped me to get through the doldrums of prerequisite courses. I looked forward to taking seminars with professors I respected. One of my classmates set interning at the state house as her goal. Everybody has their own motivation.

Jon recommends the following next steps:

Find a few policy sites to follow
Remind yourself after reading a post to think about how it might relate to what you are learning.
Reach out to the people and organizations that you learn about when doing the two aforementioned activities. Ask them questions. Ask them how to get involved. This activity is always valuable. Even if your time is limited, reaching out will always pay off in ways you cannot foresee.

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Lily’s Answer

Adding to Allison and Jon's excellent advice, check out learning styles. Most of my students have been tactile or visual learners. I'm auditory, but use the other approaches too. Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

* Do you learn best by listening or solve problems by talking them out? Try auditory learning -- read and answer flash cards out loud to quiz yourself.

* Do you learn by doing or like making things with your hands? Try tactile learning -- write out answers to flash cards or walk while studying.

* Do you learn best using pictures or like making art? Try visual learning -- add diagrams or color coding to your notes. Mind maps and other graphical organizers are great for related ideas.

Tips for flash cards in general: Write a question on one side and the answer on the other so each looks like an exam question. Review new cards frequently. Familiar ones, less often. You'll remember more!

Good luck!

Lily recommends the following next steps:

Think about your preferred learning style.
Experiment with the different approaches. Invent your own.
Use your flash cards effectively and save time.

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Jamie’s Answer

Great advice already. I'm going to add one other thought - effective note taking in class. Effective note taking is not necessarily writing down everything that your teacher/professor says. It's actively listening to the material, capturing the main ideas, and noting where you have questions/thoughts/follow ups. Depending on the level of specificity your instructor expects, your notes will be more or less detailed.

The questions/thoughts/follow ups is where you will begin to exercise your mental muscles. That's where you will identify where ideas fit together, what questions you may have in class, or what you want to discuss with your instructor after class. In law school, your notes will also reflect the reading material as you tie in the work that you did to prepare for class to the lecture.

Best of luck!