Review: How to Win a CALI Award

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

Stephen E. Schilling and Rebecca M. Greendyke, How to Win a CALI Award: Some Personal Advice from Two Law Students Who Have Done It, 36 University of Dayton Law Review 167 (2011) [Read fulltext at Dayton website (308 KB PDF)]

The student authors of this article won 16 CALI awards for top performance in law school courses. between them. Their advice on how to excel in law school provides detailed practical guidance for students. For law professors, this article reveals interesting perspectives about law school teaching and learning.

Much of the advice from these two wildly successful students will warm the hearts of their teachers.

  • Work hard. There is no substitute for hard work.
  • Be your own professor. Students have primary responsibility for teaching the course to themselves – the professor can provide back-up for the portions of the course students cannot learn on their own.
  • Tutor other students. Students who tutor others not only help their peers but learn the course at a deep level as well.
  • Talk to your professors outside of class. To maximize the value of meeting with professors, students should prepare by rereading course material and creating a set of questions.
  • Prepare for exams. Students should review the course to understand each important concept, outline the course to synthesize the material, and take many practice exams.

Other advice should make us think more deeply about how we teach and how our students learn.

  • Determine and employ your preferred method of learning. For example, students who learn best by reading and writing should transcribe everything the professor says in class.
  • Master memorization. In some courses, the students who succeed are those who can memorize the most material.
  • Use supplements. Choose at least one outside source to supplement the material for each course, but do not use these sources as substitutes for course material.
  • Write out exam answers in advance. For both open-book and closed-book exams, write out rule statements for the aspects of the course most likely to appear in essay portions of the exam.

It is hard to argue with success – 16 CALI awards. These students found ways to perform at the highest level in law school. Yet many law teachers will find at least some of the advice troubling. That is why this article is provocative. It should prod us to think about what we do. Do we want students to memorize large volumes of doctrine? Is that what our exams require? What role do we think supplements should play in student learning? Is transcription of class appropriate for some students? This article could be the spark for a productive conversation with colleagues.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning