Interleaving: why your bar exam study schedule has you doing several subjects & tasks a day

It’s a given that skill development requires practice and it seems logical that the best way to do this is to practice one skill at a time (“blocking”). Blocking is when you repeatedly practice a skill/concept until you are proficient, and then move on to the next skill/concept. So why does a typical commercial bar prep daily schedule look like this?

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– Read Corporations outline
-Watch Corporations lecture
-Write Corporations practice essay
-Practice Evidence MBE questions
-Write Contracts practice essay

At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive: you need to focus on one subject at a time in order to master it. You can’t learn when you mix them up. However, this “mixing-up” is better for overall learning. It incorporates the concept of “interleaving,” which is when you mix practice of several distinct yet related skills. For example, if you want to learn skills X, Y, and Z:

Blocked practice would look like this: XXXYYYZZZ.
Interleaved practice would look like this: XZYXYZYXZ

Again, interleaving seems counter-intuitive: how can you learn Z if you haven’t yet learned X? Although it is true that learners using interleaving will initially perform worse than learners using blocking in practice sessions, interleavers will outperform blockers in the long-run (i.e., on the bar exam).

Studies consistently show that when we mix up the study material, our ability to sort and connect information is enhanced and the result is a better and more complete understanding of the concepts. Interleaving does make learning more difficult but this is a good thing because we learn more effectively when challenged. Your mind is less likely to wander because you brain continually has to focus and re-focus on different material.

Tips For Integrating Interleaving Into Bar Prep

  • First, study the material. This is why bar exam subject lectures are sequential. You have to know what you are supposed to learn before you can acquire the skill.
  • Mix up material. Incorporate spaced repetition and focus on one concept/task at a time but then cycle back to previously learned material. Warning: don’t confuse this with multi-tasking. What you think of as multi-tasking is actually task-switching which is not effective for learning. It wastes productivity because you have to expend brain energy to switch gears and you never allow your brain to really focus on one thing. What is more effective is to focus on one concept/task at a time
  • Make deliberate connections. As you practice different concepts, identify connections between them so you see the relationship of the parts to the whole.
  • Interleaving is more effective in the long-run so don’t get discouraged if things don’t automatically “click.” Easy doesn’t equal effective. Know that you are making progress and keep pushing through.

Even though the commercial bar prep study schedule seems a little wacky, there is a method to the madness. Give it a chance and continue to mix it up because it will pay off on the bar exam.

-KSK

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