The Right Answers with the Right Conclusions: Learn the Socratic Method
College-Writers.com helps many students, and we’ve noticed that some questions are quite common among our customers. For example, many students ask us what law school they should choose, or how to pay for education. There are also questions about the way professors teach. For example, quite often, professors ask tough questions, and when some student comes up with an answer, the unimpressed professor asks the next question. After a few students fail to say what the professor wants to hear, the entire class feels confused.
This is what the Socratic method looks like, and we are going to tell why you need it and how to master this approach so that you can succeed in law school.
Ancient Methods That Don’t Get Old
The Socratic method appeared in Greece. It’s still used in law school to get answers that lead to a meaningful conclusion or insight. When the professor challenges his or her students, this is an example of Socratic dialogue. This approach is intended to reveal the students’ understanding of the law, challenging their assumptions. The modern use of this method is similar to the ancient approach that explores any difficult concepts through questions.
The Socratic method was first used by Christopher Columbus Langdell in 1870-95. Langdell attended Harvard Law School, where he realized that real and hypothetical cases helped students study better, improving reasoning skills, and understanding how to apply the law in practice. The case method and the Socratic method perfectly work together because cases themselves don’t provide many crucial answers about the way the law works, while Socratic discussion allows us to understand the meaning of a case in relation to other cases.
What to Expect
Professors call on students differently. Some of them do it randomly, while others choose students in the order they seat so that a professor can keep track of students who have already answered. There are many professors who randomly call on students without warning, encouraging students to prepare better. Quite often, professors also inform some students in advance, warning them about bad grades in case they don’t prepare a certain topic on a particular day. In upper-level classes, students may also answer as volunteers.
A professor may talk to students for different amounts of time. Some professors also use the “hot seat” approach, randomly asking just a few students or even two students per class. Others prefer to ask questions quickly and move on.
Obviously, all the professors have different opinions on whether unprepared students can “pass” or not. Thus, the best solution is to prepare and to be ready every day. If you’re unprepared without any considerable reason (e.g. emergency, illness), we suggest that you inform your professor about it in advance.
How to Prepare
First, you should pay your attention to what kinds of questions your professor asks. Once you’ve understood what type of questions the professor asks, you can prepare for the following questions. Here’s what typical introductory questions look like:
- What is the issue?
- Briefly state the main facts.
- Define holding.
- Define the court’s rationale.
- Is this case different from previous cases? Does it change the rule?
- List policy implications of the case.
- Would the outcome be different if some facts changed? Why?
Obviously, all these questions will be followed by many other questions aimed to determine the validity of your answer and to determine the boundaries of the rule. Your professor may also provide new facts to see how you will apply the rule. Some professors go even further, tweaking the facts all the time to encourage analysis. For example, if the court defines a “reasonable time” as 10 days, what period of time would be too long? 15 days? A Month? Why?
As you can see from the list above, the best way of preparation is case briefing. You may stick with book briefing or write it out. There are many methods of note taking and you can choose the one that feels best to you. The main thing is to understand the case clearly and to be able to refer to the notes accurately and quickly, supporting your answers.
How to Take Notes
Some students try to transcribe the whole class, noting all the answers and questions. Don’t do this. Instead, listen and note the most important information. Professors usually want a discussion to reach a certain clear conclusion. Pay your attention to the professor’s reaction to different answers and you will understand what opinions are right. Read your notes after class and determine the most important points (e.g. policy argument, rules, a difference from the preceding law, etc.). The Socratic method won’t be a challenge for you if you just prepare properly!