CRAMMING FOR LAW-SCHOOL EXAMS: TWO VIEWS . . . Here's what William James had to say about cramming in The Principles of Psychology (1890)--
. . . The reason why cramming is such a bad mode of study is now made clear. I mean by cramming that way of preparing for examinations by committing 'points' to memory during a few hours or days of intense application immediately preceding the final ordeal, little or no work having been performed during the previous course of the term. Things learned thus in a few hours, on one occasion, for one purpose, cannot possibly have formed many associations with other things in the mind. Their brain-processes are led into by few paths, and are relatively little liable to be awakened again. Speedy oblivion is the almost inevitable fate of all that is committed to memory in this simple way. Whereas, on the contrary, the same materials taken in gradually, day after day, recurring in different contexts, considered in various relations, associated with other external incidents, and repeatedly reflected on, grow into such a system, form such connections with the rest of the mind's fabric, lie open to so many paths of approach, that they remain permanent associations . . .
This is one view of cramming. A second is that cramming is law school; law school is not meant to teach the law, but how to cram. Here is how Mark Herrmann put the idea in The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law--
Take law school exams. You always thought they were ridiculous; you probably still do. Cram irrelevant crap into your head for two days; spill it all out in an hour or three; forget about it, and move on to the next set of irrelevant crap. Sit back and wait while someone passes judgment on your abbreviated presentation. Surely this has nothing to do with the practice of law.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. That process is the very essence of practicing law. What do I do when I argue a motion? Cram irrelevant crap into my head for two days; spill it all out in five minutes or thirty; forget about it, and move on to the next set of irrelevant crap. Have someone tell me if I win or lose.
What do I do when I take a deposition? Cram irrelevant crap into my head; spill it out in the course of a day; forget about it, and move on.
What do I do when I argue an appeal? Try a case? Participate in a beauty contest to attract new business? You got it. If you don't enjoy cramming, spewing, and moving on, you picked the wrong profession.
It's hard to argue with this second view, especially for me, just a few days after last Friday night's expert deposition in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was filled to the brim beforehand with information about interstitial lung disease, sleep disordered breathing, left-sided heart damage, and pulmonary arterial hypertension. It's all but forgotten now, just a few days later, at least for the time being.
On the other hand, this still remains. Perhaps it's the exception that proves the rule . . .