A Little Advice, Perhaps
A 1L at UVA just emailed me asking for study advice, or rather "how would you recommend studying for the best test results first year?"
Here's my rambling answer. I'll tell you how I did it, but I'll also say that my way was pretty unique, even amongst people who had great success. But it worked for me, so take from it what you will.
I read way, way ahead. By which I mean I am usually finished with the semester's reading by week 4 or 5. I find that this makes it much easier to understand how all the concepts fit together, what direction the course is going, and what the important themes are. In addition, this makes it so that when I go to class, everything I hear serves as review, rather than it being the first time I've heard it, or simply a reiteration of what I read the night before.
The only difficulty is when I'm going to be called on. If I know ahead of time, no problem. I simply review the relevant material before class. If not, I sometimes have to wing it a little. I have a good memory though, which is the only reason the system works in the first place.
My first semester I used the 5-color highlighting system and wrote mini-briefs of each case. I think this is trite and cliched, but it is an ideal way of getting your brain to identify and categorize the elements of court opinions. Soon enough it will be automatic, and you can drop the silly methods.
As for test-taking itself, I think the thing that really sets apart an A exam from an A- or B+ is not simply a grasp of the material. Half the class (at least) will understand the materials, but that only gets you a B+. What you need to do is be so comfortable with the materials that you can afford to be creative, inventive even. That's where my method helps. Because by the time exams come around, you will have already read the material, sat through classes (which will be effectively review sessions) and done your own reviews.
Two other keys:
1) Outline as you go. Don't try and take all of your notes, at the end of the semester, and condense it into an outline. That's how most people do it, but at that stage of the game trying to create the outline makes the outline itself effectively worthless. You want to be READING your outline in the week before exams, not making it.
2) Listen to your professor. That's right, turn off wireless internet if you have to. I didn't even bring a computer to class last semester, and I got my best grades so far. If you really want to get the A, you need to understand what your professor is looking for in his or her exam questions. As such, you need to understand what was important to them in the materials you covered. What angles did they look at, what unknowns did they ponder? Then, when you sit down for the exam, you will see just what they are looking for with the question. Instead of struggling to remember case names or broad principles, you wield your analytic knife and carve out precisely the pivotal elements they want. Because you know your professor.
Well, that's more than I thought I'd have to say, I hope it is useful.