I remember my reaction the first time I laid eyes on the licensing materials from the Law Society: the nausea, the panic, the utter terror that I had to memorize seemingly endless pages of information. “But not really,” I was told by my peers who had already taken the bar exams. “You just have to rely on indices.”
I had no idea what indices were, and maybe you don’t know what indices are either. I’ll explain the basic concept and then share some general indexing tips.
What is Indexing?
The licensing exams in Ontario are “open book,” which means you are allowed to bring in your materials as well as study aids such as indices.
“Indices” is the plural form of “index” and an “index” is exactly what it sounds like—an alphabetical list of key terms in the Barrister, Solicitor, or Paralegal materials, with corresponding page numbers.
Since the materials are dense, the table of contents needs to be thorough in order to be useful. Some students opt to create an annotated table of contents instead of creating indices. As with any reference material, the goal is to create an index that will help you locate answers in your materials as quickly and easily as possible.
Indexing is not the most glamorous work that you will do as a student, but it is incredibly useful as a study aid for the licensing exams.
But that still seems like a scary amount of work!
Creating indices for hundreds of pages of complicated materials could indeed require exceptional drudgery, but scores of students before you have devised strategies to deal with this:
The most common—and advisable—strategy is to assemble a group of friends and classmates and divide up the indexing. For some students, this is easy – you can team up with classmates in your year at school. If you are an NCA student, this can be more of a challenge because you don’t have the same connections. In this circumstance, you may wish to look online for other NCA students who are searching for an indexing group. You can often find these students through groups on LawStudents.ca, Facebook (such as this group or this group), and LinkedIn (such as this group).
There is no magic number of people—the fewer people in the group, the more work an individual has to do; the more people in the group, the more likely it is to become unwieldy and fragmented. Personally, I was in a group of twelve and it worked beautifully.
For the bar exams, the licensing materials are divided into different sections. For example, the Barrister materials include sections on Criminal Procedure and Public Law, and the Solicitor materials include sections on Business and Real Estate.
Not all sections are created equal, some being larger, others more complicated. This means that dividing the work according to section may cause unequal distribution among the group members. If you divide the sections based on amount of work, for instance by number of pages, then people working on the same section may need to coordinate with one another to ensure cohesiveness.
Again, there is no single perfect way to divide the work. Decide as a group what works best, keeping in mind that every system will have its pros and cons.
Okay, a group sounds great, but how do I even know where to start with creating an index?
You must rely on the wisdom of your elders! You don’t have to start from scratch. Ask students in the years above you for a copy of their indices to use as a precedent and to get an idea of what the indices should look like. If you don’t have connections with any older students, you can usually find a set online through LawStudents.ca or Kijiji. Just be sure to approach purchased indices with a critical eye to ensure that they are good quality, and always ask to see a sample beforehand.
It is important to keep in mind that the organization of content and page numbers in the bar materials change every year, so you cannot rely on using an older index unless it has been (or will be) updated. If you are writing in June, it can be difficult to find a set of updated indices – you will likely have to purchase the previous year’s indices and update all of the page numbers with a group. But at least you won’t have to start from nothing, and you’ll be able to see what an efficient index looks like. If you are writing in November or March, chances are you can buy a complete, updated set of indices, but there are some risks associated with this, and certain steps you should follow if you choose to use someone else’s indices (outlined below).
Indices will differ depending on whom you get them from, so, apart from updating the page numbers and content, you may wish to make additions and deletions. You may even want to ask more than one group for their indices so that you can compare and contrast them to see what style works best for you.
Remember: the point of all this is to create a system that makes the most sense to you. A good index should facilitate locating information in the most time-efficient manner, without having to flip frantically through a giant binder of materials.
Can the indices help me before exam day?
It goes without saying that you must read through the materials at least once (in fact, the LSUC recommends reading them three times), and this does take a lot of time. However, even after reading through all the materials, you won’t have memorized every fact. Familiarizing yourself with the index while reading through the materials once or twice is therefore a good idea. Because you have only about 90 seconds per question, it is important to know where everything is in the materials and have at least a rough understanding of general concepts.
Practice makes perfect
A critical step in the indexing and preparation process is testing your familiarity and efficiency with your indices. This is of particular importance if you are working with purchased indices, because the last thing you want is to discover during the licensing exam that nothing in your index is organized the way you expect it to be, and you can’t find any of the information that you need. Practice exams are indispensable for this purpose. They give you an opportunity to challenge yourself under time pressure so that you can see for yourself in a mock-test environment whether you are able to navigate your indices and find information within the 90 seconds per question that is allowed on the actual exam. That way, if you find that the indices (or a certain section of the indices) are not working for you, you have time to modify them or replace them before the exam. Or at the very least, you can adapt to the organization of your indices so that you aren’t caught by surprise on the actual exam.
Whichever strategy you choose to pursue for your indices, be sure to start a few weeks in advance of the exams, and remember to practice with them!