November 5, 2005
If it Complexifies, is it Orhogonal?
Southwestern University School of Law Professor Paul Horwitz is fed up with legal jargon.
Well, let's be more particular. He asks, "If you were putting together a glossary of favorite legal academic jargon, what would you include on that list?" ...limiting his perverse inquiry to "acadamese."
I bet you can come up with a few gems to add to his list. (djt)
November 4, 2005
Exams are (a) Scary, (b)....
Multiple Choice exams are definitely more in vogue these days than when I was in law school. We had one exam in my three years of school that had some multiple choice questions and it was considered quite controversial at the time. Yet, today, many faculty members use the multiple choice testing format in first-year classes as early preparation for bar testing since those subjects will be covered in the multi-state part of the bar.
Many first year students haven’t been tested in this format since the LSAT— and were not tested this way for quite some time before it. When a student performs poorly on an exam, I always ask if there were multiple choice questions on the test. Then I ask the student to find out if her score on the multiple choice questions was a key factor in making her grade so low. Often it is, but then what?
The only true method I’ve found for being comfortable with multiple choice questions is the same advice I give to folks who are looking to go to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice!!! Then:
- I will tell students about roots and foils and distracters.
- I will divulge the statistical evidence that B or C is often the best guess when all else fails.
- I will warn them about always and never, etc.
- I will help a student understand why we test this way, although good advocacy could never be so certain.
We actually give an entire academic support lecture on the multiple choice exams. It is well attended. Our advice is simple: study the same way you would for an essay exam and do a lot of practice questions before the exam. Make sure you include your professor’s “what ifs” in your outline: after all how many ways can the issue arise? Practice using questions written by the same professor would be most helpful, but these are rarely found because the questions are so hard to write.
Yet, many students find this method of testing daunting. Is there really any consistency between our teaching them to “think like lawyers” and the ability to come up with the one best answer to a question? Haven’t we all taken the name of adult protective garments in vain by professing the most accurate answer often is “it depends”? Advocacy really depends on testing the limits of the law, not confining it to one sentence.
In the end, we may be uncovering students who will not perform well on the multi-state and giving them a “heads up” that they have two more years to practice these skills; or we may be undermining our academic ideals to teach to a test. No judge will ever ask an attorney to answer a question in this format, but no judge will be sitting on the bench without having done so herself. (ezs)
November 3, 2005
Still Another Great Resource for Help with Preparing for and Taking Exams
I would be remiss if I did not recommend my co-editor's outstanding resources for learning how to prepare for and take law school exams. Dennis Tonsing's "Final Examination Study Strategy" and "Studying for Multiple Choice Exams" provide detailed, practical advice and links to other excellent resources, including collections of practice exams.
Take another look at the series of sites we have suggested over the past week and consider alerting your students to some of them. If you are like me, you are offering academic support from several directions because no one approach is likely to reach all students. Alerting them to good online resources is an easy way to pass on information in a form that many students will find especially helpful.
You might want to give them one recommendation every couple of days, as we've done here, so that they are not overwhelmed with material in a single communication; but think about alerting them to several of the sites we've suggested and others you think would be helpful. Providing them with a number of sites over a few days gives them an additional level of choice among different approaches to preparation and exam taking. (DBW)
November 2, 2005
Predicting Success or Failure
Some students just aren't going to make it. Either they are not going to make it through law school; or if they do, they will not be able to pass a bar in any state. Sometimes the admissions office has made an error; sometimes the student has. But who am I to say?
In today's economy, many college graduates are opting for more school rather than a full-out job search. Law school applications are going up, and while that trend may give each school a better crop of applicants overall, sometimes students are just here because they didn't know what else to do.
Not knowing what else to do isn't a good reason to be in law school. Often students forget their altruistic reasons for wanting to be lawyers (right about this time of year according to the studies), but students who never had one find all the work crushing and not a means to any end.
As ASP professionals, we often encounter these students. They did well as undergraduates; and, pushed by parental or other pressure, they applied and came to law school. But law school is not nearly as much fun as college; in fact, it requires some work every day, not just before exams.
I think students who find themselves in law school for no apparent reason are more likely to be in academic distress. Not only that, but once they are in academic distress, they are more likely to stay in distress or be dismissed.
Sometimes just doing poorly on exams is impetus for students to want to improve their grades because, after all, they did do well academically before law school and they think of themselves as academic achievers. But this reaction doesn't always work. If it doesn't, can we help these students manufacture a law-related goal that will be the light at the end of their tunnel? Or can we admit to them (and ourselves) that they don't belong in law school and save them the time and money a few more years of school will entail?
Are we really doing students a favor when we tell them to pack up their toys and go home? I thought so until I worked with one particular student. This student came to me and said she was going to give up law school. She already had a bunch of advanced graduate degrees, a full time job and a young child at home. She was going to school at night. She was extremely intelligent and told me that law school was more of a hobby, an extra degree for her resume. She had no intention of changing her job or life after law school. I agreed with her decision; but in the end, she spoke with another faculty member who talked her out of leaving. She will be graduating in December. She still stops by, and I am still embarrassed that I thought she should leave.
On the other hand, I worked with another student who was told by other faculty members that he did not belong in law school. I told him to use those professors' comments in his graduation speech, and he did.
So here's the bottom line: I am averaging about .500, which is great for baseball but not for predicting another person's future. And sadly, I am sometimes grateful for the academic standing rules that dismiss students automatically when their GPAs and/or accumulation of unsatisfactory grades reach a certain, numeric level. I wish I had some quantifiable, or at least reliable, way to figure out who wears the cap and gown and who doesn't. I can make an educated guess or I can flip the ASP coin--the odds seem to be the same. (ezs)
November 1, 2005
More Exam Preparation Resources
Want to help your students prepare for those "scary days ahead"? Check out Professor Barbara Glesner Fines's "Law School Materials for Success," chapters five and six, for some excellent advice on preparing for and taking law school exams. Note especially her tips for post-exam review as a way of assessing and adjusting preparation strategies. (DBW)
October 31, 2005
Scary Days Ahead!
It seems fitting on Halloween to discuss every student's greatest fear: EXAMS!!!!!!!! They're coming and they're coming soon. Here at Suffolk, classes will end almost immediately after Thanksgiving. The cruel irony of this scheduling is that Thanksgiving becomes more like a prisoner's last supper than a fun family-filled holiday (I'll refrain from comments on how rarely fun and family-filled go together...). But I digress.
This is the time of year when I start telling students to create an "exam plan." TM What is an exam plan TM? Well, essentially it is an exercise in calendar reading and planning. I tell students, "check the exam schedule, find out when your exams are and plan to study accordingly." I also tell them to put it in writing because they are more likely to follow it that way (a trick I learned from Weight Watchers, but sadly the only one...). Students do not really know where their time is going until they have spent a week chronicling how it has been spent. But it is also an exercise that requires some time to think about how each student can study effectively and efficiently.
I assure students that they know themselves better than I do. They also have studied in the past (one hopes...). Therefore, they should know their limitations, that is: how long can they spend studying one subject before they feel like their head is going to explode or that they wish the windows in the library would open. I ask students to think about how they learn: are they visual learners? Oral/verbal learners? They should then tailor their outlines and other study aids to accommodate their learning style.
I also think that the fear of the unknown can be held at bay when you have a strategy. 1-Ls are frightened by the prospect of law school exams mainly because they don't know what their professors are expecting from them. I often advise students to look at old exams, try to answer the questions and then make an appointment to see their professors with the answers they have come up with, but very few students do this. Perhaps they are intimidated, but I've always thought that more information is better than less and I try to really coerce students into getting some feedback before exams rather than just hoping and praying that they do "get it." The time that grades are posted is the wrong time to find out that you didn't understand the material.
And some control over the situation is better than none. If all students sought the information available to them (and it is out there at varying levels), they would find exams not exactly a treat, but certainly not a trick.
By the way, "exam plan" is not a trademarked phrase, but is masquerading as intellectual property for Halloween. Nifty costume, eh? (ezs)