Sunday, April 23, 2006

Practice, Practice, Practice

According to Answernet.com, "[T]he identity of Franklin P. Jones is not clear." Whether Mr. Jones was an American businessman who lived from 1887-1929, a "humorist" of the same era, or an Oklahoma furniture store owner remains a mystery.  I think he worked in a law school.  As a matter of fact, I think he may have directed an academic support program.  Check this out . . .

A few quotes (all net accessible) ...   

  • Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
  • Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
  • It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.
  • The easiest way to solve a problem is to pick an easy one.

This last quotation is the most subtle when it comes to advising students.  To paraphrase Professors Paul and Fischl (Getting to Maybe), the world of exams is a world where simply "knowing the material" is not enough.  Why do students walk in to our offices after they receive poor grades, and say, "I don’t understand it . . . I knew the material!"?

Suffice it to say that when I taught Street Law to high school students, Legal and Ethical Environments of Business to college students, and the UCC to MBA students, nearly all of the students "knew the material." I doubt that one in ten would do well in law school, however.

You know why—law students need to know how to use the material to resolve complicated hypothetical problems.  That represents another level (at least another zone) of thinking and doing.

So, how do students who did not meet their expectations during the first semester attempt to solve this problem during the second (or fourth) semester?  Far too many attempt to solve the problem by "picking an easy one." That is, they confuse the "problem" with the solution, or the anticipated result.

How many times have you heard this as a response to your inquiry, "What do you intend to do to improve your performance?":  "I intend to study harder."  You see, the problem is not the "hardness" with which one studies, rather it’s identifying the problem accurately, then addressing it logically.

The problem is generally this: the student is not well prepared to respond to sophisticated hypothetical problems, in writing, under considerable time pressure.  The logical remedy to the problems is . . . well . . . to practice responding to sophisticated hypothetical problems, in writing, under considerable time pressure.

Students who have played a sport, an instrument, or a character in a play all readily identify with the concept of preparing to excel at the very thing they will be judged on (tournament, recital, or opening night) by repeating the best approximation of the ultimate exercise (via practice games, practice recitals, or rehearsals) over and over and over.

Today is the 23rd of April.  Most of our students begin final exams after May 1. Subtracting a bit forBlue_book_1  sleeping and eating (9.5 hours each day), that leaves at least 100 hours before the first exam ... for many students, the time extends much longer ... not to mention some time between exams.  If students can answer 6 to 10 single-issue questions per hour from (for example, the Examples & Explanations series or Emanuel’s First-Year Questions and Answers), that allows time for 600 to 1000 questions divided among about 14 credit hours (up to 71 short-answer questions per credit ... thus for a 3-credit class, over 200 questions).  That would require 14-hour days if a student attempted to answer all of the questions for all of the subjects before a May 1 test, but in reality there would be more days available over which to spread the time because of time between exams.  Ten to twelve hours a day from now until the last exam would easily allow time to answer a total of 1000 questions before the last exam and 200 subject-specific questions before each exam.

Overkill?  Gee, I don’t know.  If you eat, sleep and exercise, and have a 1.9 GPA, is there something wrong with studying over 10 hours per day for a couple of weeks?  Isn’t this what bar examinees do across the country for TEN weeks?  And all THEY have to do is "pass" a minimum competency exam.  Most of them (just to "pass") answer about 3000 sample MBE questions to prepare for 200.

That’s a ratio of 15 to 1.

My suggestion to students?  Sure, review your outlines, memorize a few acronyms, and discuss some interesting policy issues with your study group friends.  Then practice doing the very thing you will be called upon to do in a couple of weeks—the very thing that will determine whether you stay in school, whether you’re in the top or bottom of the class rank, whether you retain your scholarship, or whether you are selected for that interview you hope for next year.  Practice strings of single-issue questions followed by a series of (for example) hour-long questions.

To be sure, "one size" does not fit "all."  However, whether you choose the backstroke, sidestroke, breaststroke or medley, you’d better swim one heckuvalotta miles before you try to cross the channel.

Don’t address the "easy problem."  Identify the most difficult problem, then solve it.  Practice.

Note: If you want to copy any of the foregoing and send it to your students, I’ve certainly got no problem with that.  (djt)

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