Thursday, April 27, 2006
Later today I will take my six-year-old for a doctor’s appointment. Her doctor’s office happens to be located inside of Children’s Hospital. Children’s Hospital in Boston is the most amazing medical facility that I prefer walking away from (with my child) each time we go. We were lucky to have it near our house (one subway stop away) when my daughter needed emergency care there a year and half ago, and we were luckier still to have left there the next day, healthy.
What does this have to do with Academic Support? Maybe not too much, but I think what I learn about life and perspective just by walking through the lobby at Children’s Hospital and to the doctor’s office each time I go might be a valuable reminder for our students. I usually leave our appointments weak-kneed and giddy with relief. The sun is never warmer and sky is never bluer than the moment we leave and rejoin our lives.
But I cannot help thinking of the people who are still there. There are the parents of the children without hair and the parents who look tired and pained. We were the tired and pained ones once—for a day and a half—and had it been longer I surely would have melted into the ground and been tracked on the bottom of someone’s shoes. And then, of course, there are the children themselves.
I did not set out to be maudlin when beginning this post; but my point is this: law school exams rank very, very, very, very low on the unpleasant scale of life when you have some perspective. (ezs)
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Professor Rogelio Lasso of the John Marshall Law School has put together some great advice for taking essay exams in "How to Write a Good Law School Exam." Particularly helpful is his advice on how to develop and outline an answer for a typical essay question. Best of all, he includes an example question with a model outline of the first part of the answer to illustrate the techniques he suggests. (dbw)
As the semester comes to an end, I have been telling most of my students (the ones who have been seeing me based on their midterm grades) that they have earned their wings and it is now time to fly. These students have done all the work and they are ready for exams.
As part of this conversation, I always ask these students if they feel they are in a better place than they were last semester at this time. And the answer really should be “yes” regardless of whether I have worked any ASP magic on them or not. Why is this? Because last semester at this time, these students had no idea what law school exams would be like. They did not know (which is not to say it wasn’t knowable) the level of depth each answer required, nor did they understand that spending the time to outline your answer before writing it, was analogous to priming the exam pump. But now they do--or should.
I think of this “exit pep talk” like the first comforting words of Dr. Spock’s book on babies, “You know more than you think.” Or actually, sadly, more like those old cigarette ads, “you’ve come a long way, baby.” (This, of course, is language one would never use with students but I think it really captures the moment.)
Second semester first year law students (we’ll call them “SSFYs”) are far more savvy about exams than first semester students. I imagine that even those students who performed well on the first semester exams have a better sense now of why their performance was superior than they did in January. What do SSFYs know now that didn’t know then?
SSFYs know how to write a case brief that is shorter than
SSFYs know how to create a rules-based outline.
SSFYs know that Prof. Tonsing’s post on “practice” is dead on and have practiced hundreds of multiple choice questions and a fair number of essays per class, or plan to, in preparation for exams.
SSFYs know that the analysis is the most important part of the essay exam answer.
SSFYs know that the potential answers to a multiple choice question are all intended to look compelling and to not look at them before having an idea of the answer in their heads.
SSFYs know that their grade is not personal.
SSFYs feel more at home here.
SSFYs know (most importantly) they will live through exams and that the sun will indeed rise the day after they are over.
Did I teach them all this? I’d like to credit for it, but I cannot. All I may have done is make students aware that they know more than they think. (ezs)
Are you considering offering or expanding bar preparation for your students? You may want to visit Columbus, Ohio, this June.
Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, Will host the 2006 Midwest Regional Academic Assistance Workshop “Designing a For-Credit Bar Exam Preparatory Course” June 16 – 17, 2006.
Specific information regarding the program, registration, and lodging can be found by clicking on “Registration Information” at: http://www.law.capital.edu/MRAA/index.asp.
Tuesday, April 25, 2006
As students are preparing for exams, you might direct them to Villanova Law School's helpful advice contained in the "Strategies" page of its Academic Support Program's website. The advice covers strategies for before, during, and after exams, including specific approaches tailored to different types of exam questions. Even for students who are only days away from the start of exams or whose exam periods have already begun, the page offers concise, practical explanations of strategies that can be implemented immediately. (dbw)
Sunday, April 23, 2006
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 for 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)