Friday, September 7, 2007

Why students do not achieve the success they want

Whether we work with all law students, just 1L students, or only invited students, we begin to see patterns as to why students do not succeed at the levels they wish.  Whether it is a student who wants to get higher grades ("As" instead of "Bs" or "Cs") or a student on probation, I find that the student usually have one or more study skill problems that need to be overcome.

During orientation, I try to alert students to these problems.  And, I offer workshops during the semester to help them on the necessary skills to avoid problems.  However, too many students only seek help after their grades have disappointed and discouraged them.   

Here is a list of common problems that I help students work on in their pursuit for better grades (in no particular order and not an exhaustive list):

  • They treat law school like undergraduate school (or other graduate programs) and do not adjust their strategies and techniques to the new law school learning environment.
  • They have poor (or no) time management skills and need to learn how to use weekly schedules, daily "to do" lists, and monthly schedules for meeting deadlines on projects or papers.
  • They have one or more major procrastination styles which they need to curb through good time management schedules and other strategies.
  • They do not make law school a priority in their lives and are consequently pulled away easily from studying when something fun is on offer.
  • They participate in too many organizations and activities because that is what they have always done without any adverse academic effects.
  • They do not use their learning styles to advantage and do not know how their learning styles may make it important to "compensate" or "convert" in some study tasks.
  • They depend on shortcuts rather than learning the material themselves: they use canned briefs; class scripts; other people's outlines.
  • They are inefficient and ineffective in their studying because they do not focus on "payoff" instead of "doing time" over tasks.
  • They memorize the law, but do not know how to apply the law to new facts.
  • They focus on cases and never gain the "big picture" of the course with its inter-relationships and methodologies.
  • They "gloss" the law and know it generally rather than learning it to more depth for true understanding.
  • They do very few practice questions during the semester and only a few at the end of the semester.
  • They wait until the last 2 - 6 weeks of the semester to study for exams rather than reviewing and applying material all semester.
  • They do not have adequate exam taking strategies for fact-pattern-essay exams, multiple-choice exams, and/or take-home exams.
  • They have extenuating circumstances (such as personal illness, family death, undiagnosed learning disabilities) and try to cope without assistance from staff members who could help.

The good news is that only the last item on the list of common problems is outside the student's control.  (And, even then, the students can get assistance from the law school staff members and utilize the policies and procedures within the law school.)  All of the other problems can be corrected by implementing new strategies and techniques.

Now, if we could only get them to come in earlier....   (Amy Jarmon)

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