Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Learning the Dance Steps

Suzanne Darrow Kleinhaus liked Amy Jarmon's post, "Dancing with the Stars Law School Version" (Oct. 18), and she boiled it into a checklist of questions that students can use to assess their own learning and that ASP professionals can use to diagnose problems.  I thought readers would find it helpful, so I've reproduced it below.

"Learning the Steps"

1. Have you learned the basic "dance" steps? 
       How to read cases?
       How to brief cases?
       How to de-construct statutes?
       How to outline?
       How to engage in an IRAC–based analysis?

2. Are you sensitive to the differences among the "dances"?
       Have you noticed differences among your professors' styles of teaching?
       Have you noticed differences among types of exams?
       Do you see that some courses may be more case-based (common law) or more code-based(statutory)?
       Do you see that some courses may be more policy-based or more methodology-based?

3. Have you learned the unique "rhythm" for each of your courses?
       Have you memorized the black letter law?
       Have you "become one" with the material so that your understanding is intuitive and flows?
       Do you see the large picture and the places where the individual pieces belong in that picture?

4. Do you practice to improve your performance?
       Have you made studying a priority?
       Do you spend hours perfecting your knowledge and understanding?
       Do you practice applying the law to new fact scenarios throughout the semester at every opportunity, to improve your understanding of nuances in the law and their application of the law to different facts?
       Does your organization of the analysis, both oral and written, flow with and from the material?

5. Do your evaluate your performance?
       After a poor practice session or exam, do you evaluate your difficulties?
       If your performance was not of the quality you expected, do you strategize how to change your approach?
       Do you persist in your practice to become more expert?

Dan Weddle

October 30, 2007 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Exam Resource

If you are looking for a good resource on taking law school exams, check out Suzanne Darrow-Kleinhaus's Mastering the Law School Exam, published by Thomson-West.  It lays out detailed approaches to preparing for and taking various types of law school exams and includes practice exams and model answers.  I think students, ASP professionals, and law professors would all find it very helpful.

Dan Weddle

October 29, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tip from Professor Burgess

In response to a recent blog, Professor Hillary Burgess (Rutgers) ... sent the blog this comment . . .

I recommend Julie Morgenstern's Time Management From the Inside Out. Here basic plan is to sort tasks, purge roles and tasks you don't have time for, then allot a specific time each week for the remaining tasks. She recommends making a master schedule that you will follow generally week to week, changing as needed for things like doctor's appointments. I have found master schedules really help to identify, "If I don't use this time to do X, I won't have time to do it later," rather than looking at a day as a big blanket of time that somehow gets eaten up each day.

BurgesshillaryI read some of Julie Morgenstern's work a few years ago when a law student brought me a book saying, "This book saved my [academic] life!"  I agree, Hillary (pictured here), it's certainly worth taking a look at!  (djt)

October 28, 2007 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 26, 2007


"Common sense is instinct, and enough of it is genius."

— Josh Billings. American comedian (1818-1885)

(This quote appeared as the "quote of the day" on my g-mail today.)

This is the magic key to good law school grades, isn't it?

Those who seem to lack common sense seem to comprise much of the lower half of the class. Okay, lower quarter. (With notable exceptions in both the top and bottom halves/quarters.)

That's why the Academic Support person doesn't know very many of the people in the top half of the class ... nor, frankly, do the other problem-solvers (example: Deans of Students).

The only times AcSup professionals and DOS's seem to encounter the students with the very good grades are at the CALI award functions, the Honors functions at the Dean's house, and other academically rich events. These students seem to have/use enough common sense to solve their own problems.

Can common sense be "taught"?  Probably not.  But if you start from the premise that we all have it, but some among us are in the habit of using it (while others are not), then the use of it can be encouraged.  Isn't that what we do?  We encourage students to follow their instincts (that they (a) may not be aware of, or (b) may not be in the habit of following [think, "study habits"]) ... and then we add some nuts and bolts to give them the equipment to use.

"...enough of it is genius...." I like that.  It sure rings true in law school.  Haven't you worked with students who don't give you the impression that they have the highest I.Q. in the class (I know, that's an old concept) but do exactly the right things to earn high grades and succeed?  That's "genius" in my estimation ... taking what you have, applying instinct ... good old common sense (which often includes picking up the essential study tips and exam-answering methods from Academic Support professionals or the many manuals available) ... and focusing on what needs to be done to obtain the objective.

I have watched many students do just that.  Whether they're MENSA material or not (qualifying scores: LINK), they're genii in my estimation!  (djt)

October 26, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nature vs. Nurture

My younger daughter has epilepsy and takes anticonvulsants every day. This is a medical condition and I know that she has no conscious decision-making capabilities when it comes to having a seizure or not. I know what she would choose if she could. So despite any misgivings about putting potent chemicals into her body every day for the last three years, we do it. We also educate her teachers and friends about this and make sure to avoid the pitfalls like overtiredness and the flu as best we can. Why do we do this? Because she is seven and we are her parents. But, as maternal as my ASP style has been noted to be, I am not the parent of anyone in this building; and the most I can hope for (and would be appropriate) is a nurturing role.

I went to a lecture yesterday about ADHD and ADD in high IQ students and how that all relates to Executive Function. The gist of the lecture was that ADD and ADHD are chemical problems that have a chemical solution. And while I understand that this is a medical condition that cannot be consciously willed away, I was frustrated by the lecture because I was hoping to gather more insight on how to work with these students in an ASP setting. Without a prescription pad, I am, evidently, at a loss. The only advice that was applicable to my position was that we need to help provide some outside structure to keep these students on track: advice on time management but really more on how to stick to your medicine schedule while away from your real parents.

The lecture was attended by Academic Support type folks from graduate and undergraduate institutions, disabilities coordinators from a bunch of school (Deans of Students and the like) as well as at least one person from a university health services office. But, again, without being a licensed psychologist or having medical authority, I didn’t see the role ASP would play in this area. And yet, we probably see students with these issues (as well as, as our lecturer put it, other comorbidities like depression and anxiety) more than anyone. It was both helpful and then again completely unhelpful to learn that these students are not lazy (I knew that), or lacking willpower (I am pretty sure I knew that too). Why? Well, the skills I can teach a student only work if the student learns and applies them, which may not happen despite however motivated the student may be.

I cannot help a student’s brain chemistry right itself-nor can I force a student to get out of bed and take medication each day. I can cajole students and nag and sometimes even place a well timed phone call to make sure they get to class, but not much more. I have told students that the coping behaviors they engage in to accommodate themselves is far more draining than asking for help at the law school. I tell them that this energy could be better spent reading, outlining or even sleeping. But I cannot, and would not, even if I could, force students to stick to a medicine regime. Not because I don’t believe it would help, I really do think that the medication is a wonderful thing, but more because my students are adults and I need to treat them that way.

Now, let’s see if I can remember that when my children go off to college. (ezs)


October 25, 2007 in Disability Matters | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Help with Stress

Now that many students have taken mid-term exams and have begun to receive grades on legal writing assignments, their stress levels are beginning to rise dramatically as they come to the realization that they may not perform as they hoped in law school.  Undoubtedly, some are worried at this point whether they will fail completely.

For many, this sort of stress in something new, especially in an academic environment; and they may not handle it in healthy ways.  Larry Krieger has created a couple of booklets you may find helpful as you begin to work with students who are having a tough time learning to function in the face of law school's pressure and disappointments.

The booklets are described at

Dan Weddle

October 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dancing with the stars - law school version

I love ballroom dancing.  When I lived in England, I went to social ballroom dances at least three times a month in addition to weekly lessons.  Now that I am home in the States, I watch every movie about ballroom dancing multiple times and adore Dancing with the Stars.  As I watched the competition and results shows this week, it occurred to me that law school is like ballroom dancing in many respects.

In ballroom dancing, you have to learn the basic steps before you can put a dance together.  In law school, our students need to learn the basic steps such as reading cases, briefing cases, reading statutes, outlining, and using IRAC.  And, they read individual cases which are the steps before understanding the inter-relationship of concepts. 

In ballroom dancing, each dance has its own steps: the mamba is very different from the cha-cha, from the waltz, and from the quick-step.  And, the Viennese waltz is even different from the basic waltz.  Likewise in law school, the steps may differ somewhat among professors and among courses. Professors have different styles of teaching and testing. Courses may be more case-based or code-based.  Courses may be more policy-based or more methodology-based.  Cases vary in density and editor's purpose for inclusion. 

In ballroom dancing, once you have the steps learned, you must learn the unique rhythm for each dance.  If you can only do the steps and do not match the rhythm, your movements will be mechanical and amateurish.  You must learn fluidity and "become one" with the music.  Likewise, our students must learn the rhythms of their courses.  Memorization of the material (like memorization of the dance steps) is not enough.  If the students do not "become one" with the material so that their learning is intuitive and seamless, their learning will be very compartmentalized and miss the overview.

In ballroom dancing, you must practice continuously to improve.  The good ballroom dancers make dance a priority and spend hours perfecting their dancing.  Likewise, law students who practice applying the law to new fact scenarios throughout the semester at every opportunity improve their understanding of nuances in the law, their application of the law to different facts, and their organization of answers.  Practice is essential to their perfection of the steps and the rhythm.

In ballroom dancing, dancers may falter, slip, stumble, or fall during a dance.  They must dance on as though the incident did not occur and complete that dance.  They must evaluate why the incident occurred and strategize how to correct the problem.  Then, they must persist in their practice to become more expert so that such incidents become less likely in future dance events.  Likewise, law students must not become defeated by a difficult section on an exam, a bad mid-term grade, a bad course grade, or a bad semester.  They must evaluate the difficulties, choose strategies for change, and persist in their studying to become more expert as students.

In ballroom dancing, the execution of a dance at a higher level of expertise is exhilarating.  All of the practice becomes worthwhile when complicated spins and step sequences suddenly mesh into a seamless whole.  Graceful execution of the dance is a special triumph.  Likewise, a law student's improvement in grades through the honing of skills  and better performance on a paper or exam is exhilarating.  As law students become more graceful in their lawyering skills, they feel a similar sense of triumph.

As ASP professionals we need to become like dance instructors (along with our faculty) and encourage our students as they master the steps and rhythms and spins and fast foot work.  We need to train them patiently in the basic steps, help them find the rhythm for their courses, push them to repeat the tasks until they become experts, encourage them to get back up when they fall, exhort them towards graceful execution, and applaud when they master a difficult analysis or subject.

Ballroom dancing can be a life-time passion and pursuit (yes, there are tea dances for the elderly).  Let's hope that lawyering will be a life-time passion and pursuit for our students (yes, there are senior lawyer divisions for most state bars).  (Amy Jarmon)   


October 18, 2007 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Exam Planning ... the time is now!

Thanks to Amy Jarmon for her superb suggestions about exam preparation.  (See Amy’s October 17 blog text below.) 

One of the most important recommendations she provides – and one which too many students overlook completely, is this: “Using a very structured weekly time management schedule for the remainder of the semester will allow the student to keep up with current class material while reviewing for exams which can in turn lower anxiety because all tasks are being completed.”

The “exam plan” is critical, and (I think) it needs to be made looooonnnnngggg before the final two weeks of the semester.  I have sat with many students and assisted them in constructing detailed personalized exam study plans.  This (your personalized assistance in creating this plan) could be the most important lesson students learn from you.

To supplement and underscore Amy’s suggestions, I have pulled some material from an article I wrote a while back for the ABA Student Lawyer Magazine (I believe it appeared in the March 2006 issue if you want to find the entire article in your law library).  The article dealt with anxiety reduction throughout the semester, but included a few suggestions about exams in particular.  What follows is based on that article. 

The “old hands” at academic support are familiar with all of this, of course.  I’m hoping this might be valuable to some of you who are relative newcomers to academic support … and, in turn, that it will ripple out to the students and those whom they eventually serve. 

To excel as a law student, you need to keep your cool during study time, class time, and exam time. To excel as a lawyer, you need to do the same—even though the setting is different. Three standard law school activities—studying law with a deadline approaching, being called on in front of others to address a difficult problem, and producing cogent arguments on demand—are also standard features of most lawyers' weeks.

Law school has something else in common with law practice: collywobbles—those uncomfortable feelings in the stomach caused by nervousness, anxiety, or fear.

Students study and learn best when they are at their peak performance level, and collywobbles inhibit peak performance.

[The article suggests methods of dealing with anxiety throughout the semester, then considers the subject of minimizing exam collywobbles.] After noting that, ideally, exam preparation begins on the first day of the semester, these tips follow:

  • Exam preparation should include development of a detailed written study schedule for several weeks before the examination dates.
  • If you have not kept your course outlines up to date throughout the semester, you need to complete them at least a couple of weeks before exams. You should also schedule sufficient time for review and internalization of all key definitions, elements, black-letter rules — anything that may be an essential component of an exam answer's completely predictable portions.
  • Developing topical “mastery” — the ability to efficiently resolve difficult problems within a short time frame in writing under pressure — is essential.  Achieve mastery by writing answers to short hypothetical questions covering all the topics and issues that may be the subject of test questions. Compare your answers to sample answers to measure your achievement level.  You will recognize mastery when you achieve it.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Answer several questions similar to those you expect to encounter on each exam, under the same time and environmental conditions you will be subjected to on exam day.
  • Ask for help if/as needed.  During this final phase of preparing for exams, visit with your professors to clear up any areas of the law that trouble you.
  • Make an appointment with your school's academic support professional if you want some fine-tuning of your style.

There is no one-size-fits-all schedule, nor is there a “rule” for how many practice questions to do.  One thing I think students ought to hear, however, is based on what the bar exam professional trainers suggest.  BarBri or PMBR, for example, recommend some very large number of practice MBE questions (is it near 3,000?) before taking what is essentially a pass/fail test where scoring considerably below the “average” score will earn the examinee a license to practice law (assuming the rest of the exam is passed as well).

The actual MBE exam consists of 200 questions.  That’s a fifteen-to-one ratio.  So, if a first-year student wants to do much better than average (earn an A, for example), maybe she ought to take a look at that ratio when planning her study for the 15 multiple choice questions her Torts professor has promised.  That works out to 225 questions as a minimum. 

How does that relate to essay practice?  Well, is it unreasonable to practice answering questions for 45 hours to prepare for a 3-hour essay exam?  Maybe yes, maybe no — however, I’ve queried many students who wind up in the nether regions of their class ranks on this very subject, and discovered that the average time spent actually answering practice questions in writing (either short ones like you’ll find in the Examples & Explanations series or standard-sized one-hour essay exams) is approximately this: 1.

If it’s true that practice makes perfect, what does this (answering 1 question) make? 

Go figure.  Literally.  Figure out how many questions will make you (student) feel really comfortable going in to the exam room.  Then include that number in your exam plan. 

Hasta luego. (djt)

October 18, 2007 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Managing Test Anxiety

For the most part, mid-term examinations are ending this week at my law school.  Each week during mid-terms, I have had students come by to discuss test anxiety.  Some of them tell me that test anxiety has been an ongoing problem throughout college.  However, most of them tell me that they have never had test anxiety until now.

There are a number of suggestions that I make in hopes of preventing future bouts of test anxiety as their final examinations approach: 

  • Reviewing outlined material regularly throughout the remainder of the semester (rather than cramming at the very end) will provide deeper understanding which can in turn create greater confidence and lower anxiety.
  • Asking professors questions that the student has been unable to resolve (rather than storing them up for six more weeks) will eliminate confusion about material which can in turn lower anxiety about the course.
  • Working as many practice questions as possible for the remainder of the semester will increase skill in applying the nuances of the law which can in turn mean the student is less likely to confront a question scenario which is a total surprise.
  • Working as many practice questions as possible for the remainder of the semester will mean the techniques for taking exams (such as IRAC) are on "auto-pilot" which can in turn mean lower anxiety about how to proceed on a difficult question.
  • Using a very structured weekly time management schedule for the remainder of the semester will allow the student to keep up with current class material while reviewing for exams which can in turn lower anxiety because all tasks are being completed.
  • Using a very structured monthly time management schedule for the remainder of the semester will allow the student to designate course sub-topics to study during review time in the weekly schedule which can in turn lower anxiety as sub-topics are crossed off after each review session.
  • Sleeping a minimum of seven hours per night will help the student be more alert and focused while studying which can in turn create a more positive perspective on law school and lower anxiety.
  • Exercising several times a week will allow the student to take advantage of one of the most effective stress-busters which can in turn lower anxiety about exams (and life).
  • Eating three nutritious meals (rather than junk food) will help the student to have more energy for productive studying which can in turn lower anxiety about getting things done.
  • Practicing simple relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing and gentle shoulder or head rotations) every day will lower stress which can in turn keep test anxiety at bay.
  • Taking several hours off from studying when the student is feeling "nothing is going in" despite best efforts will allow a change of pace which can in turn prevent a student from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Attending counseling (or biofeedback training) through the university counseling center will assist students who have histories of test anxiety in managing the problem which can in turn lower their likelihood of having future severe attacks.

Not all of these suggestions work for every student.  However, most students can find several suggestions on the list that seem good matches to their temperments and needs.  (Amy Jarmon)

October 17, 2007 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thank Someone Who Helped You Make It

Here's a great suggestion from Hillary Burgess:

I often hear from professors that students sometimes complain more than they thank. Since I've received so much support for my recent projects (and am in the midst of writing many, many thank you notes), I thought I'd pass along this idea.

To boost your spirits, especially since it's tending toward stress time, what about taking 5-10 minutes to thank someone on your faculty or one of your own professors from your law school days or, better yet, your ASP mentor? Thank someone from your past who would never in a million years expect a thank you note now.

It'll make both you and that person feel good right now; but more importantly, those memories are the ones that carry us and our own mentors through the tougher moments. The letters I've received from former students – and even more so the notes I've received from parents of students – have really helped me sustain some sense of sanity when faced with a stack of papers or, worse, a failing or cheating student.

So thank a random person from your past today. Just a thought.

October 16, 2007 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Position at CUNY

Associate Director of the Irene Diamond Professional Skills Center

The Associate Director will assist the Director in designing and implementing all aspects of the Academic Support Program, which currently includes working with first- and second-year students as they develop the academic, study, and time-management skills necessary for success in the Law School’s program of study.  The Skills Center also designs and administers the Summer Law Institute (a three-week intensive introduction to law study) and the Pre-Law Program (a mandatory orientation program for all entering students). The Associate Director will participate in those programs and may design and teach first- or second-year skills sessions and academic support sections of required doctrinal courses; work with students individually or in small groups; and train and supervise teaching assistants. In keeping with CUNY’s integrated approach to academic support, the Associate Director will also be involved in developing faculty workshops on pedagogy and serve as a resource to faculty in the areas of skills-based teaching and testing.


A JD degree and 3+ years of experience are required. The successful candidate must be committed to the public interest mission of the Law School and the role of academic support in law shool.  She or he should possess excellent writing, speaking, and organizational skills. Experience in a law school academic support program, or other relevant teaching experience, is strongly preferred.

TO APPLY, send cover letter and resume to:

Maureen McCafferty, Assistant to the Search Committee, City University of New York School of Law, 65-21 Main Street, Flushing, NY 11367

October 12, 2007 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reverse Psychology

Maybe Monday just makes everyone grumpy. (I know it is Tuesday, but we are on a Monday schedule here.) This morning, I had a student come in who is on Academic Warning. Granted, her GPA is just slightly lower than it ought to be, but she is required to see me nonetheless. Now, I gave her what I thought was good advice about outlining and exam preparation, but every suggestion I made was met with an (albeit somewhat passive-aggressive) argument. I was worried that she would go off and do exactly the opposite of what I advised. 

Then, I had an e-mail correspondence with another student who wrote something to effect of, “I suppose I need to schedule yet another meeting with you.” Gosh, I am flattered; do you say that to your dentist too? I mean, really, how snarky is that? And how could I answer it without seeming uptight and angry (which I was)?

So I have decided to use reverse psychology with these students (because I too am grumpy). You know, the old, “whatever you do, don’t wear a coat in the snow” method our parents used on all of us. (Bugs Bunny also made it popular; Elmer Fudd could never resist.) Here are some examples of statements I am thinking of trying with my more troubled students:

  1. Please go out and buy some commercial outlines in lieu of making your own. Also, please buy the big study guides and read them in lieu of your casebook.
  2. Whatever you do, don’t go to class. Not today, not next week, never!!!!!!!
  3. Don’t even think about December exams until January. Also, don’t think about them unless you are on a beach far, far away.
  4. Cramming sure does work in law school. Read nothing now, no payments until the night before the exam.
  5. Multiple choice, shmultiple choice. B is always the answer. Don’t bother practicing them.
  6. Do take that class with Professor Failsemall. You are likely to be in the 50% of the class that passes, fate being what it is.
  7. Practice questions are for wussies. Are you a wussy? Of course you aren’t.
  8. Weekends aren’t for studying. Don’t you follow some sport and imbibe some mood altering substance? That’s what the weekend is for.
  9. Don’t talk to your professors outside of class. Didn’t you know that the cooties are far more contagious in a smaller space?
  10. Library? Right here in this building? No kidding-go figure.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll just get some more coffee and try typing my responses wearing my Mr. Rogers sweater; I find it very soothing. (ezs)

October 9, 2007 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

ASP Professionals

Do you know who some of the most generous, dedicated, caring, supportive, and knowledgeable people are at law schools?  They are ASP professionals.  I make this statement based on five plus years of observing all of you, participating in conferences, reading the listserv entries, reading blog entries from my fellow editors, and speaking with you in telephone conversations about a variety of topics. 

ASP professionals are a treasure in legal education for their students, for their faculty and administrative colleagues, and for each other.  Are we always paid our worth in gold (notice that I left my weight out of this question)?  No.  Are we always thanked for our expertise?  No.  Are we always given budgets and facilities that will allow us to have our ideal programs?  No.  But, despite any failings in these categories, our students (and law schools) know that they would suffer without our being there. 

Just look at the wealth of knowledge we share regularly on the listserv to help each other have better programs for our students.  Just look at the dedication of ASP professionals who serve on our AALS section, who write and edit the Learning Curve, who serve as my fellow editors and contributing editors for the blog, who have published in our field and other fields, who plan conferences, and who provide materials in conference presentations.  (Speaking of dedication, have you noticed that Dennis Tonsing is still writing his wonderful, insightful entries from his post abroad?)

Thank you.  I just want you to know that I am proud to have you as colleagues.  I am proud to say that I am an ASP professional because of all of you.  (Amy Jarmon) 

October 2, 2007 in Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)