April 13, 2007
A Healthy Fear
The pastor of my church happens to be an avid mountain climber (I'm sure it is painful for him to now be serving a church in Kansas), and his sermons often incorporate stories of his mountain climbing experiences. A couple of weeks ago, he told a story about a time when he led some novice climbers on a non-technical climb up a mountain he had never scaled before.
His experience in climbing is extensive, and the mountain did not look particularly challenging. The night before the climb, he studied the mountain in a cursory way and felt confident that he could lead the group safely to the summit and back.
The climb went well until the group came within a few hundred feet of the summit. He had been keeping an eye on a thunderstorm that was moving toward them, and he decided that trying to reach the summit would be too dangerous. A storm in the mountains can be deadly because of lightning, so he knew that they had to get back down the mountain before the storm overtook them.
Unfortunately, the storm moved more quickly than he expected and cut off the path he had planned to follow back down from the summit. He then began to look for another way down, but because he was unfamiliar with the mountain, he could only guess which way to go.
He chose a route that looked good, but it led them into a ravine with no cover. The storm overtook them in the ravine, and they could only crouch down among the rocks as lightening began striking all around them. He realized at that point that some in the group would very likely be killed in that ravine and that his cavalier approach to the climb had put them there.
The storm finally passed; and, happily, everyone survived; but he was very shaken by the experience. He had relied on his experience in those mountains to carry him if anything were to happen; but his experience was not enough, and his failure to prepare carefully for the climb very nearly cost several climbers their lives.
The moral (for my purposes) is not that he should have been terrified of the mountain or that he was incapable of leading a group safely to the summit. Instead, the moral is that he should have had sufficient respect for the mountain to prepare carefully for that particular climb. He should have known the several routes of escape in the event of a sudden storm, and he should not have found himself and his group stranded in a ravine above the tree line at the worst possible moment.
A few days ago, I suggested that as our students approach the bar exam we should "scare 'em into success." My pastor's story captures fairly well what I meant by that. The bar exam, of course, is not a matter of life and death. That aside, however, it is otherwise very much like a mountain that is deceptively familiar to the experienced climber.
Like the overconfident climber, law students run the risk of approaching the bar exam with a serious lack of respect for its demands. Relying upon their training and experience, many assume that they need not prepare deeply and carefully for the exam because it sounds as though it will be like every other exam they have taken in law school. Many will find out too late that they have underestimated its particular hazards.
On the other hand, like the experienced climber, they need not be terrified of the exam or fear that they haven't the training and experience to conquer it. Rather, they need to have sufficient respect for the exam to prepare carefully for its particular challenges. It isn't an exam completely unlike any other exam they have ever taken; but it isn't those other exams either.
If we "scare" them in the right way, we will inspire them to prepare thoroughly for an exam that will present its own particular hazards for the unprepared. They can all pass the exam, and they need to know that. They can all fail it, too. The trick for them is to develop a healthy fear, not so much of the exam itself, but of taking a particular high stakes exam as if experience is all they need. (dan weddle)
April 10, 2007
Students' Advice on the "Do's and Don’t's" of Exam Preparation
Yesterday, I asked my ASP workshop and study group leaders, who are second and third year students, what they would list as the "do's and don't's" for the last two weeks of class and the exam period. I thought you might be interested in their advice.
a. Make a study plan for the last two weeks of class as well as finals weeks
b. Finish your own outline before looking at any other outline
c. Compare your outline with one other person’s outline to spot holes in your own
d. Use supplementary materials such as hornbooks to fill gaps and clear up confusion after you finish your outline
e. Boil down your outlines into flow charts, etc.
f. Take advantage of your professor’s office hours to clear up any confusion and to fill any gaps you have discovered (Caveat: Do not bother a professor repeatedly. Identify your concerns early and try to resolve them yourself; then go to the professor once to clear up concerns.)
g. Attend any reviews that your professor schedules
h. Practice with hypotheticals and sample exam questions
i. Write your own exam questions and then write answers to them
j. Pay close attention to information in the last two weeks – the concepts are likely to show up on the exam
k. Maintain a healthy lifestyle — sleep, exercise, and eat right
l. Stop working and relax before going to sleep on the night before an exam
m. Eat breakfast the day of an exam and arrive early so you can collect yourself
n. Exercise lightly the morning of exam if time allows
a. Stop your normal class preparation
b. Stop attending classes (the last few classes are great sources for exam questions)
c. Grab every outline you can get your hands on (too much information and too unreliable)
d. Depend on commercial outlines in place of developing your own
e. Use others students’ outlines in place of developing your own
f. "Over-outline” (i.e. load the outline with extraneous detail from outside sources)
g. Study with study groups if you or they are not prepared
h. Stay up studying all night
i. Expect to learn everything from after-class review or practice exams alone
j. Party after each exam
k. Give up