April 4, 2008
The Elephant in the Room
It is three weeks away from the end of classes at my law school. Most students are feeling the pressure right now. Many students are telling me that they are having the blahs, the blues, bouts of depression, or burdens of inferiority.
In short, it is time for me to help them regain perspective and become motivated for the final haul. (Obviously, the ones who need counseling are referred to our Student Wellness Center for additional assistance.)
Here are some ideas that I discuss with each student to help increase motivation and get perspective back.
- Remember the Chinese proverb that "You can eat an elephant one bite at a time." It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of material to learn in each course. Focusing on an entire course means you are looking at the elephant. Focusing on pieces of the course means taking the individual bites. A student gains control by listing the subtopics in a course, estimating the time needed to know each subtopic well, and laying out a study schedule for which subtopics will be done each day. As each subtopic is crossed off the list, the elephant is gobbled down.
- Think of exam study as covering two time periods. The first period includes the weeks remaining in classes when one keeps up with the usual tasks (reading, briefing, outlining each week) and carves out time to study for exams. The second period includes the actual reading and exam periods. By front-loading as much exam study as possible into each class week, you feel as though progress is being made toward the ultimate exams. Then, by planning the reading and exam period for the remaining tasks, you can focus on the final crunch.
- Have a three-track study system each week for both time periods. Read each course outline through cover to cover to keep all the material fresh. Focus on specific subtopics to learn them in depth for the exam. Finally, do practice questions on subtopics that have already been studied.
- Remember that you are the same unique, talented, bright, and special person that you were when you came to law school. If you have lost sight of this fact, it is time to ask a relative, friend, spouse, or other mentor to agree to become your "encourager" for the remaining weeks in the semester. Either telephone that person when you need a boost or have the person telephone you every day with words of encouragement.
- Use inspirational quotes, scriptures, or other sayings to motivate yourself. Whether you keep them in a binder that you read each morning and evening or post them around your apartment, these sources can inspire and encourage you to keep working hard.
- Visualize yourself making progress on your review for exams and taking the exam with confidence. An athlete visualizes success regularly before the actual swim meet or the actual pole vault at a new height.
- Do your best rather than trying to be perfect or an expert in a course. Law school is about learning to analyze areas of law that are new every semester. You cannot become an expert in every course in law school. You can only ask yourself to do your best each semester.
- Focus on the positive each day rather than the negative. By giving yourself credit for what you have accomplished rather than bemoaning what you should have done, you are more likely to move forward in your studying rather than stalling.
- Set up a reward system to motivate yourself for tasks. Set small rewards for small tasks (10-minute phone call, walk to the vending machine for a snack, playing 4 games of solitaire). Set medium rewards for medium tasks (half hour break; playing frisbee with the dog; reading a bedtime story to your child). Set large rewards for large tasks (dinner with friends; a movie; a long bubble bath).
In addition to discussions of study strategies, I find that I often give "pep talks" during this time of year. I praise students for what they are doing right in their study efforts. I encourage students who need to change some strategies to become more efficient and effective. And, I focus on managing the elephant's parts rather than being overwhelmed by the very large elephant in the room. (Amy Jarmon)
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