Wednesday, May 7, 2008

What's luck go to do, got to do with it?

With apologies to Tina Turner and anyone who does not appreciate the beauty of ‘80’s music. But really, what does luck have to do with exam taking? When I send my students off to take their exams, I feel like they want me to say good luck (or break a leg for the undergrad theater majors). But I don’t want to. Why?  Because after all the time and effort they have put into studying, I am not sure luck has much to do with it and I don’t want students to feel that their performance on the exams is out of their control.

I have a student who has been coming to see me everyday since classes have ended; she says that I am her study group. She has worked exceptionally hard at answering old exam questions under test conditions and we go over them everyday. We have discussed reading questions carefully, outlining before answering, issue spotting, completeness of answers and organization. We have not discussed rabbit’s feet, numerology, astrology or the idea of setting up an alter to the gods of Constitutional Law (whoever they may or may not be) in the exam room (not to mention that proctors tend to frown upon lit candles during a paper exam). Today is her Con. Law exam and as she left my office to do that last minute read through of her outline, she said, “wish me luck.” And I said no; she looked crestfallen, but then I explained my dilemma.

What is the right thing to say to my students before sending them to the lions, I mean into exams? “Go get ‘em tiger,” seems glib and condescending. “Show ‘em what you got,” is also glib with hints of stripper inappropriateness; and “Hrrr,” the pirate warrior cry seems just odd.

This is not to say that there cannot be any luck involved. I have been lucky every now and then on exams: like the time I had a friend contemplating a surrogate parenting arrangement in Massachusetts just prior to the bar. I did a bunch of research for her and lo and behold it was a question on the bar a few weeks later. It happens, but you cannot rely on that luck when you can’t possibly know it will happen until you are actually taking the exam. You need to be prepared for the questions you don’t happen to know the answers to already and that involves knowing the law and answering the questions so that the professor agrees that you do.

So, what I said to my student today was, “go show the professor what you know and organize it so he/she knows that you know it well.” And then I added, “I would say good luck, but you don’t need it because you have worked hard to know the material and you know how to take this exam.” While this is bit longer winded than a simple, “good luck,” I think it was a better way to prepare this student for the exam-by putting the power to ace it in her hands and not someone else’s. (ezs)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2008/05/whats-luck-go-t.html

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