Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Helping Students Manage Stress

Exams start at our law school immediately after the Thanksgiving Break this year.  With just four weeks left, the students are becoming more stressed each day.  Those who have been distributing their learning throughout the entire semester are holding up far better than their classmates.

Here are some of the tips that I offer my students to help them manage their stress during this time of the semester.  The tips are not in any particular order as to priority. 

  • Break every task down into small steps.  It is easier to motivate yourself to complete a small task.  You will feel less stressed about the progress you are making because small tasks will get crossed off your list more quickly.
  • Get assistance from others when you are confused about course material.  Go to your professors on office hours.  Go to the teaching assistants or tutors for your 1L courses.  Ask questions of classmates who understand the material.  Work with a study partner or group to review material.
  • Condense your outlines multiple times to avoid stress about forgetting material.  Someone described this process to me as follows.  After you know the material in your full-length outline, condense it in half to "son of outline."  After you are confident with that version, condense it in half again to "grandson of outline." 
  • Have a memorized mini-outline to reduce stress in the exam.  At least a week before the exam, condense your course to the front and back of one sheet of paper.  In a closed-book exam, you write the mini-outline down on scrap paper once the proctor says you may begin. Voila - security blanket extraordinaire. 
  • Practice applying the content for each course.  The more questions you do, the more confident and less stressed you will be in the exam.  A myriad of fact scenarios during your studying means you will be less likely to meet something on the exam that you have never thought about previously.  And you will be more aware of nuances when applying the law.
  • Practice exam-taking techniques for each course.  By doing plenty of practice questions, you will have your strategies on auto-pilot: how to organize your answers, how to write concise sentences, how to calculate a time-chart for the exam, how to approach the fact patterns most efficiently, how to use IRAC.  You will be less stressed over how to take the exam and will focus instead on the actual questions asked. 
  • Surround yourself with positive people.  Whether it is face-to-face or by telephone, have contact with people who will encourage you and raise your self-esteem.  Avoid people who are all "doom and gloom" about exams.
  • Choose study locations that help you focus and lower your stress.  Many law students cannot study at the law school because the stress level is so high.  Consider studying at other academic buildings on campus, the main campus library, coffeehouses, classrooms at your local church or synagogue, or your apartment complex conference room.
  • Become an even nicer person.  You will feel better about yourself and lower your stress if you focus on others rather than yourself.  Help another student who doesn't understand a topic.  Buy a cup of coffee for the student behind you in the lunch line.  Take cookies to your study group.  Volunteer in class when another student is floundering in answering a question.
  • Get in touch with your spiritual side.  No matter what your belief system is, being in touch with a power greater than yourself can be calming.  You will be less stressed if you do not feel alone in carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.  You will focus better, be more productive, and retain more information.
  • Eat nutritious meals.  Your body will function better, including your brain cells.  Avoid caffeine and sugar overload.
  • Exercise at least 45 minutes three times per week.  Exercise is one of the most effective stress busters.  Avoid exercising too late at night,however, as it can disrupt your ability to sleep.

In addition to tips, I provide my students with a handout of easy relaxation exercises.  Most of the exercises can be done anywhere - even in the exam room.  (Amy Jarmon)

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