Friday, 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) 

April 4, 2008 in Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Little Earthquakes

I am having a nostalgic week, mainly because I keep getting phone calls from various educational organizations reminding me that I have reunions this year (and the numbers they attach to these phrases are just too large to fathom!). However, reunion season does force you to look at yourself and see just how far you have come from when you graduated. I look back at high school and look at some of the people who attended and graduated with me and realize that they will have longer obituaries than I do (I am a little maudlin that way). One guy I graduated with (who probably has no memory of me whatsoever) is now a fairly famous actor/director and another guy is on television every Monday night-and let me assure you that this was not a performing arts school. One person I knew is now a prominent professor of political science who has written many books.

The likelihood of me achieving these kinds of things is remote. My acting skills are minimal, and so is my time for researching and writing books since I have about fourteen years before my youngest child even applies to college. And, if you knew me, you know that the idea I would be a professional athlete is so far out of the question you would have to laugh out loud, in my face, and I would laugh with you. So, all in all, I think my family will be one of those that ends up paying for my death notice, rather than have some Boston Globe, or even better, a New York Times, reporter write it (that maudlin streak again). There will be no seriously outdated pictures either, and that is fine. 

Don't get me wrong: I am not at all disappointed in the way my life or my career has turned out.  Have I achieved the promised work/life balance that all women of my generation seek?  No, but I have found a comfort zone where I can do most of the things I want to get done reasonably well.  I see my ultimate success in smaller increments.

I see my success when I talk to a student and my advice is helpful, or when a student has done so well they no longer have to see me. I don’t mean to suggest that Academic Support folks are the elves that come out at night and make the shoes; we are certainly not that far behind the scenes. An improved paper, better exam grades, more confidence on multiple choice exams: all of these things are small victories for us and our students. It is even an achievement when I tell a student that law school may not be the place for them, now or ever, because if that is true, it needed to have been said.

Perhaps people underestimate the importance of Academic Support because they fail to understand the theory of gestalt, that is: the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. So while I have not made any headlines, bylines or said many lines in my career, I know that my little earthquakes have shaken more than a few people, and that is just fine. Now, if I could put all that on a t-shirt suitable for evening wear, I would wear it to all those reunions. (ezs)

April 3, 2008 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Excellent Piece on Willpower (Related to Studying for Exams)

From the New York Times, Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Op-Ed Contributors: SANDRA AAMODT  and SAM WANG, 
Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind

"On the other hand, if you need to study for a big exam, it might be smart to let the housecleaning slide to conserve your willpower for the more important job. Similarly, it can be counterproductive to work toward multiple goals at the same time if your willpower cannot cover all the efforts that are required. Concentrating your effort on one or at most a few goals at a time increases the odds of success.
Focusing on success is important because willpower can grow in the long term. Like a muscle, willpower seems to become stronger with use."

(Rebecca Flanagan--I apologize--I keep forgetting to add my name!)

April 2, 2008 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Developing rubrics for students to self-correct practice exams

As the semester winds down and exam prep speeds up, I am working on a rubric for students to self-correct practice exams.  I am developing the rubric for several reasons, the most pressing is time management. I
can't give feedback on practice exams for all the students that schedule time with me, so I need a tool to help them help themselves.  A generic rubric that provides students with a guide to self-correcting exams needs to be broad but specific to law school exams, be easy to use and explicit where students needs help. 

This is my work-in-progress template. I welcome any feedback, comments, or suggestions, as I know many of my fellow ASPer's have developed rubrics in the past. (RCF)


Is there a broad issue statement?










Does it mirror the call of the question?
















Is the rule clearly and explicitly stated?










Is the rule broken into elements?










Are the elements correctly stated?










Is each element discussed sequentially?










Are all the elements discussed?
















Is the element matched to relevant facts?








**Are cases used to compare and contrast facts and   rules/elements?


**if relevant and appropriate for the question






Are all problematic facts discussed? 


 If   no, list
















































Are any arguments dismissed without discussing both sides (pro/con, yes/no,   applies/doesn’t apply)










Are relevant policy concerns discussed?
















Does the analysis conclude?








Is the conclusion consistent with the analysis?












Each idea is in a new paragraph.










Sentences are clear and concise


(no run-on sentences)








Sentences are complete.
































April 1, 2008 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)