Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Getting Control of Exam Studying

This week is four weeks before exams for my students.  A number of them have spoken to me about their feelings of being overwhelmed.  Our calendar changed this year, and 2L and 3L students were bit surprised to realize that exams start earlier than usual. 

I have been working with many students on strategies to get control of exam studying rather than letting it control them.  A Chinese proverb seems appropriate: You can eat an elephant one bite at a time.  Depending on a student's difficulty with a course, we may be talking about a baby elephant, an adult elephant, or a legendary elephant of massive proportion.

Four types of review are needed each week for each course throughout the remainder of the semester: intense review of subtopics, cover to cover outline review, memory drills, and practice questions. 

  • "Intense review" is accomplished through the subtopic lists described in the steps below and prepares students to know the material as if the exam were tomorrow.
  • "Cover to cover outline review" is reading through the entire outline at least once each week for each course.  This type of review keeps everything fresh in memory and will take relatively little additional time each week.  
  • "Memory drills" are for those rules and elements that still need to be learned more precisely.  The additional time needed will depend on the course and the student's adeptness at memorization. 
  • "Practice questions" should be done a day or two after the intense review to see if one really understood the material and can apply it.  Most students need 1-2 hours per course each week for this task.   

Here are the steps that I suggest they use to gain control through the "intense review" process:

Make a list of every topic with all of the subtopics to be studied for the final exam..  Each coure should have its own sheet of paper for this step.  The subtopics are the critical pieces in this scheme.  Number all of the subtopics down the list.  If the student has a syllabus for the whole semester, then the entire list will be numbered.  If a professor gives out the syllabus in pieces, then more topics/subtopics may need to be added later and the numbering continued.

For each subtopic that has already been covered in class, write down an estimate of the amount of time needed to know the material for the exam.  Some subtopics that are already understood may only take 15 more minutes.  Others may need 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour or more.  If the estimate is a range (1 - 1 1/2 hours), then always choose the higher time.  It is better to have more time than too little time estimated.  Estimates will be added for new subtopics as they are covered in class.

Total the amount of time needed for each course for all of the subtopics so far.  This total gives a student a realistic idea of the intense review time needed for the course up to this point in time.  Courses will vary in the amount of time because of the amount of material covered and the difficulty of that material for a student.  The total will increase as estimates are added for new subtopics covered in class. 

Decide regular hours that can be used for each course for exam study time.  Students who use structured weekly time management schedules will find this step very easy because their routinized study schedule already shows blocks of time that are open.  For students who have not been structured, this is a good time to become more structured so that each week's schedule becomes more routine and predictable.  For this step, a student might decide that she can spend 3-5 every Monday and 2-4 every Saturday on intense Property review, every Tuesday 8 - 10 and every Sunday 3-5 on intense Crim Law review, and every Saturday 9-12 and 7-9 on Con Law intense review.

Use monthly calendars to scheulde subtopics for the regular exam study times for each course.   Now pencil in the subtopic numbers for each course that will be completed during those regular times.  Every Monday 3-5 will have Property subtopic numbers as will every Saturday 2-4 (3/28 P1-4, 3/30 P5-7 etc.).  Frontload the subtopics for the material already covered because new material subtopics will be studied as they are covered.

As a subtopic is completed, visually indicate on the list that the intense review is finished.  Some students like to use highlighters; some students like to draw a line through the subtopic.  The idea is for the student to see her progress as she conquers the list. 

The goal is to have all subtopics except the last 1 or 2 weeks of new material ready for the exam by the last day of classes.  Students will be less stressed about exams, feel more confident about the material, and have less to learn during the exam period this way.  (Amy Jarmon)

March 31, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Academic Development Job at Santa Clara University

Co-Director of Academic Development

Santa Clara University School of Law

2009-2010 Academic Year

The Co-Director of Academic Development works closely with a fellow Co-Director and the Assistant Dean for Academic & Professional Development ("APD") to address the academic success of Santa Clara University Law School’s students from orientation through bar passage. These three faculty members, along with the Director of Externships and Professional Development and a Program Coordinator, make up the school’s APD Department.

The Co-Director will teach the equivalent of at least two credit-bearing skills courses targeting first and/or second year students in academic difficulty, ordinarily one class of 20-30 students each semester. Co-Directors also administer the selection and registration of students in these courses, and the hiring, training, and supervision of upper division students and adjuncts.

In addition, the Co-Director will perform the equivalent of two additional courses of instruction in the form of: intensive one-on-one academic tutoring and advising of at-risk students, contributions to the design and teaching of large-scale skills workshops and programs aimed class-wide from orientation through the first year and on through Bar passage, and participation in miscellaneous university programming and professional conferences.

Finally, the Co-Director must work closely with the APD team, as well as with doctrinal and legal writing faculty to design, coordinate, implement, evaluate, and improve the supplemental academic skills curriculum. In addition to long-term vision, the Co-Director must embrace day-to-day administration. These duties include, but are not limited to, organization and management of student eligibility determinations, course enrollments, practice examinations, individual and mass feedback, and collection, management, and analysis of sensitive student performance data.


* J.D. and a state bar admission.

* Prior teaching and/or academic support experience desirable.

* Experience in program management desirable.

* Ability to excel in teaching, counseling, and advising students from diverse backgrounds.

* Ability to think imaginatively, critically, and collaboratively about how to measurably improve student academic development.

This position is a full-time, non-tenure track, non-voting lecturer position, with the possibility of multiple-year contract renewals. Summer service in residence is required, with supplemental compensation provided for the summer term. Professional development is supported, and scholarship is welcome but not required.

Santa Clara University is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer, committed to excellence through diversity, and, in this spirit, particularly welcomes applications from women, persons of color, and members of historically underrepresented groups. The University will provide reasonable accommodations to all qualified individuals with a disability.

Submit cover letter and resume to:

Assistant Dean Marina Hsieh

Academic & Professional Development

Santa Clara University School of Law

500 El Camino Real

Santa Clara, CA 95053-0448


March 27, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

LSAC Academic Assistance Training Workshop St. Louis June 3-6, 2009

As those of you on the Academic Support listserv know, Kent Lollis from LSAC posted a "heads up" regarding this year's St. Louis meeting.  Once the official announcement and registration materials come out in April, this website will post more information.

However, for the benefit of new ASP staff members who may not be on the listserv or who may not know about this bi-annual meeting, I wanted to mention it here.  You may need the lead-time to talk with your budget folks about monies to attend.

The bi-annual LSAC AATW is THE national conference for ASP folks.  The conference is always outstanding!!!!  Not only are the sessions superbly presented, but the materials that you receive are fabulous. 

ASP folks are the kindest, most generous, most innovative, and helpful folks in the world in my viewpoint.  For those of you who are new, this opportunity to meet other ASPers is invaluable.  You will make lots of connections with other professionals who will become your friends and mentors.  Conversations during the breaks often lead to swapping of additional materials and sharing of tips.

Questions can be sent to the planning committee members listed here or to Kent Lollis and his staff (  The Planning Committee includes: Paul Bateman, Southwestern (Chair); Joyce Savio Herleth, St. Louis; Jennifer S. Kamita, Loyola Marymount; Paula J. Manning, Whittier; Russell McClain, Maryland; and Jannell Lundy Roberts, Loyola Marymount (and Chair of the Diversity Committee).

I have included a few of the points that Kent included in his e-mail below for those of you who do not know the drill:

  • Registration materials will be made available in April.  
  • The conference begins with reception/dinner on Wednesday evening and ends Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
  • Registration will initially be limited to one person per law school.
  • Registration will be $100.  LSAC will pay hotel.
  • The topics include according to Kent's e-mail:

    • Introduction to the new LSAC Academic Assistance Website
    • Counseling students with disabilities
    • Working with students from different racial and cultural backgrounds
    • Basic elements in building an academic support program
    • Building a thriving academic support team
    • Basics of bar exam support
    • FERPA issues for the academic support professional
    • Deans’ perspectives on academic support and resource allocation
    • Securing resources for your program
    • Learning and technology
    • Creating a positive learning environment
    • Providing students with positive feedback
    • Supporting students in academic difficulty
    • Program evaluation tools

I hope to see many of you at the conference.  You will not be disappointed by this event.  (Amy Jarmon)

March 27, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Colorblindness and Power Point Slides

Hillary Burgess, Hofstra, mentioned to me that Kathleen Waits, University of Tulsa, (Faculty Profile) had done a posting elsewhere about colorblindness and Power Point slides.  I contacted Kathleen and she kindly povided a guest posting for me to include here.  (Amy Jarmon)

Guest Contributor: Kathleen Waits, University of Tulsa School of Law:

In recent months, I've seen a number of PowerPoints that used a green background - and sometimes used red letters for emphasis.

I'd like to encourage teachers who use Powerpoints to avoid green and red - not just in combination but either at all.  Likewise, turquoise and purple are not great.

A good 5% of men suffer from some form of red and green colorblindness, along with .4% of women.  I learned this a couple of years ago when a student had enough courage to share with me the difficulties he was having in seeing certain fonts and slides.

If you want to see how various colors look to various kinds of colorblind people (almost all colorblindness is in men, although .4% of women are red/green colorblind), you can go to:

But..I've actually hit on an easier solution.  I now do PowerPoints with a dark blue background and white and yellow letters.   EVERYONE can see these colors well. Another option is a "blackboard" style background of dark grey with white and/or yellow letters.  (Again, avoid green, red, turquoise and purple letters.)

And...of could always go with the basic white with black letters.  I don't because dark backgrounds with light-colored letters are more easily read, especially in rooms that are well-lit (as would be the case in most law school classrooms). 

If you somehow must use a red/green/tuquoise/purple background – I’ve learned that the key for the colorblind person is high contrast between background and text.  Therefore, you actually could use any background color (including green, red, purple and other "troublesome" colors) - as long as the background is pretty dark and the text is highly contrasting white or yellow.  The colorblind person wouldn't see the red or green "normally," but could still read the slide perfectly well.

March 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Condensing Monster Outlines

A number of law students spent their Spring Breaks catching up on outlining for each course and beginning to review specific topics for exams.  Some students will have lengthy outlines that include a great deal of detail (probably over 60 pages with 6 weeks to go still).  

Students who are prone to making lengthy "monster" outlines are often insecure about what they can safely leave out of the outlines.  Part of this dilemma may be a misunderstanding as to the purpose of the outlines.  Some students believe that course outlines need everything included because they will depend on them to study for the bar or to remember the law once in practice.

The purpose of a course outline is to manage information and to pass the final exam.  When it comes time to study for the bar exam, the bar review course will provide an enormous box of books with "everything you need to know for the bar exam."  Few students actually use any course outlines to study for the bar because 1) no professor can cover every topic that may be on the bar; 2) a law school course may have been too specific or not specific enough about state law, common law, or a uniform code; and 3) the law may have changed by the time one graduates.  Recent graduates tend to keep their bar review course outlines hidden in a desk drawer at work (rather than their personal outlines) for those anxious first months as a new lawyer.  After that time period, neither resource is used because they have "graduated" to other library resources that are state-specific or more updated as well as a personal foundation in their practice areas. 

Another reason students may have lengthy outlines with too much detail is that they are sequential-sensing learners who learn first through the parts, facts and details.  Only after they are comfortable with these stages can they begin to seek the bigger picture of a course.  However, they need to get to that overview with an understanding of the inter-relationships among the parts in order to succeed on their exams.  If they stay bogged down in details, they may miss issues, write about phantom issues, and run out of time on exams.  

It is more efficient to condense class notes and briefs before they are put into an outline.  That way the outline contains the essentials in a topic and sub-topic format rather than bogging down in details of cases.  Also, it takes less time to construct the outline if it is pre-condensed, so to speak.  However, this type of condensation is often easier for 2L and 3L sequential-sensing learners because they have more experience of what is unnecessary for exams.

Assuming that one is not able to let go of the details for the first outline stage, let's consider how to condense it afterwards.  Whether you will have an open-book exam where your outline is allowed or a closed-book exam where you have done extensive memorization, there is no time in an exam to leaf through a monster outline to find something - whether the leafing is done mentally or in real time.  Thus, one wants to have as few outline pages to consider as possible.

Someone once described the process of condensing outlines to me as a family tree.  The long first version is MASTER OUTLINE.  It should then be condensed to Son of Outline (approximately half the original size), then Grandson of Outline (half the size of the second version), Great-Grandson of Outline (5 - 10 pages at the most), and Great-Great-Grandson (the front and back of a sheet of paper).   

If memorized for a closed book exam, the one-pager is written on scrap paper as soon as the proctor says "begin."  It acts as a checklist for all exam answers.  (For the open book exam, it goes on top of the outline.)  The Great-Grandson of Outline is the next mental outline stage to think through for a missing rule or step of analysis.  One works back mentally through the versions if one needs more depth of information.  (In the open-book exam, the outlines are arranged from shortest to longest in a binder.)

I have never had a student tell me that she had time to go back further or needed more detail than Son of Outline during the exam.  And, many students admit that everything they needed was in the Great-Grandson of Outline.  Thus, staying tied to the monster outline is inefficient in the end.

Although a student may still start with the monster outline, it should be condensed in stages as indicated as one learns each section.  The most successful students will study the outline throughout the semester (or the remainder of the semester for those who have just started) and condense old material as they add new topics.  Thus, the outline will shrink and expand simultaneously until the final versions are produced.

If your students are skeptical that these methods will work, have them go back after their exams and highlight anything that they actually used in the monster outline on the exam.  They should then evaluate how much information they slaved over including that was ultimately unnecessary.  This exercise should help them learn what is essential for an outline and what is unnecessary.  (Amy Jarmon)


March 23, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Motivating Students When the Weather Turns Sunny

For those of us from climates that have suffered through a long winter, spring is finally making an appearance.  With the arrival of spring, also comes the arrival of spring fever and the urge to take advantage of the warmth and the sun. This comes at an unfortunate time in the law school calendar; now is the time when students really need to buckle down and complete their outlines, take practice exams every week, and ramp up time with study groups.  So how do you motivate students ot stay focused on law school when the outdoors are beckoning? Here are a few tips from someone who suffers from spring fever the same time grades are due:

1) You can study outdoors.  Slather on the SPF, grab a blanket, and read while the sun is shining.
2) Use active time as a way to review.  Go for a walk with a Sum and Substance CD/MP3 or walk with your study partners and make up hypos as go. Exercise and studying do not need to be mutually exclusive; in fact, the science indicates they go well together.
3) Remember, in most places that suffer brutal winters, it will only get more beautiful as exams approach. If you waste time now, it means you will be holed up and anxiety-ridden during exams, when you need to rest and rejuvenation of nature to perform at your best.  You got to law school because you know the benefits of delayed gratification. Exercise some now, benefit later. 


March 20, 2009 in Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Suggestions for starting an ASP Resource Center

This is a cross-post that also went out to the ASP listserv. However, I think this information would also be helpful to schools without an ASP professional, but would like to set up an ASP resource center in the library, within Legal Writing, or independently.

Credit for this goes to Louis Schultz of New England Law School, who started the listserv thread, and then compiled the responses in one document.

Responses to inquiry re: academic support resource center


Resources for understanding particular subjects

*          Understanding series (Lexis)

*          Examples and Explanations (Aspen)

*          Emanuel (some responders were disinclined to recommend this source to students)

*          Gilberts (some responders were disinclined to recommend this source to students)

*          Crunchtime (“they have more visual parts - flowcharts and such for the visual learners”). 

*          The “Acing” series (Acing Civ Pro, Acing Evidence, Acing the Bar Exam, etc.) 

*          Bar/Bri books (sometimes donated by students).

Resources for understanding law school, law exams, or legal analysis

*          Fischl & Paul, Getting to Maybe

*          Michael Hunter Schwartz, Expert Learning for Law Students

*          Ruth Ann McKinney, Reading Like a Lawyer

*          Herb Ramy, Succeedinn Law School

*          Carolyn J. Nygren,  Starting Off Right In  Law School (CAP)

*          West Publishing Co. “Introduction to Law Study” and “Law Examinations in a Nutshell.”  Responder recommends 1971 edition.

*          Foundation Press: “Academic Legal Writing.”

*          Thompson/West:  “Scholarly Writing for Law Students.”

*          Leif Carter, Reason in Law

*          Ruta K. Stropus & Charlotte D. Taylor, Bridging the Gap Between College and Law School

*          Nathan L. Essex , A Teachers’ Pocket Guide to Law School


Practice Questions.

*          Siegel’s Series (essays and some multiple choice)

*          Q & A (multiple choice)

*          Exam Pro (West Group) (Civ Pro and Property apparently are popular)

*          Kaplan/ PMBR Finals Series

Bar Exam Resources

*          Bar exam questions, printed from state bar examiner websites.

*          NCBE Multistate Bar Exam practice questions. 

*          Denise Riebe & Michael Hunter Schwartz, Pass The Bar!

*          100 Days to the Bar


 *          Law in a Flash (flash cards) (Emanuel)

 Audio Sources

 *          Kaplan's PMBR 1L and 2L Complete Success Package audio MP3 set (it was free)

*          First year program by Gilberts. 

*          The Sum & Substance series (CDs – very popular)

*          Law School  Legends Series (CDs)

Virtual Resources

             *          Brooklyn law school on-line workshop materials

*          St. Louis U academic success online tips. 


March 18, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 16, 2009

The long and short of it on breaks

Breaks are an essential part of the learning process. One that is frequently overlooked by law students and law professors alike. We need both long breaks and short breaks to function at our best.

I just came back from a one week break; limited email, limited phone, and limited contact with my office.  I started with conflicted feelings; what if something goes wrong in my absence? What if a student is in crisis?  The what-if's could have overwhelmed me. However, I knew this break was essential.  It has been an incredibly busy and challenging semester, and I am about to embark on a major job change in just over a week.  I recognized the break was necessary to recover and prepare myself. 

Breaks are not something that comes naturally to overachievers who go to or work at a law school.  We got where we are because we fast-track our entire lives. Many of our students have been programmed since birth to work hard and rewards will come.  We feel that if we rest, we will fall behind. But the science is increasingly coming to the opposite conclusion; our brains do not work on high at all times. We have a limited supply of what is called directed attention. Directed attention is what we need to work, to study, and to focus. We recharge our directed attention with breaks, both long and short.  A recent study found that girls with ADHD did significantly better in school when they were allowed recess nature walks.  Nature has been found to be a particularly effective way to recharge our directed attention. 

We also need emotional breathing space; long breaks are essential for us to appreciate what we have and what we need to accomplish.  It is very difficult to fix a large life problem while we are in the middle of it. We need the breathing space to remove ourselves from the situation and recharge, to find a new way of looking at our life.  For students, they need a break from the grind of school work. If they are questioning their choice to be a law student, they need a break--removed from outside pressures--to evaluate whether this is really the right life choice for them.

We all need breaks.  Now is the time to find a space in your life for both short and long breaks. (RCF)

I will be joining the University of Connecticut on March 27, 2009. While I will be competing the semester with VLS, I will be spending two days a week at my new position. I believe my new email address will be (UCONN IT is still working on this).  I will be working with both undergraduates at the main campus and law students in my new job. This is an exciting, but busy, time for me. If I don't post as regularly, or respond to emails as quickly, please know that I will be doing my best to split myself until May 1.  Thank you for those who wrote me earlier in the semester to ask  where I am going; we just announced the change to VLS students last Wednesday, and I wanted them to hear the news before I announced my departure to colleagues. Rebecca

March 16, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Students transferring after the first year

About this time of year, I start getting requests for letters of reference from students seeking to transfer to another law school. Students ask us for recommendations because we are the people they got to know best during their first year of law school. At schools with very large first-year classes, this is more often the case.  However, this is a gray area for many ASP professionals for several reasons. First is the loyalty we owe our employers, especially at schools dependent on tuition revenue.  If you are struggling with this quandary, it's best to ask the student why they want to leave. Are they unhappy about the location? Do they want to be closer to home? Is cost an issue? Frequently you will discover the reasons the student wants to leave the institution have little to do with the institution, and are more reflective of family or personal issues.  Tougher issues arise when the student says that the institution IS the reason why they are leaving; citing poor education, a lack of community, or unavailable/unapproachable faculty. Sometimes these students are voicing frustration about legal education in general, and their issues will not be solved by transferring to another school. In the most diplomatic, empathetic manner possible, it may be best for you to chat with the student about law school in general.  They may be happier if they pursue a passion that has a different graduate school environment.  But there are some who really are unhappy with the institution, and can give detailed, explicit  examples of  the issues or people fueling their unhappiness.   When you get such a student, it is wise to inform the administration and/or the faculty about the  issue.  There may be no possible resolution that will appease the student, but it may flag a bigger issue simmering under the surface for many other students who can't transfer.  I have encountered this, and I have still written the recommendation for the student.  I may not share their assessment of the school, but I do care about the student as a person, and it may be mutually beneficial if the student continues their education elsewhere. 

Another challenge with recommendations has to do with the students we serve.  We tend to get to know the with the most significant academic challenges.  It may be difficult to write a recommendation for a student who doesn't understand basic legal analysis after hours of one-on-one instruction.  I take a different tack with those students.  I will still write the recommendation, and I will not lie or hide academic issues, but I also try to get to know why outside, personal issues may have contributed to their struggles. I can not overstate the impact of unhappiness on a student's academic potential.  If a student would rather be close to home, the burden of their unhappiness and guilt may make it nearly impossible for them to focus on schoolwork.  I had a student years ago who wanted to transfer from a lower-ranked law school to a school that was highly ranked in their home state.  The student was well below the median at the lower-ranked school, and no amount of extra assistance from ASP seemed to make a difference in the students grades. When I asked the students about the desire to transfer, I was heartbroken by the story. A family member became ill during the first semester, and passed away second semester. The student could not focus, felt enormous guilt for not being able to help the family, and could not grieve because school work was too overwhelming.  The student did get into the law school in the home state as a provisional admit.  After their first semester at the new school, the student was in the top half of the class.  Sometimes it makes all the difference for a student to find a law school that feels like home. When the student feels comfortable with the community, they can blossom academically.  My message is this--don't lie or hide information when an academically challenged student asks for a recommendation, but don't underestimate the potential of happiness on academic success.

March 6, 2009 in Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reviewing Outlines

One of the toughest challenges when reviewing and giving feedback on student work is commenting on outlines.  I require students on academic probation to turn in copies of their outlines to me on a rolling basis.  One question I hear every year, but don't have a complete answer to, is "How can you 'correct' an outline when every outline should reflect the individual's learning style and you don't correct for content?"  It's not a question I have a precise answer to because the student is correct; outlines should look very different depending on the student, and their teacher. I try to reframe the question; I don't really "correct" outlines; I give feedback designed to help the student make the most of the outlining experience.  One of the  reasons I require outlines is to impose external discipline on the student. They have to complete the outline because it is due, and that itself is helpful for students who have a hard time completing work on time. Another purpose of outlining is to see if the student is getting the big picture of the course.  This is a challenge for me because I don't have the time to sit in on each class more than a couple of times a semester, so I am not conversant in the methods of each professor.  However, I can tell when a student is getting lost in the details.  Amy's post on Friday was a great way to conceptualize cases for a student who gets lost in the details of cases.  And although I don't correct for content, I can tell when a student is going off the rails. If a student has only two prongs for the Lemon test in a Con Law outline, they need some serious help substantively. If I see they are having major issues with content  when I review their outline, I can direct them to see their professor before it is too late in the semester.  (RCF)

March 4, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)