Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Help for Students Turning their Legal Writing Papers into Writing Samples

My colleague, Herb Ramy, (DirectorAcademic Support Program at Suffolk University Law School) has recently made his locally famous paper on "Creating a Writing Sample" available on SSRN.  This is a great resource for students who are trying to convert their legal writing (either from their first year legal writing course or other employment) into a (hopefully) job-winning writing sample.  Here is the link to Herb's ssrn page, the piece is called "Creating a Writing Sample":


April 29, 2009 in Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

LSAC Academic Assistance Training Workshop Update

This year's workshop is being held in St. Louis, June 3 - 6.  You should have received registration materials in the mail, but if you did not the materials are posted at: Registration Materials for St. Louise LSAC AATW.  You will not need a password to access the materials. 

The registration deadline is May 8, 2009.  If space is available for more than one representative per school, LSAC will post an announcement on the ASP listserv on May 9th.    

This year's theme is "Lights, Camera, Action: Producing a Successful Academic Assistance Program.  The registration fee is $100 for the school's designated representative (your Dean or Associate Dean must certify that you are the person representing your law school) and covers most meals.  Once your registration is received, you can register for the hotel.  LSAC is covering hotel costs. 

Transportation costs are the responsibility of the registrant.  However, travel assistance from LSAC is available for a limited number of registrants whose circumstances indicate severe hardship.  If you are applying for hardship assistance, you need to contact Kent Lollis as soon as possible.

I hope to see all of you ASPers in St. Louis.  These meetings are always very informative and worthwhile.  (Amy Jarmon)


April 28, 2009 in Meetings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Students Committed to Other Students

It is the hiring time of year at Tech Law.  We are in the process of choosing Tutors for 1Ls, Teaching Assistants for the Summer Entry Program, and Dean's Community Teaching Fellows for our patnership with a local high school's Law and Justice Magnet Program.  One of the things that impresses me each year is that we always have far more excellent applicants apply than we have positions.

I am also always impressed at the number of students who have past teaching or tutoring experience.  A number of the students miss being in the classroom or working one-on-one or in small groups in order to help others. 

My faith in the caring and decency of my students is always renewed when we hit hiring season despite the stereotype that law students are competitive, cut-throat, and "me-oriented."  In case you are wondering, we do not pay enough for two of these positions to make that the incentive and one position is unpaid.  There are a large number of law students out there who still consider law as one of the helping professions.  That warms my heart and makes me proud of these students.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 27, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Update on Trust in the Classroom

There is a wonderful piece on teaching in Sunday's New York Times. While the piece is on second career teachers in K-12 schools, the last commentator, Kenneth J. Bernstein, makes some fabulous observations on building trust in the classroom.  His opinion rings true for everyone in every classroom; trust is essential to good teaching and learning.  We, as professors of law, frequently forget that the content instruction only works for students when they feel safe to stretch their thinking.

"That’s the hard part, thinking more about the students than about the content. It is probably the biggest challenge for many career switchers. One doesn’t have to be their buddy, but one has to build relationships of trust. Through that trust students become willing to try when they are struggling, or to go further even when at first it seems easy.

The most important thing I do, and the hardest, is getting to know the students, and building on those relationships. The pedagogical process of matching one’s instruction to the students is easy.

Building that relationship of trust is vital. If you can’t do it then why should your students learn what you want to teach them? And if you can, become a teacher."


April 22, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Tips for Exam Studying

Students come in three general categories right now: students who have "stayed on top" all semester and studied for exams all along (Expert Exam Studiers); students who pulled it together about a month ago and got serious (Energetic Exam Studiers); and students who are only now beginning to focus on exams (Emergency Exam Studiers).  Depending on which group a student falls into, I modify the tips I give them.

For Expert Exam Studiers:

  • Continue to review material regularly to keep everything fresh in your memory.
  • Drill on problem areas within the topics that you have already learned previously.  Possibly make flashcards for these areas. 
  • Complete as many practice questions as you have time to do.
  • Spend time learning new material in depth for the last two weeks of class.
  • Condense your outlines to 10-15 pages for each course to focus on the "big picture."
  • Condense your short outlines to one sheet of paper for each course to use as a checklist (memorized for closed-book exams and on top of your outline for open-book exams).
  • Within your professor's parameters for open-book exams, decide how you want to organize the materials. 
    • Remember that you will have little time to look things up and want any "helps" to be easy to use.  Since you have learned the material all semester, you may not need to look up anything!
    • Your checklist and condensed outline should serve as your main sources. 
    • If a code/rule book is allowed:
      • Consider how you want to tab it.  Color may help.  You could use colors for hierarchy (red tab is a main topic, blue tab is a subtopic) or for subject matter (red tab is easements and covenants, blue tab is adverse possession).
      • Consider what you want to write in it on the blank pages.  Steps of analysis for main concepts.  Definitions.  Code cross-references for particular topics.    

For Energetic Exam Studiers:

  • You may still have a fair amount of material to learn deeply for the first time.  Divide up new material realistically within the number of days left.  Remember to determine the amount of time for each course by considering the difficulty of the course, number of topics to learn, and order of your exams. 
  • Make sure you are not spending major time on material you already know to avoid working on material you do not know.
  • Remember to review material regularly to keep everything fresh in your memory.
  • Decide the most efficient and effective way to drill on rules and definitions that have proved difficult: making flashcards, writing the rule ten times, reciting the rule out loud.  Balance the time the method takes against the results that method will give you.  
  • Your best strategy is to study all exam courses every week.  If you cannot do that, then make sure that you go back to a course as soon as possible. 
    • Lay out a study schedule.  Fill in the easy days first where it is before your last exam.
    • The two days immediately prior to an exam should ideally be for that exam unless you have two exams in a row.  In that case you may have to split the time each day.
    • The evening before a morning exam and the morning before an afternoon exam should focus on review, not learning new material. 
  • Schedule time for as many practice questions as possible.

For Emergency Exam Studiers:

  • You need to be effective and efficient in everything you do because of the short amount of study time left.  Make sure you get the best results in the shortest amount of time.  Short cuts are not the same as being effective and efficient. 
  • Prioritize your studying for each course.  Unless you must study the material in a particular order because the material builds on prior material, consider starting with self-contained topics that are most difficult for you or are major areas.  Continue through the self-contained topics ending with those that you understand the best already or are very minor areas.
  • Although study groups can be helpful, do not substitute group time for time you need to learn the material.  You cannot depend on your study group during the exam.
  • Do not assume that material covered at the end of the semester will not be tested in as great a depth as earlier material.  Some professors test heavier on the last material. 
  • Remember that unless a professor actually states that a topic is not on the exam, everything is fair game.
  • Do not go without sleep.  You will be more productive in your studies, retain more information, and be more alert on the day of the exam if you are well-rested.

Obviously, the Expert Exam Studiers will know the material at a greater depth, have completed more practice questions, have greater confidence, and have lower stress levels during exams.  Energetic Exam Studiers will need to work hard and smart, but may do fairly well on the exams.  However, they may not retain as much information (retention will be useful when it comes to the bar review course).  Emergency Exam Studiers can still pull it out potentially.  However, they are most likely to not reach their academic potential on exams and have minimal long-term retention of material.  They also will be more stressed than other studiers.

The good news is that Energetic Exam Studiers and Emergency Exam Studiers can improve their grades, lower their stress, and live up to their academic potential by working with Academic Support professionals during their later semesters.  Both types can become Expert Exam Studiers by honing their study strategies.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 20, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Some Thoughts on Law School for Non-Traditional Students

Whether they are attending full-time or part-time law programs, non-traditional students with families have some unique challenges.  Unlike the single law student who can choose when to study and how long to study without considering others, the non-traditional law student is always balancing other lives in the law-school scenario.

Consequently, the spouses or children are also "going to law school."  They are as much a part of the experience as the law student.  For that reason, the law student and family members have to be committed equally to the process.  There have to be communication, compromise, and courage from all concerned for the law school experience to be successful both academically and personally.

First and foremost, the non-traditional law student has to decide that sacrificing the marriage/partnership or the children is not an option.  Family matters.  Divorce from a spouse or behavioral problems for the children should not be the outcomes of law school.  

So, how can the non-traditional student with family manage law school and family without faltering on either component.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Agree with family ahead of time as to the commitment that everyone has to this career path.  If it is not the right time for the family, then delay may need to be chosen.  There may never be a "perfect time," but some times are definitely more conducive than others for going to law school.
  • Discuss compromises and workload shifts that may be necessary.  Consider the following:
    • What effect on finances will occur because of law school?
    • What changes in lifestyle will be required?  Moving to another city?  Finding another job for the spouse?  Downsizing to an apartment?  Moving schools for children?  Altering childcare arrangements?   
    • What changes in family time may be necessary?  How can quality time be increased even if quantity is decreased?
    • What changes may be needed in family schedules to accommodate law school?  When will meals be scheduled?  When can quiet time for studying be scheduled?  How much time will older children be responsible for themselves and possibly for younger siblings? 
    • What changes may be necessary as far as distribution of chores?
    • What changes may be necessary as far as community organizations and social time with already established friends?
  • Realize that everyone will need to remain flexible as law school is experienced.  Until one is in law school, one cannot anticipate every challenge.  First year is often very different from second and third years because of the newness of the workload and study methods.
  • Explain to close friends and relatives why law school will be different and how they can help.  It will take them time to adjust to seeing less of the law student.  Avoid letting guilt interfere with what must be done academically.  If necessary schedule time for these folks that fits a necessary study schedule (but do not tell them they are being scheduled!).  
  • Attend any Orientation programs, panels, and social events that are provided for non-traditional law students.  These program aspects often provide tips and support for the family members as well as the law student.
  • Work with the Academic Support staff member at the law school on time management to come up with an optimal schedule that includes lots of quality study time with quality family time.  Put a copy on the refrigerator so that the family knows when their law student is in class, studying, or available for fun.
  • Work with the Academic Support staff member at the law school to become the most efficient and effective law student possible.  Being efficient and effective is different from taking shortcuts.  There are many strategies for getting the best results from studying in the least amount of time (effective and efficient).  Shortcuts are cutting corners for less results in less time.
  • Determine the best places to study for the specific family situation:
    • at the law school so home time is for family
    • in a separate den or study at home
    • after work at the office on non-class evenings (if part-time)
    • some combination.
  • Realize that the law student may initially have to withdraw from some community obligations or at least not take on new obligations.  A Little League coach may need to become an assistant coach or an enthusiastic spectator.  A Girl Scouts leader may need to become the back-up rather than the leader.  Teaching a new Bible Study may need to be delayed until summer or passed to someone else.
  • For married and partner relationships:
    • join the law school's student organization for families
    • attend the organization's social events and meetings to gain a support system
    • find out if the organization provides childsitting, meal swapping, or other services
    • ask for help if relatives live nearby.
  • For single parents:
    • investigate that law student organization for families as mentioned in the list above
    • get to know neighbors who may be able to "pitch in" if a class or study group runs late
    • find out what school and community clubs and teams are available for after-school activities
    • befriend other law students who are child friendly and will help if the student lounge is the only place a child can wait until a law class is over
    • ask for help if relatives live nearby.
  • For children old enough to understand the importance of study time:
    • remember that their law student is now their role model for the importance of education
    • explain how they can help in their law student's academic success
    • consider having older children help in study tasks such as drilling with flashcards, discussing interesting cases, or other tasks
    • provide quality time for them to have one-on-one time to discuss their own academics and interests.
  • For children too young to understand the importance of study time:
    • swap child-sitting time with a neighbor or another law student to gain quality study time in blocks
    • provide games, videos, and other amusements to gain some study time
    • take breaks with the children as a reward for their letting you complete tasks
    • come up with a child friendly way to let them know when studying is in progress (one family set up a red light, yellow light, green light system on the parent's home office door)
    • squeeze in studying during nap time and after bed time for the children
    • provide quality one-on-one time when they know nothing else is the focus. 
  • Law students who will be working full-time will have that additional time commitment.  A boss committed to the degree is a real boon.  Co-workers committed to the degree are also a plus.  Planning ahead is essential:
    • vacation time for exam studying,
    • flexible hours to match class times, 
    • project distribution and deadline flexibility, 
    • permission to use "down periods" for studying.

Non-traditional law students are used to succeeding effortlessly in careers.  Many of them will have completed other graduate degrees before law school.  Most have outstanding records of community service. 

Some of them will mesh into the law routine without problems.  Others will find the changes daunting at first.  Most will find that their families' adjustments may be harder because law school is not easy to understand if one is not in it.  Flexibility, perserverence, and love can pull all of them through the experience and make that walk across the stage a family celebration.  (Amy Jarmon)      

April 17, 2009 in Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cluttered thinking

I get frustrated when my students come to my office with a backpack overflowing with miscellanious papers of unknown origin spilling out of zippered pockets, unable to locate the one thing they came to my office to talk about.  I like to pretend I am an organized person. However, frequently it is my desk that is a stationary version of their backpack,  and I am the one who can not locate the paper I need to give the student.  I have found that the days when my desk is most chaotic are the days I suffer from most from cluttered thinking.  And students...frequently the reason they need to see me, with their overflowing backpack and stuffed pockets, is the result of cluttered thinking.

In our increasingly busy world, we are expected to have many balls in the air. As I have written previously, humans are not built that way. Multitasking is a myth; it's just doing many things poorly instead of one thing well.  A physical manifestation of that is the cluttered desk or the cluttered backpack. We pick up one task, only to be distracted by the other four that are screaming for our attention.  A student moves to put away their laptop, when the teacher passes out a handout, which has no natural "home," so it gets shoved to the bottom of the laptop case, where the student will not be able to find it when they are preparing their outline.

We aren't going to change culture any time soon. We need to find a way to manage our life without letting the clutter overwhelm us.  Physical clutter leads to or is the product of cluttered thinking. Cluttering thinking--including too many facts in a brief, monster outlines, disorganized essay exams--makes for an unhappy, unproductive law student. Amy has written some amazing posts about including too many facts in a brief (What Kind of Motor Vehicle is this Case? Feb. 27, 2009) and overly-inclusive outlines (Condensing Monster Outlines, March 23, 2009).  Here are some of the additional tips to help cut down on the clutter--both mental and physical--to help the thinking process:

1) One thing goes in the backpack (or on the desk) at a time. Credit for this goes to Professor Judy Stinson at Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at ASU.  Judy's desk is always immaculate.  She only has one thing on her desk at a time, and she puts away whatever she is working on before she leaves her office or moves on to another project. Everything has a logical, labeled home in Judy's office. The same principle can be applied to backpacks.  Don't shove everything into your backpack at once--you won't remember where you put important papers, and they are easily lost.  Everything that goes into a backpack should have a home; handouts to file folders labeled by class, each class should have it's own folder on a laptop or notebook section.  When a student has to dig into multiple places to find notes or handouts, they get distracted and it clutters their thinking when they should be focused on just one task. 

2) Only keep one webpage on your computer at a time.  Multiple windows are distracting, and it's too tempting to "just check email one more time" while researching or writing. By closing a window when you are done, you are less tempted to click to a webpage when you should be focused on the topic you are reading, researching, or writing. Even if you do receive an important email, you won't be able to attend to it if you are working on multiple projects at once, and you are more likely to write something that is too long, has too many facts, or leaves out information because your thinking became cluttered by extraneous information.

Keeping physical and mental clutter at bay is an ongoing process. It is not a natural thing for many of us, students and professors alike. But organizing your thinking by organizing your life leads to better work and a happier law student (or professor!)


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

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Helping Students "Let Go" of Academic Support

If you have a "formal" ASP for students in academic risk and ASP for the general student body, you are in dual mode right now; triage and separation.Triage for the students who had no academic risk factors, but come into your office in crisis; no outlines, no practice tests, maybe they have missed several classes.  We are trained to deal with these issues, even if there is no "magic bullet" to help students who have not done the needed work to achieve their best. 
But if you have a formal or institutionalized ASP for students who are at high risk due to poor first semester grades or other risk factors, this is the time to starting pushing the birdies out of the nest.  A formal ASP that is required per academic regulations, in the form of individual weekly meetings or a class, means most of the students knew they might not make it at the start of the semester.  Many of them spent weeks shell-shocked, unable to understand why they did not succeed.  Many of them form a dependency on ASP. This is not a negative thing when students need intensive help, because it brings them to your office to receive the skills training they need to succeed.  They form relationships with ASP professionals and staff, as well as their fellow students at academic risk if they are in a formal class. But these students also need to know that once they have internalized the skills lessons, done the hard work, and followed the advice, they need to know they can do it on their own.  Dependency turns sour when students feel they can't succeed without you; you can't be with them during exams, you can't be there with them when they take the bar, and you can't hold their hand in practice. They need to feel self-sufficient again, to know that one bad semester does not mean they are dumb or unable to master new skills without additional guidance.  To that end, there are some ways to help students "let go" of ASP:
1) Have the talk. Tell them it's time to try more exercises on their own, without your input.  Let them know you will always support them, but part of supporting them is making them self-sufficient.
2) Help them plan.  Some students need an explicit plan to help them see that they will be fine on their own. Plan when they will see you again, and what they should do in the interim. Make a triage plan in case they do panic; often the plan itself helps them through the process. 
3) Ween them. Spread apart your meetings.  If you have a class where you have been giving feedback on all assignments, provide global feedback, not line-by-line feedback.  Teach them as a class how to provide feedback to their peers, and give peer-graded assignments.  Ask them to critique their own work based on a rubric or a model answer. 
4) Brainstorm alternatives.  Help them find other areas of support. Many students are too ashamed at the start of the semester to talk to significant others and loved ones about their struggles, but now is the time to teach them how to relate and explain their challenges to those who will be in their lives long after law school.  It is critical that these students build support networks and learn to communicate their challenges without falling apart. We do students no favors by always providing the shoulder to cry on, because we can't be there after they leave law school. 

We all become attached to our students, but like good parents, we need to know when to let go.

April 14, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 13, 2009

How May I Help?

Hi, folks. Happy spring.  Where I live, it’s happy autumn. The seasons in South America are the opposite of the seasons in North America.  So are the school semesters, of course. But here, in Uruguay, that doesn’t concern me – because, although I teach, I teach in the United States.  Sort of.  I work for Concord Law School, the nation’s first fully online law school.

Although Concord is not accredited by the ABA, our students are allowed to sit for the California State Bar after first passing the California First Year Law Student Examination. Concord graduates have also sat for the bar exam under various state bar admission rules in Washington, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maryland, Vermont, Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia.  In March 2008, four graduates of Concord became the school's first group of attorneys to be admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court.

When I began this Law School Academic Support Blog several years ago with Rich Litvin, I wrote from the point of view of one who engaged students face-to-face, either one-to-one in my office or in groups – in class, or in academic support information sessions.  Since leaving Roger Williams School of Law in 2007, I have “met” all my students only anonymously.  Other than some limited bar exam preparation efforts, my function at Concord is exclusively this: I read, comment upon, and grade examinations in six subjects.  

No longer do I teach students how to brief cases, take class notes, maximize their study time each semester, or juggle their family/work/school schedules. The law school has a fine staff of professionals dealing with those areas. I focus on those one-hour essay questions.

With the availability of online research tools, faculty advice, sample answers, and my archive of my own past essay exam comments, I am able to provide each student with a personalized critique – including both the “good” and the “bad” (no “ugly”) – of each exam effort, offering approbation, explaining misunderstood legal points, and suggesting methods of preparing for and writing essay exam answers.  The time it takes to adequately provide meaningful assistance like this varies.  I don’t believe I’ve ever spent less than a half-hour providing feedback on an essay answer; many have taken more than an hour.  All of my work is reviewed by the professor teaching the course then edited if necessary (thank goodness!).

The burden placed on an academic support individual at a typical law school includes providing a panoply of services to hundreds of students.  Individual meaningful attention is a luxury, often not affordable on a continuing basis.  One of the most powerful tools in the academic support toolbox is this: immediate personal feedback on a student’s essay exam effort.  Unfortunately, providing this requires such dedicated faculty buy-in (not only in theory, but in practice, by providing examination questions and sample answers, as well as review and assistance) and so many hours of labor, that it is virtually impossible on a grand scale in a typical law school. 

At Concord Law School, each semester includes three of these “feedback” essay exams per subject.  At your school, with an entering class of (for example) 200, with four substantive classes in the fall, that would mean providing feedback on 2,400 essays. Averaging 45 minutes each, that would take 1800 hours.  Because significant exam feedback can only be given after a few weeks of school and before exam study time, those 1800 hours would be limited to about 8 weeks of the semester.  That’s 225 hours per week.  Don’t attempt that.  It’s too stressful.  Concord accomplishes this miracle with a large staff and several semester start dates per year.

What a joy it is to be part of this effort!  Sure, I miss the group sessions, the hallway encounters, the one-to-one discussions; I miss the happy faces of successful or at least hopeful students; and (yes) even the sad faces of the discouraged ones.  But providing this level of individual assistance is a real pleasure.

Now – why am I telling you all of this?  Aha.  For one reason only.  Even though I’m a Contributing Editor to this blog, I have not been contributing to the Academic Support Blog for quite a while.  I have been reading it, and remain continually impressed with the high level of advice, encouragement, and all around supportive information and guidance offered each week.  No longer am I in a position to offer expert advice like Amy Jarmon’s “Rewards as Motivators” (April 8) or Rebecca Flanagan’s thoughtful piece on multi-tasking (November 7) – topics like these are better addressed by those front-line experts who deal with those issues daily.

But I can talk and write about exam-answering.  That’s been my sole focus for two years now.  The exam tips, strategies, methods of critiquing, and so on that I employ on a daily basis come from recipes devised by those on whose shoulders we all stand.  Had it not been for reading the books and articles many of you have written, by reading the entries in this and other blogs, by learning from my mentors at Concord Law School, and by soaking up the wealth of knowledge offered freely at the national and regional LSAC academic support conferences over the years, I wouldn’t know beans about this stuff.  I don’t have many “new” ideas.  But what I’ve got, I’m happy to share.

So here’s the deal: let me know if/how I can help.  Especially if you’re somewhat new in this field of helping law students become lawyers, I may be able to offer some advice that will help your effectiveness quotient. 

Best bet? Send me questions by email.  Pepper me with suggestions about topics. I’m in Uruguay.  My email is:  I hope to hear from some of you. I’m hoping your questions will generate some thoughts that will result in some blog entries!  (djt)

April 13, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Director of Academic Success Position at Mercer University

The job posting for this Director of Academic Success Programs position can be found at the following link on the Mercer University web site: ASP Job Posting at Mercer University.   

April 13, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bar Exam Coordinator Position at La Verne


invites applications for the position of Bar Exam Coordinator beginning in the 2009-2010 academic year. This is a full time, non-tenured contract position reporting to the Associate Dean. The successful candidate will be responsible for designing and implementing a program to assist students with bar examination preparations. The duties include teaching a bar preparation course for students in their final year of law school, conducting various bar preparation workshops, tutoring graduates preparing for the bar examination, and assessing the success of the program. Candidates must be graduates of an ABA approved law school and admitted to practice in at least one jurisdiction by examination. Individuals with experience in bar preparation instruction and/or academic support are encouraged to apply. The hiring range for this position is dependent upon qualifications and departmental equity. Benefits of employment include a comprehensive health and welfare plan, tuition program and a generous 10% contribution to the university’s 403B retirement plan. To apply, please send a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, and a statement of teaching philosophy and goals, to Associate Dean Juanda Lowder Daniel, University of La Verne College of Law, 320 East D Street, Ontario, California 91764. Alternatively, you may submit your application materials via email to

April 9, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Rewards as Motivators

Law students may find that providing themselves rewards for task completion during final assignments and exam studying will keep them motivated.  Students should match the reward to the accomplishment: large rewards for large tasks completed; medium rewards for medium tasks completed; and small rewards for small tasks completed.   

Students can determine their own definitions of large, medium and small tasks depending on difficulty of course material, type of assignment, and length of the paper.  In addition, students will differ as to the content of the motivators depending on their own tastes and lifestyles.

Here are some ideas to help students generate their own rewards lists:


  • Ice cream for dessert
  • Chai latte on the way to school
  • Popcorn snack mid-afternoon
  • Chat in the student lounge for 10 minutes
  • Sit outside and work on one's tan for 10 minutes
  • Check e-mail for 10 minutes
  • Walk around campus for 10 minutes


  • Watching a 1/2 hour sitcom.
  • Phoning a friend for 30 minutes.
  • Lunch with a friend in the student lounge
  • Video games for 30 minutes
  • Free cell for 30 minutes
  • Playing Frisbee with the family dog
  • Reading a story to a child


  • Lunch or dinner at a restaurant
  • Going to the cinema
  • Reading the Sunday paper cover to cover
  • Reading a novel for several hours
  • Taking a drive in the countryside
  • Buying a new cookbook
  • Taking one's children to the park

The rewards are only limited by the law student's imagination and finances.  By having something to look forward to, it is easier to persevere and finish a task.  (Amy Jarmon) 


April 8, 2009 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stress Busters

Exams start here in 21 days, so the stress level is increasing by the minute.  Many of my students are handling their stress well, but some have become so stressed that they are not able to get a perspective on how to help themselves.

Students sometimes think their stress comes only from studying itself, but stress can also come from friends, family, and personal responsibilities.  By dealing with both the law and non-law stress, students can cope more effectively.

The following list of stress busters should help students who are looking for quick and easy solutions for decreasing their stress:

  • Tackle your most onerous task for the day as early as possible in your schedule.  That way, it won't "hang over" you all day long and add to your stress.
  • Tackle your hardest study tasks when you are most alert.  Your brain will absorb material more easily for greater understanding and retention.  Consequently, you will feel better about your study session and lower your stress. 
  • Decide whether you study better for exams by focusing on one subject or several subjects per day.  Some students need the variety to stay focused.  By working with your own style, you will be less stressed than trying to study the way your friends study.   
  • Read through your outlines cover to cover each week in addition to any specific topics you are studying.  By keeping all of the material fresh, you will feel less anxious about forgetting things.    
  • Take short breaks (5-10 minutes) every 90 minutes and longer breaks every 4 hours (45 minutes).  Your brain will keep filing information while you relax.  You will stay more focused by allowing some down time to de-stress.
  • Explain to your family and non-law friends why you need to focus on preparing for exams.  Schedule some fun activities for after exams so they know you will make it up to them after this last push.  If you do not feel guilty about family and friends, you will be less stressed. 
  • Exercise for 30 minutes at least 2-3 times per week.  You may not have time for your usual long workout at the gym.  However, taking time to go for a walk or jog will help defuse stress.
  • Eat three balanced meals a day.  Resorting to junk food deprives your brain of much needed fuel and contributes to stress.  Cook large quantities over the weekend or in a crock pot so that you have meals for the week.
  • Avoid caffeine overloads, including energy drinks.  High doses of caffeine can have serious health side effects: increased blood pressure, panic attacks, increased anxiety, insomnia, and more.  Drink ice water instead.   
  • Avoid sugar highs and crashes from too many candy bars and sodas.  Too much sugar will add to irritability which will cause you to feel stressed.   
  • Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night.  Shirking on sleep means your brain cells do not work as well, your productivity goes down, and your ability to cope with stress decreases. 
  • Stock up on all of your exam essentials now: pens, pencils, ink cartridges, healthy snacks, healthy beverages, foods with long shelf life.  Fewer errands to run as exams approach will lower your stress. 
  • Complete a "whirling dervish" clean of your apartment now.  Then just pick up and spot clean for the remaining weeks.  Finding time for major chores every week can be very stressful. 
  • Switch to low-maintenance clothing so that you have less ironing to do and fewer dry cleaning trips to fit in to your schedule.  Again, one less chore to worry about will lower your stress.   

By adding even one or two stress busters, students can increase their coping skills as the semester winds down and the stress winds up.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 7, 2009 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Director of Academic Success Programs Southern New England

Southern New England School of Law seeks applications for  Director of Academic Support, a full time administrative position. Salary commensurate with qualifications.  Southern New England has full-time, part-time and evening-weekend programs to serve its enrollment which is composed of over 30% minority students. Send letter of application and resume directly to Dean Robert Ward,, at Southern New England School of Law, 333 Faunce Corner Road, North Dartmouth, MA, 02747; 508 998 9600, ext. 149.

April 6, 2009 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thank you

Thanks to those of you who have explained the pronunciation of Houston in NY City to me.  That makes a lot more sense!  Amy Jarmon

April 6, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Beginners Brief Best By Briefing Backward

When preparing my briefing workshop this semester, it occurred to me how hard it was to create a well formatted issue statement.  Think about it:  one of the most common formats for an issue is:  whether [most crucial fact of case] constitutes [crucial element of rule] where [most relevant facts of case].  So the issue statement might be easier to formulate after students understood the facts.  But understanding which facts are relevant and which are distracters is hard before students understand the rule and the reasoning.  Even the rule is hard to put together in a cohesive, well-articulated format as a first step. 

So then it occurred to me that it might be easier for students to brief backward:  conclusion (who won), reasons (where they can piece together discreet information), rule, issue, and then facts. 

When I proposed this idea to my students, they all looked at me like I had two heads.  (Don’t I wish!)  But, a few days later, many of these same students popped by my office with light bulbs flashing above their heads, indicating they understood the cases better and faster using this technique. 

I more fully explain the logic behind this technique and why it could be easier for novice law students in the Teaching Methods Newsletter, Winter 2008, on page 7.

By Hillary Burgess

April 6, 2009 in Guest Column | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 3, 2009

NYU Law Revue: We Didn't Hear the Question

Although I personally think that laptops are very useful learning tools and many students use them effectively, I am well aware that some professors complain that they have trouble keeping students' attention in class because of the lure of the Internet.  I cannot resist posting this ad for NYU's law school show.  It is cleverly done - though I cannot quite figure out why NYU law students are unable to pronounce "Houston."  The link is: NYU Law Revue Video.  Thank you to my colleague, Nancy Soonpaa, for sharing this clip.  (Amy Jarmon)  

April 3, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Warning: Toxic Environment

As the exam period is getting closer, more students are telling me that they are having difficulty studying at the law school.  Stress seems to be in the very air that students breathe.  Some students are irritable and taking it out on others.  Some students are predicting gloom and doom.  Rumors about professors' past exams or grading curves are on the increase.

Law students need to escape negative vibes in order to keep their focus and lower their own stress levels.  For some students, their apartments are not good options because of distractions such as television, the bed, or video games. 

Here are some places that law students can consider for studying if they need to escape the law school but cannot go home: 

  • Other academic classroom buildings on campus.
  • The main university library on campus.
  • Meeting rooms in the university Student Union. 
  • The business conference room or other areas in their apartment complex clubhouse.
  • Sunday School classrooms at their church (with permission of the church staff).
  • Coffee houses, fast-food restaurants, or 24-hour restaurants (with purchase every few hours and a big tip for the wait staff).
  • The branch locations for the public library.

Some students will find that changing locations every few days will help them stay motivated and focused.  Others will thrive on a routine and prefer to go to the same location regularly.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 2, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)