Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Most of my law students realize that the carefree days of undergraduate Thanksgiving breaks from class are no longer possible. Unless law students have been diligent in reviewing for exams all semester (fortunately, more of my students are seeing the benefits of this strategy), they will not be able to afford 5 days away from the books. Even my diligent students often want the extra review time.
Students who have a study plan before the break begins tend to get more accomplished than those students who "take it day by day." By planning, they waste less time trying to decide what to study and getting started on their studying. They are also less susceptible to the temptations of TV, shopping, non-law-school family members' relaxing, and frittering away time.
Each day basically has three potential study chunks within it: 8-12, 1-5, 6-10. For many students, thinking about the day in thirds helps them plan their studying realistically. It is easier to estimate what can be done in 4 hours than what can be done "today." Even if a student decides to not use all three potential chunks every day, it allows conscious decisions about each part rather than drifting through the day.
For each chunk, a student has to determine how to use the time most effectively for her study habits and learning styles. One student may want to spend all of the day's time (a potential 12 hours) on one subject for review. Another student may need to switch off courses to stay focused. Within each of the three chunks, one student may "mix it up": read through an entire outline, flashcards, intense studying of one topic, practice problems, reading a supplement, making graphic organizers for the material. Another student may focus better by completing one type of task the entire time.
Students will maintain their focus best, gain greater understanding, and retain more information if they are active in their studying. Some may read out loud. Some may recite rules out loud. Some may ask lots of questions while reviewing the material. Some may even pace while doing flashcards. Being actively involved is more effective than merely "doing time" over the books.
Within the longer chunks, students should take short breaks roughly every 90 minutes. A quick trip to the refrigerator for a drink, a snack, or a brief chat with family will allow one's brain to file the recently completed information.
Family circumstances vary. Some students can hole up in their rooms without causing a problem with their family. Other students will find that it is best to go to the public library, coffeehouse, or some other location to study because their family members interrupt them too much or resent "tip-toeing" around the house so the law student can study.
However, I always encourage my students whether they are here in town to study or at home with family and friends to take most, if not all, of the actual holiday itself off. Why? Because otherwise they are miserable. They feel sorry for themselves and resent not having the holiday. So, better to have some time off and enjoy it than to not focus on what they are trying to study because of their emotional response. If they are staying in town, I encourage them to join with other law students or folks they know in the community for a dinner. At minimum they should go out to a restaurant and have a nice meal. Peanut butter and jelly or turkey sandwiches are not the same as a good holiday meal.
And, I think it is helpful if the students have a reward planned for studying each day. Being able to look forward to the reward is a motivator. Claiming the reward at the end of the day is satisfaction for a job well done. Whether it is watching TV with family, going to a movie, playing Spider Solitaire, or a bubble bath, the reward will make the day a success.
Happy Thanksgiving to all ASPers and to all our law students. (Amy Jarmon)