Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Non-traditional students and exam study

All law students are into exam study mode right now.  However, I want to address non-traditional students and specific study issues that they bring to the "crunch time" of the semester. 

Unlike many of their colleagues, they are often juggling partners and/or children in the law school mix.  If they are attending part-time/evening programs, they are further juggling work deadlines and boss expectations as well.  Some of them also add community or family obligations such as care of elderly or ill parents.

Here are some tips to help "non-trads" get more study time:

  • Discuss with your family why this period in the semester is so important.  Your family may not understand since law school is so foreign to everyone who has not attended - especially if you never disappeared like this during other degree programs. 
    • Ask for help in trying to find blocks of time when you can have uninterrupted study time.
    • Agree on family time that you will participate in to stay connected with "real life": a regular dinner hour or story time before bed might be examples.
    • Agree on what chores and other responsibilities will be kept by you and what ones your family can pick up (or what chores can be temporarily jettisoned).  
  • Decide with your family whether studying at home will work.  If you have a separate study/office area, it might.  But, you cannot expect your family to tip toe around for the next 5 weeks.  Some plans that have worked for other non-trad law students are:
    • Go to the law school or some other location to study so that family knows that when you are home you are available.
    • One family had a red light-green light system for the study/office door.  If the law student could not be interrupted, the red light signaled that status.  The green light meant short interruptions were okay.
    • Post your study schedule on the refrigerator to let everyone know when you will be studying and when there will be down time.
  • Realize that you may be asking your partner (or other family members) to shoulder more of the chores and responsibilities than are truly fair.  Make sure your partner and family know how much you appreciate the support.  Plan ways to say "thank you" during the semester break.
  • If you are a single parent, then make some decisions about what your priorities are going to be:
    •  Consider what chores can be jettisoned or trimmed (example, an extreme clean may not happen each week).
    • Consider whether separate home-cooked meals every night can be replaced with crock-pot-cooked meals on the weekend that are frozen and recycled over several weeks.
    • Consider whether some activities can be trimmed down a bit in time so that extra half-hour slots can be accumulated into a larger study block during the day (example, meal time, bath time, story time).
    • Decide whether you are using time between classes during the day to greatest advantage so that you can shift some studying prior to when your children arrive home.
    • Decide whether set meal, nap, bath, and bed times would help both you and your children have a better routine. 
  • Call in the reinforcements!  If you live near parents or other family members, ask for help with childcare during this crunch period.  It is important to be able to get large blocks of uninterrupted time for exam study.  Family are probably already helping to some extent, but ask if they can assist a few additional hours each week.
  • If you do not live near family, join with other law students, friends, or neighbors to swap childcare and set up play dates.  By sharing the childcare duties, you can gain some additional study hours and the other person also gains quality time.   
  • Plan activities that will be fun for your younger children while you are occupied with your studies.  Select DVDs, games, and other favorite activities that they can participate in to provide you with some uninterrupted time to focus.  You may be in the next room with your parental radar on alert, but will at least be able to have study time. 
  • Remember that you are a role model for your children.  If they see that education and studying are important to you, then they will treat them as important in their own lives.  
  • Consider whether your partner or older children can help you study (example, flashcard quizzing).  If so, then they become part of your endeavor rather than being on the outside.
  • Plan your allotted study breaks for time with your family so that they have your attention during those slots.  Chatting over a cup of tea or reading a story together can help all of you have some relaxation and be a reward for uninterrupted study time. 
  • If you are working while in law school, consider the following:
    • Can you take vacation or personal days to gain more study time?
    • Can you work on flex-time so that you shift your hours for several weeks to allow more study time? 
    • Will your boss agree to your studying at the office if your job duties are slow?
    • Can you swap duties/deadlines for the next several weeks with other co-workers in return for repaying the favor later?
    • Are there projects or tasks that can be delayed until after exams?
  • Plan a celebration at the end of the semester to thank everyone for the much-needed understanding and support.  If your family has special things to look forward to over semester break, they will have a reward for helping you find study time now. 

Non-trads have some special responsibilities that can be managed within the exigencies of law school with some extra planning.  Fortunately, most of them have fairly good time and work management skills from their jobs and family duties.  However, communication with loved ones and work colleagues goes a long way in making the transition to law school studying a smooth one.  (Amy Jarmon) 

November 19, 2009 in Exams - Studying | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finishing up the semester

Interestingly, this is about the time of year when things become very quiet for me, in both my capacity as Director of the Pre-Law Center and as an ASPer at the law school. Students start gearing up for exams, and unprepared students are still telling themselves that they have time. Because this is the calm before the storm, this is also a great time to reach out to students before they hit the wall and panic before exams. Some strategies for reaching out to students...and where to find them at this time of year:

1) Get lunch at the cafeteria. Lots of students who won't come to your office  find it easy to chat with you about exam strategies while you are waiting for your lunch.  It makes them feel like they are not really asking for help if they are not going to a workshop or making an appointment to see you.

2) Send out inspirational emails to the 1L class. Some of Amy's older posts, such as fables for law students, are fantastic for law students needing something lighthearted but purposeful.

3) Put up study hints in bathroom stalls. A shout-out for this idea goes to Julie Kalish of Dartmouth College; she started this with bar prep hints in the stalls of the bathroom at Vermont Law School. Students do pay attention. (If you are uncomfortable going into student bathrooms--I certainly would be--student workers are generally fine with helping you out). 

4) If there is an end-of-semester party sponsored by the SBA, go for the first 15 minutes or half-hour. By all means, do not stay unless you are going with a large group of faculty. Those parties tend to inspire all sorts of student debauchery you want to know nothing about. But they are generally pretty tame at the beginning, and like the lunch line, students who won't come to your office will chat with you at the start of a party. 

5) If you can afford it, put small candy-and-note gifts in their student mailboxes. Candy makes them feel better, like someone is on their side. For $50, you can make law school feel a little less alien and the exam process a little more manageable.

If you have additional suggestions about how to reach out to students at the end of the year, or strategies that have worked for you that you would like to share, please send them along to me or Amy and we would be happy to post them for everyone to read. (RCF)

November 18, 2009 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Time savers for home and school

Now that we are approaching the final crunch before exams, I try to help my law students find ways that they can save time on some of their tasks at school and at home. 

Here are some hints that seem to ease the stress because of greater efficiency and effectiveness on school tasks:

  • Read actively now for learning rather than highlighting material to learn later.
  • Review regularly so that you do not need to relearn as much.
    • Review your readings/briefs before you go into class.
    • Review your class notes within 24 hours for better understanding.  Condense them in anticipation of outlining later.
    • Review your outline cover to cover regularly in addition to any specific topics you are learning.
  • Outline new material every week so you do not get too far away from it.
  • Condense your outline to 1-2 pages per topic after intensely studying that topic.  This way, you create a smaller, big picture outline of the essentials while the material is fresh.
  • Ask your professors any outstanding questions now rather than wait until the last minute.
  • Organize all materials for each course so that your exam review will not miss any notes, handouts, problem sets, etc.
  • Stock up on school supplies so that you will not run out at a critical time during the remainder of the semester: pens, ink cartridges, paper, index cards, tabs, file folders. 
  • Complete your hardest tasks when you are most alert so that you are more productive.
  • Evaluate your study options to choose the best strategies:
    •  Should you study at school, another academic building, a coffeehouse, or at home to avoid distractions?
    • Should you study one subject for a longer period (2-4 hours) or switch among subjects to keep focused?
    • Should you cut back on hours at your job to make studying a priority?
    • Should you lessen the time you spend on e-mailing, instant messaging, texting, and talking on the phone?

Here are some hints that seem to ease the stress because of greater efficiency and effectiveness on home tasks:

  • Minimize your time spent on cleaning by scheduling a major cleaning session now and then picking up and spot cleaning only through the end of exams.
  • Plan your errands so that you have scheduled blocks of time twice a week; place errands in the same part of town in the same time block.
  • Run your errands in "off peak" times whenever possible to avoid lines.  Since many stores stay open late or 24 hours, you do not have to shop at the same time as most people.
  • Stock up on food supplies that have a long shelf life to avoid multiple grocery trips later.
  • Buy "family size" portions of prepared foods even if you live alone so that you will have multiple meals taken care of at once.  Freeze unused portions for later if you desire more variety within a week's menu.
  • Complete as much food prep as possible on the weekend for the entire week.  Cut up fresh fruit or vegetables to be portioned out over the week.  Cook multiple servings of a recipe in the crock-pot to use during the week without extra food prep (or to freeze and thaw for greater variety later).  Make sandwiches ahead for several days. 
  • Trade off child care with other law students so that each law school student can have blocks of uninterrupted time for study.
  • Talk to family and friends about how important this period in the semester is to your success.  Ask for them to help you have concentrated periods of study until exams are over.   

By taking control over daily tasks that are not high priority, law students can minimize their stress and focus more on their study priorities.  Saving even 1/2 hour per day means 3 1/2 extra hours per week to study for exams.  (Amy Jarmon)    

November 17, 2009 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doodling vs. Surfing

There was a recent article on the value of doodling while listening to a dull lecture (their wording, not mine). The study found that doodling while listening to the lecture improved retention of the material, well above the retention of people who were not allowed to doodle while listening. While I would not call all law school lectures dull, looking back at my handwritten notes, there are stars in the margins of many pages. (I drew stars on the margins of my notes since high school; I try to draw the perfect 5-point star.) One of the most brilliant law professors I know also doodles while listening to lectures, and she believes student computer games have taken the part of doodling in the margins.


What interests me about this study is not just that focused attention did not result in the best retention of material, but that I don’t know if there is a similar activity on the computer that can simulate doodling. I think that there are important differences between the sort of things our students do on computers and old-school doodling. I think the level of engagement with the distraction matters; my mind is on the game while I am playing because it requires thought. However, when I am drawing stars in the margins, my mind is still on the lecture while I am drawing, much like knitting while watching television or running on a treadmill and reading.  Additionally, I believe that doodling offers something that computers can’t mimic; we know that there is a mind-body connection in learning. Some people learn better when they are moving. While doodling does not require much movement, it requires more movement than moving an index finger to scroll on a laptop. Doodling frequently requires not just moving a writing utensil, but moving the paper, and re-arranging arm position. The movement takes the edge off the boredom, just enough so lecture sinks in.


The secondary effect of doodling is listening. While this sounds paradoxical, one of the problems with using a laptop to take notes is the “transcriber” effect.  Doodling stops students from being transcribers, and allows them to listen without focusing on transcribing every word.  (RCF)

November 16, 2009 in Learning Styles | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)