May 7, 2010
Quashing Unrealistic Expectations
End of semester conferences provide a good opportunity to have the much needed one-on-one communication with my bar skills students. Since class sizes are large, 40- 60 students per section, individual contact is hard to achieve regularly. Conferences give students the opportunity to ask the questions they were hesitant to ask during class and provide the chance for me to counsel, applaud and guide them as they move onto their graduation and bar review.
Typically, these conferences run the gamut. We discuss their performance in class and their essay writing on their simulated bar essays. But more importantly, I try to gauge their anxiety regarding the bar exam as compared to when they started the class. At the beginning of the semester, I require all students to fill out a questionnaire that I use to create a student profile and assess where they are and what work is ahead of me. To fully grasp their progress at the end of the semester, I review their personal questionnaires along with their final writing assignments before our conference.
Although brief, 15-30 minutes, the conferences are a great way for me to personally reach out to those students who need it most and give individualized attention to all of my students. These conferences also give me great insight into the mind of an almost grad. This spring I realized that quashing unrealistic expectations regarding what their summer will look like is also a necessary part of my conference time with these budding grads.
Startlingly I have heard the phrase, “Studying for the bar this summer is just a nine to five gig, right?” I was shocked to hear this the first time! To my surprise, I soon realized that dozens of students were under the same impression, bar review would actually take up less time than their law school studies. Who is spreading such a rumor? Who has greatly misrepresented the time commitment required for bar review?
My job, however difficult, is to quash this unrealistic expectation and set them on the path to success. Attending bar review lectures, memorizing the law and taking practice tests are fundamental to bar exam success but are all quite time consuming. Therefore, equally important, if not more so, is time management.
Most law school students have a solid grasp of time management strategies. As 3L’s, they have lived through first year sleep deprivation and Socratic hide the ball, being worked to death in their second year, and juggling multiple deadlines with their reading and work schedules during their third year. Ironically, however, after all three years, some of them still do not know how to productively use their time.
Efficiency and concerted effort is key to success on the bar exam. Attending daily lectures, synthesizing countless rules into manageable outlines or other memory devices and frequently taking numerous practice exams can only be achieved if a student knows how to effectively stay on task and easily move between each of them. Interruptions and procrastination will certainly occur. However, the successful bar review student will know how to overcome these classic distractions.
Since I play a part in their success on the bar exam, I first quash their unrealistic time expectations and then give them helpful tips to make it through this grueling period.
- Tip #1: Wake Up! Bar prep will take over your life for the summer! It is rarely, if ever, only a nine to five gig; in actuality, it takes at least 10-12 hours out of your day. I also advise them to use their time judiciously. Factoring in breaks, family and/or work commitments and exercise is essential.
- Tip #2: Manage Your Time! Calendar and micromanage all of the pieces of your review at the beginning of the summer before bar prep starts. By planning carefully, students will likely cover all of the requisite material, not leaving multiple subjects to cram into insufficient time right before the exam. Doing this advance planning will allow them to possess a semblance of control and sanity. Lastly, when considering time management, I ask them to think not only about what they need to study, but how they will study and where they will study. Choosing the right time and study location can make a considerable difference in their productivity.
- Tip #3 Self Regulate and Reflect Students know themselves best. Guide them to reflect on what has worked for them while studying for closed book law school exams and what has not been as successful. Remind them that if something is not working during bar review, they should seek help (from their bar review provider or ASP) and to feel self confident enough to change their study plan accordingly. They should be empowered by this process not fraught with worry. Being flexible and proactive yields positive results.
Coupling the jolting and daunting news of losing their summer to endless hours of studying for the bar, with concrete strategies to conquer the exam, will hopefully soften the blow. Selfishly, it may also limit the amount of students knocking at your door around the second week of July needing to be rescued from the mountain of work that accumulated as a result of their lack of time management. If we plan ahead, so can they…we just need to lead the way.
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