Friday, March 19, 2010
The stress levels are going up as students realize that there is less than half of the semester left once we return from Spring Break. Several study techniques can help minimize your anxiety in the coming weeks:
- Plan your study schedule carefully. Decide what hours you can free to focus on review each week. Designate review time by course so that you can determine whether you have prioritized time properly for each course. Not all courses are equal - think about your level of preparedness and understanding for each separate course.
- Study for understanding rather than mere memorization. If you truly understand a concept, you will retain the information better and recall the information more quickly. Also, understanding a concept will allow you to reason through a difficult question on an exam. Instead of guessing, you will be able to consider the question logically and thoroughly.
- Go to your professor early and often to get questions answered. The sooner you "plug up" holes in your understanding, the more quickly you will lower your anxiety. The same is true if you are a first-year student who has access to help from upper-division tutors or teaching assistants.
- Think about the information at all four levels of processing when you study: global, intuitive, sequential, and sensing. Two of these styles will be your preferences. The other two styles are your "shadows" - you can process at those levels, but it takes a bit more effort. You will understand the material with both breadth and depth if you consider all four levels.
- Global: What is the big picture of the material? What are the essentials that you need to understand? How do the topics in the course fit together to make the whole?
- Intuitive: What are the relationships among the topics, sub-topics, concepts, and cases? What policies or theories have been discussed in class? Do you know how to argue those policies or theories appropriately for the parties?
- Sequential: What are the individual units that you need to understand in the course? What steps of analysis or methodologies do you need to use for each topic or sub-topic? How can you think through the information methodically when you answer a question?
- Sensing: What facts, details, and practicalities do you need to know to flesh out the material? Are there nuances that you need to note in how the law is applied? Can you state the rules and definitions precisely? Do you need to know case names or code sections for your professor?
Apply the concepts and rules to as many practice questions as possible. Practice questions help you to understand the nuances in the law through different scenarios. The more variations you see on the facts ahead of time, the less likely that an exam question will seem "alien" to you. You will have thought about something similar previously during your practice sessions. By doing some practice questions "under test conditions" prior to the exam, you will be less anxious about formatting essay answers, choosing the "best" multiple-choice answer, or managing your time during the exam. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 18, 2010
One dimension of visual learning that helps many of my law students is an awareness of how color can be connected to learning. Some students can "see" material better when color is added: they organize the material more effectively, learn it more quickly, and retain it more easily.
Here are some general observations about using color to support learning:
- The amount of color may matter. One student may be able to use the broad tip of a highlighter to highlight case material. Another student may only be able to use a narrow underlining with a colored pen or pencil. For the latter student, highlighting would be too much of a good thing.
- The number of colors may matter. One student may have a "rainbow" case book : facts in orange; issues in yellow; procedural history in pink; reasoning in blue; holding and judgment in purple; dicta in green. Another student may only be able to use one or two colors; yellow for most items and orange if the professor stresses something in class.
- The consistency in color use may matter. The student with a "rainbow" casebook usually needs to keep the color categories the same for every case. Orange as facts consistently gives meaning to the color and allows the student to quickly find facts in the case. (And in her brief if the heading "FACTS" is highlighted in orange as well.) A student may always need to use red ink to indicate rules or blue ink to indicate policy while the remainder of class notes are in black ink (whether typing or handwriting). However, another student might randomly change ink colors in her handwritten notes just to keep from getting bored so that consistency is unimportant.
- The color chosen may naturally have meaning for a student. When I talk with students who are color learners, they often seem surprised when I ask them why they chose a particular color. They often respond that facts just are orange to them or rules just are red to them. If they color code binders for different courses, they will respond that Civil Procedure just seems pink and Torts just seems orange to them. Another color learner might use entirely different colors but will be equally sure that the specific color matches the concept or course.
- Color may indicate hierarchy, categories, parts, or difficulty. One student may tell me that green is for main topics, blue is for sub-topics, and yellow is for sub-sub-topics - color means hierarchy. Another student may tell me that green is for one topic, blue is for another topic, and yellow is for a third topic - color means categories of material. Yet another student will tell me that rules are green, policies are blue, and exceptions are yellow. A fourth student may say that green indicates material they are having trouble remembering, blue indicates material they need to study more, and yellow indicates material they need to talk with the professor about. Each student "sees" the use of color in a different way, though all of these ways are legitimate.
Here are some practical ways in which color can be added to assist in learning:
- Tabbing of a code/rule book or outline. A whole world of possibilities opens up with multiple colors of tabs. Tabs can indicate hierarchy (topics in red, sub-topics in blue, sub-sub-topics in yellow) or categories (pleadings and motions in red, depositions and discovery in blue, parties in yellow) or frequency of use (most often used in red, next most often used in blue, least often used in yellow), or difficulty to the student (known the best in red, known next best in blue, known the least in yellow).
- Adding color to a graphic organizer. By adding color to a black and white graphic organizer, many students can see the information more clearly and recall the organization better. Multiple colors can be used to indicate hierarchy, categories, or other levels of understanding.
- Using color to organize course materials. For example, a student might use orange binders, file folders, highlighters and index cards for Income Tax and everything in green for Wills & Trusts. Finding one's materials for Income Tax means gathering together anything orange to get organized. By thinking "orange" during an exam, some students would find that Income Tax information floated to the top of memory while other courses receded.
- Color coding items that one needs to draw attention to in studying. Sequential-sensing learners sometimes have difficulty remembering and using policy. By highlighting all policy in an outline in green, their attention is drawn to that area of difficulty for more drill. Global-intuitive learners sometimes have difficulty remembering precise rule statements or definitions. By highlighting all of these items in yellow in their outlines, they focus more on these specifics.
- Color coding practice question answers to analyze difficulties. An answer to a practice question should contain the law (rules, definitions of elements, etc.) as well as the facts as they apply to the law. In addition, most professors want to see both plaintiff and defendant arguments. And as appropriate, a student will need to refer to cases and policy. Finally, a student may need to concentrate on paring down her language to be more concise and less flowery.
- A student could highlight the law and cases in yellow, the facts in orange, and policy in green to see if they are properly organized and balanced within an answer.
- Plaintiff arguments could be bracketed in pink and defendant arguments in purple to show that both sides are represented in the analysis.
- Flowery language could be circled in red to show where paring was needed.
Color learners remark occasionally that they feel embarrassed because they should have outgrown coloring in grade school. Sometimes they are teased by classmates. They should ignore the jibes and continue to use color to advantage to improve their understanding, retention, and organization. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
It looks like New England will have another public law school in a few years. Franklin Pierce announced they will become affiliated with the University of New Hampshire, leading to a full merger over the next few years. This is wonderful news for students looking at affordable law schools in the Northeast. UNH Law will become the 3rd accredited public law school in New England, with a 4th closely following, when UMass Law opens and gets accreditation.
Congrats to Sunny Mulligan and Alice Briggs, FPLC's amazing ASP team, as the school transitions to UNH Law School.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
All of us who practiced before entering ASP work remember colleagues who were disasters at organization. If they were fortunate, they had a paralegal, secretary, or junior associate who "kept track" of them and their work. If not, they misplaced files, had near misses on filing deadlines, forgot to log billable time, and rushed everywhere because they were late.
Our law students will benefit from learning solid organizational skills while in law school. By learning how to organize their studies, their class materials, and their appointments/meetings, they will be better prepared for a legal work environment. On-the-job-training as summer law clerks or on their first jobs could prove disastrous to their careers.
Here are some tips for law students who need to improve their organizational skills:
- Have a study area in your apartment where you keep all of your casebooks, study aids, binders, highlighters, and pens. If everything is kept in one area, you can minimize having to search your apartment for items that you need before you can study.
- As a corollary, always return an item to its place in your study area after using it. Have a designated spot for books and binders for each course, office supplies, and your laptop.
- Have a binder/folder for each course that will include all papers for that course: handouts, articles assigned, practice questions distributed, and other "extras" from your professor. The same binder may include your syllabus/assignment sheet for the course. Alternatively, some students prefer a separate binder just for syllabi and assignment sheets for all courses.
- Consider using computer software to organize your own class notes, outlines, graphic organizers, and other course materials. Choose a product that has capabilities that match your study preferences, is easy to learn, and has flexibility within its categories. However, make sure that you have sufficient backup of these materials so that you do not lose everything if your computer crashes.
- If you respond to color, consider having hard copy materials for each course in a different color. If you know that PR has a green binder and folders while Evidence is blue for each, you can quickly pick out the necessary materials for the day.
- Determine the best "vehicle" for your materials for school. Get organized whether you prefer wheeled luggage, a backpack, separate computer and book bags, or some other method. Make sure that your method includes pockets and compartments for everything that you need.
- If your law school provides carrel space or locker space, determine how to use it effectively in conjunction with your "vehicle" of choice. Some students prefer to store everything at home and take things to school as needed. Other students prefer to store everything at school and take things home as needed. The main thing is making sure you have what you need at any time at each location.
- If the trunk of your car is your storage space, then get it organized. Consider collapsible crates or partitioned trunk dividers that can be used to sort items by course or by items (example, binders versus casebooks). Avoid leaving items exposed on the back seat that might tempt someone to break into your car.
- Have a designated spot in your apartment where you always place daily items that you need/use. Put your keys, wallet, cell phone, eyeglasses, and other essentials in the same place every time you walk in your apartment door. Stack bills to be paid in one place where they will not get mixed up with junk mail or other unimportant papers.
- Calendar all appointments and meetings. Whether you use Outlook, a hard copy appointment book, or your iPhone for calendaring, it will do you no good if you do not look at it! Regularly check your calendar and update it with new appointments as soon as possible.
- Use "alert" systems on your computer or phone to remind you of meetings and appointments. Alternatively at home, set your oven timer or alarm clock to alert you when to end a task or leave the house.
- Set an artificial deadline two days before a real deadline for a paper, exam, project, or other task. By working to the artificial deadline, you will have spare time if needed for a final edit, review of the one exam topic still confusing you, or finding another printer if your own printer jams.
- Whenever you have a "glitch" in your organization, determine what went wrong. Then correct the problem or choose a new strategy that will work better to keep you organized. Avoid excusing your error as "just one of those things." Take action to make sure it does not happen again.
Some folks are naturally organized. Other folks need to practice organization. All of us can become better organized if we continue to work at it. (Amy Jarmon)