Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The balance between "let me help you" and "you are an adult now"

I find as an ASP'er (and a faculty member when I wear that hat) that I regularly have to decide where to draw the line between offering assistance and allowing students to make their own decisions (and sometimes as a result, mistakes). 

Take for instance the chronic "no show" student.  This person has a standing appointment on my calendar (usually because of probation status) but part way through the semester disappears.  It usually starts innocently enough - one of us has to re-schedule because of illness or out-of-town commitments.  Our school does not have any immediate penalty with teeth to it if a probation student does not attend appointments.  I make the gesture of a reminder e-mail encouraging the student to return to our scheduled appointments.  But, I ultimately allow the student to decide if she wants to accept the assistance available.

Another example is the student who tells me that she is going to attend a workshop or make an appointment to discuss a particular study problem.  Sometimes the student neither show ups for the workshop nor contacts me for an appointment.  If I later bump into the student in the hallway, I'll follow up with encouragement to make an appointment so we can address the issue.  After that, I drop the matter.

A final example pertains to the elective courses that I teach.  I always have 30% of the grade connected to a presentation.  I strongly encourage students to meet with me the week before their presentations so that I can alert them to any problems with their planned PowerPoints or handouts.  If a student chooses not to meet with me, then the presentation may be incomplete or inaccurate and cost the student points that could have been gained with some additional pointers from me.  When a student does not make an appointment within the expected time, I do not interfere since it is the student's choice (and responsibility) to request assistance or not.

The dilemma, of course, is that some students who most need the assistance are the very ones who do not take advantage of it.  If I go beyond offers of assistance and encouragement, however, I end up playing a parental role.  And lessons about asking for assistance are perhaps better learned in law school than later in life when the stakes are higher.  The reality is that students will be on their own when they leave us.  Employers and judges are not going to hold their hands.  (Amy Jarmon)        

April 24, 2010 in Advice | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's triage time again

We have seven class days left.  I am meeting lots of students who are brand new to my ASP services.  These students are usually panicky.  For the most part, they are extremely behind.  We are talking no outlines or, best case, last outlined in Week 4 of the semester.  If I am lucky, they have at least been reading for class (though usually not briefing).

Welcome to ASP triage work.  I want to ask "What were you thinking?"  I don't.  First of all, we do not have the time right now for that discussion.  Second, I do not want to risk sending them "over the edge" and flat-lining any chances we have of fixing the situation to some extent.  

Here are a few of the emergency measures that I suggest to them:

  • Make every minute count.  Do not waste time.  Only undertake studying that gets results.  Always consider what the payback will be for the exam (or paper or project) when starting a task.
  • Keep up with current class reading.  Many students are tempted to stop reading for class to find more study time.  This strategy is a bad idea because then they are then lost on the current material which will also be on the exam.
  • Continue going to all classes.  Many students are also tempted to skip class to find more study time.  This strategy does not work because the professor will now be pulling the course material together, will give out information about the exam, and will test on the new material.
  • Develop a structured time management schedule.  Block out times for the week when reading for class, writing any papers, and reviewing for exams will occur.  Label each block with the course related to the task.  Spread the time for exam review among all exam courses so that progress can be made on every one of them.  Few people can work more than a few hours on a paper at one time.  Use breaks from a paper for reading or reviewing for exams.   
  • Prioritize your courses and topics within courses.  Some of the things to consider are:
    • Determine the level of understanding in each course. 
    • Determine the amount of material to learn for the first time in each course. 
    • Determine the amount of material already reviewed for each course. 
    • Evaluate which topics are most likely to be heavily tested, moderately tested, and slightly tested for each exam. 
    • Determine whether course topics need to be studied chronologically as presented (because they build on one another) or can be isolated for study in any order. 
    • Check to see the order of your exams within the exam period.  
  • Break course topics down into sub-topics.  It is easier to stay motivated and to see progress if one can cross off sub-topics quickly.  It is also easier to find a shorter block of time to complete review of a sub-topic than it is to find a block of time to review the entire long topic.
  • Condense material to the essentials for each course.  These students no longer have the advantage of learning all of the nuances and gaining full understanding.  They need to make sure they understand the basic concepts, the important rules, and the methodologies.  Unfortunately, they will be depending on working memory and may well have to re-learn everything later during bar review.  
  • Apply the law after learning each topic.  Do a few practice questions to see if you can actually use what you learned about a topic.  Once you know how to structure an answer for a particular topic, the structure can be used when you confront new facts for the same topic on an exam.
  • Get enough sleep.  Staying up late and getting less than seven hours of sleep as a minimum will be counter-productive.  Going into an exam in a sleep-deprived state will only mean being unable to focus and analyze clearly.  Cramming more material during last-minute, late-night study will not make up for exhausted brain cells.    

After we avert this crisis as much as possible, we have the "next semester" conversation about using sound study habits from the first day of the semester.  (Amy Jarmon)


April 22, 2010 in Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do teachers grade more harshly when they use red pens?

Some interesting science to least one presenter at every ASP conference mentions that students feel that red pen makes it look as if the paper is "bleeding" negative comments. A new spin: teachers actually grade more harshly when using red pen.  Another reason why green, pink, purple might be better bets when giving student feedback. 

(I realize this link doesn't look like it fits with my does.)

And a link to the full study is here:

The pen is mightier than the word: Object priming of evaluative standards

by Rutchick, Slepian, and Ferris


April 21, 2010 in Advice, Current Affairs, Exams - Studying, News, Reading, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Policy and the law - the big "huh?"

When I discuss exam writing with students, I have noticed that mentioning the possibility of "policy points" usually elicits some concern.  I often get a glazed stare, a deer-in-the-headlights look, or a furrowed brow in response.  Over the years, I have decided that these responses come from several sources.

What does "policy" mean?  For some students, the responses are based on the peculiar fact that faculty members talk about policy readily without ever actually explaining the term.  As lawyers, we all know what it means, but do not connect with the fact that students (especially 1L's) do not.  Once students realize that "policy" is the purpose behind a law, a light bulb goes on for them. 

They relax once they understand that courts may use policy discussion to reason through (some would say justify) law in new areas or changes to the existing common law.  It will make sense to them that attorneys may argue policy to convince a court to alter the existing law to a small degree.  It suddenly becomes obvious that legislatures may use policy reasons for enacting a law that impacts society in a new way.

Why should I care about it?  Professors often enjoy the discussions of policy that accompany their courses.  If they are "idea" people, they may even get a "buzz" from discoursing on policy implications.  Some courses (or at least topics within courses) are traditionally taught with lots of policy discussion.

Students who are intuitive learners tend to understand innately policy's important place in legal thinking.  They like dealing with concepts, abstractions, and theories.  They see the inter-relationships among various policies and how to use those policies to further their arguments. 

However, students who are sensing learners do not always understand why policy should be important.  These learners are very practical people who hone in on facts and details and direct applications to problems.  They may only pay attention to policy if they see how policy impacts the law.  If a professor merely discusses policy on a very theoretical basis without actual examples of its use, these students may miss the point entirely.  They need more information: How can the plaintiff's or defendant's attorney argue this policy?  Would the parties choose different arguments based on competing policy choices?  How have policy changes actually altered the law over time?

Will my professor care about policy?  It depends.  Some courses are so codified that policy has become relatively unimportant; there may be little or no policy discussed by the professor.  Some professors will relate the historical policy discussions as background, but see them as unimportant for exams.  Some professors will ask pure policy questions on their exams.

I can think of two professors who taught the same topics from the same case book, but had totally different expectations for final exam answers.  One professor expected policy discussion on every question while the other was uninterested in policy discussion unless it was the only argument a party could make.  "Know thy professor" is the best tack to take for determining the potential for policy points on exam answers.

When I get one of the looks of concern, I explore the student's reaction to see if one of these aspects is the reason.  We then discuss further whether or not policy points are an appropriate strategy.  (Amy Jarmon)

April 19, 2010 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)