Thursday, December 2, 2010
Every year it comes, and students aren't ready for it. It's the sickly time of the year. Windows are closed, germs have no where to go, people forget winter hygene (wash hands frequently, sneeze into your elbow), and students start to get sick. The sickly time of the year usually coincides with the panicked-about-exams period. Students who kept telling themselves that they have plenty of time to write those outlines, catch up on their reading, and prepare for exams realize that exams are coming, and they are not ready. Add in a bad cold or the flu and you have students facing a crisis. While it may not seem like a crisis in the global scheme of events, law students are not known for keeping things in perspective.
What do you do for your students when the sickly time of the year comes? First, bring out the tissues and the hand sanitizer. You don't help anyone when you are sick yourself. Next, help them create a plan. Not only does this help them see what needs to get done, but it also helps manage the panic. Students are no longer facing a big unknown, because they have a plan. If the panic becomes overwhelming for them, refer them to professional help.
While the advice is not ground-breaking, it can help you manage the barrage of emails and visits you get when students face sickness and exams in the same month.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Tis' the season for stress - Part II. You want to avoid the following things so your stress level does not skyrocket:
- Procrastination. The longer you put off a task, the more onerous it becomes. Stress builds as the guilt builds. Stress builds as the deadline gets closer and time runs out. "I work better under pressure" is a destructive myth.
- Missed deadlines for papers or projects. Check and double-check. And also make sure you follow any extra instuctions regarding document binding, hard copies versus electronic copies, location for submission, or other requirements.
- Lack of practice questions before the exam. Your stress will be greater if you have done very few practice questions. Practice questions ahead of the exam allow you to monitor your understanding of the content, apply the content to new fact scenarios, practice exam-taking strategies, and practice some questions under timed conditions.
- Errors in reading your exam schedule. Check and double-check. Know the date. Know the time. Know the room. If you get disability accommodations, make sure you know your exam schedule rather than the published exam schedule that everyone else follows.
- Over-sleeping your exam. A major stressor! Get at least 8 hours of sleep the night before the exam. Set multiple alarms. Have a friend call you if necessary.
- Poor time management in the exams. It is important to finish all questions on the exam. Having to rush to finish increases stress. Distribute your time wisely by making a time chart as soon as the exam begins. Note the times that you must begin and end questions. For each fact-pattern-essay question, divide the amount of time for that question between reading, analyzing, and organizing (1/3) and writing (2/3). For multiple-choice questions, determine time checkpoints and the number of questions you must complete by that time (for example, 15 after 1/2 hour; 30 after 1 hour; 45 after 1 1/2 hours; 60 after 2 hours).
- Family commitments and home projects. Avoid non-urgent commitments that increase stress by decreasing study time. Now is not a good time to invite Auntie Em to visit for two weeks or decide to paint the living room. Alert your family and friends to the fact that your success is dependent on your focusing on your studies.
- Work obligations. Combining work and study is stressful during exams. Evening or part-time students who work full-time should consider whether they can take vacation days to gain more study time. Part-time law clerks should consider decreasing or eliminating work hours during exams if their employers are understanding.
- Reliance on rumours. Do not believe everything you hear. The grapevine content will increase in its absurdity at this time of year. If the message you hear results in more stress, it was probably disseminated by another law student who wanted to scare his competition.
- Dependence on energy drinks. Being over-caffeinated will not assist your studying. You will be stressed, irritable, and jittery. Beware of mixing these beverages with medications or alcohol.
Each person has individual stressors that should also be avoided as much as possible: certain people, chores, travel routes, etc. Be aware of your stressors and plan ways to minimize or eliminate them. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Sometimes it is the little things that are most beneficial during the exam period. They give you more control over the situation and more confidence. Here are some tips:
- Scope out your seating. If you will not be assigned a specific seat for an exam, decide ahead of time where you want to sit in the room to avoid distractions, have more space, or see the clock better. Then decide what time you will need to arrive before the exam to snag a seat in that area.
- Stock up on supplies. Buy extra pens, pencils, highlighters, erasers, gum, tissues, or whatever else you consider essential to your exam-taking system. If a paper or project is your grade instead of an exam, stock up on paper and ink cartridges.
- Watch deadlines for exam-taking software. You may need to sign-up for permission to use a laptop ahead of time. Or you may have to download the software by a certain date. If you need a loaner laptop, there will most likely be deadlines for reserving one. Know what your law school requires.
- Know Plan B if your laptop has problems during an exam. Be prepared in case of a crash or other mishap. Know exactly your law school's procedures for handling such situations. Do not waste time trying to implement your version of a procedure when a set procedure is already in place. Make sure you have pens with you in case you need to switch to writing the exam.
- Condense the entire course to the front and back of a sheet of paper. Memorize this checklist for a closed-book exam and write it down on scrap paper as soon as the proctor says you may begin. For an open-book exam, include the checklist at the top of your outline.
- Beware the open-book exam trap. You will not have time to look everything up so you need to study thoroughly. Do not waste time looking up answers that you are fairly sure are correct. Make sure you know your professor's definition of "open book" because it varies greatly among professors.
- Take a break for at least 2 hours after an exam is finished if at all possible. Your brain cells will need a rest. At least get a good meal before going back to studying. If you can go for a workout or to the movies in addition, it will relax you.
- Do not talk about the exam with other students. Talking about an exam only increases stress. You will inevitably talk either to someone who saw issues that did not actually exist (and doubt yourself) or will discover that indeed you missed a major issue. You need to focus on the next exam rather than the one you finished. Also, there may be students who have not yet taken the exam because of rescheduling, and they may overhear information without your realizing it.
Plan ahead for exam taking. Do not leave things to chance. Whatever factors apply to your situation, think through your strategies and needs. (Amy Jarmon)