Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, January 31, 2011

Testing is Learning

This is actually an update from a post I wrote earlier in the year. The journal Science has recently reported a new study that proves that people learn best by being tested. Compared to creating concept maps, repeated studying, and reading, students who were tested on material knew the material better than students who employed other techniques.  

This is scientific confirmation of what many in ASP have been preaching to our students for a while...take practice tests. The disappointing implication from this study is that law students aren't learning if testing is what creates real learning. The sole summative assessment that comprises most of the testing or assessment in most classes in law school isn't going to do much for learning. Science has already demonstrated that feedback is critical to improvement, and summative assessments don't have a lot of that, either.

The implications for ASP...keep doing what most of us are already doing. Give our students lots of practice tests, and give them feedback on those practice tests. Develop or borrow assessments that test material in increments, so students don't have to wait at least half the semester to know enough to take an old exam from their professor.

This is further confirmation of the prescience of Ingrid Michelsen Hillinger of BC Law and Rory D. Bahadur of Washburn, both of who presented at AALS on how to give formative assessments to students without increasing the grading burden. Not only were their presentations fascinating, but they shared valuable lessons on how to help our students succeed, without crushing numbers of exams. While ASP classes as a whole tend to be smaller in size than doctrinal classes, if you have a large student body, their lessons on group projects and peer assessment are valuable tools. (RCF)

For more information on the study:

To Really Learn, Quit Studying and Take a Test
Published: January 20, 2011
Test-taking actually helps people learn, and it works better than repeated studying, according to new research.


January 31, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Law School as a Hazing Ritual

By now, most ASP professionals have read the New York Times article on law school as a losing game. The article was the subject of much discussion in my department. The timing of the article coincided with the AALS annual meeting, where ASP, Student Services, and Balance in Legal Education focused on the question of whether we should be graduating happier law students. The contrast between the article and the AALS section program was stark; as we are looking to graduate happier students, more and more of them are unhappy because of the lack of job prospects, which is one thing that is out of our control in Academic Success. 

A colleague on mine with a background in psychology noted the similarity between the student profiled in the NYT's article and the mentality of hazing victims. Victims of hazing often demonstrate undue veneration for the organization, because they have to justify their suffering. Hazing victims have to believe that their suffering was justified by the value and prestige of the organization. Students aren't just suffering because of a lack of jobs; students suffer throughout law school by the system of grading and sorting that prevents them from fixing their errors in thinking before final exams. When law schools operated as a sorting mechanism, where the best suffered in order to be chosen by Big Law and rewarded for their suffering with a high six-figure salary, the hazing of law students was justified by "winners" of the race. However, with BigLaw jobs disappearing, and six-figure starting salaries becoming more and more rare, the concept of law school as a sorting mechanism breaks down. If law school no longer acts as sorting mechanism, is there a reason to continue with a system that causes students to behave like victims of hazing?

The breakdown of law schools as a sorting mechanism makes the focus of this year's AALS program even more timely. While some students will continue to value a law degree despite the low salaries, disappearing job prospects, and rising debt, many more students will reject the notion that a law degree must come with three years of suffering. Breaking law school of the elements of hazing will mean graduating happier law students, and the possibility that they will venerate their law school experience for the value of the education, not as a defense mechanism. A legal education is still incredibly valuable, but it doesn't need to come with undue suffering.

ASP has a critical role in helping graduate happier law students. We can't force professors to give formative assessments, or goose the legal market so graduates have jobs, but we can help students learn the coping skills that make law school easier to digest. We can teach the academic skills earlier in the year and help students design their own formative assessments so that grades are not complete shock in January. ASP can direct students towards the skills classes and clinics that will make them more appealing to employers, despite less-than-stellar first semester or first year grades. (RCF)

 (Thank you to Lucy Sweetman of UConn, who made the comparison between victims of hazing and the student profiled in the article.)

January 21, 2011 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Reckoning Season

We are just about to begin the reckoning season. It’s when student reckon with their grades. It’s the same every year. However, after this year’s AALS meeting on graduating happier law students, I believe it is possible to soften the reckoning season for students. Reckoning season will soften when students have an idea of what their grades will be before the close of the semester, when they actually have a chance to improve. The reckoning season will be easier on all of us if students are not only less depressed, but less angry because they knew what to expect when they open their grades. Less angry, depressed students will have a host of benefits.

The reckoning season will end when students have periodic formative assessments throughout the semester that help students learn what they don’t know. As Rory Bahadur of Washburn demonstrated at AALS this year, formative assessments need not increase the grading burden. By writing short questions with a grading rubric, students can peer-grade. Or as Ingrid Michelsen Hillinger of BC Law and Sophie Sparrow of UNH Law confirmed, even if you add assessments, assigning students to teams to reduce the grading burden.

Adding assessments always begs the question: what about coverage? Best expressed by Allison Anderson of UCLA, coverage does not always mean understanding. By rushing through material at the expense of deeper understanding of the material, students are not only shocked and depressed by their grades on reckoning day, but they have not necessarily learned anything in the process.

What role will ASP play if students have a sense of their grades before the close of the semester? It means we will get to focus on skills earlier in the semester, and they will be more likely to listen when we can help before grades are final. It makes our jobs more meaningful, because students will see the importance of our roles earlier in their law school career.  It may mean more work for us earlier, but a more balanced school year with less of a crush at the start of the spring semester. (RCF)

January 19, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, January 17, 2011

ASP Section at AALS

There will be additional posts on AALS, but this is a brief overview of the program and the new AALS ASP section officers (Congrats to my co-editor, Dr. Amy Jarmon!)

The program, co-sponsored by Student Services and Balance in Legal Education sections, was a huge success with great turnout. It was a packed house, with every seat filled.

The program started with a brief memorial to Prof. Bruce Winick, who passed away this year. Prof. Winick was a giant in the legal academy, therapeutic justice, and the humanizing legal education movement. He will be deeply missed.

The first panel was Deborah Rhode, Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado, and Nancy Levit, discussing the current state of emotional well-being for law students. The statistics were sobering, but it was wonderful to hear so many folks so concerned about the happiness and well-being of law students and actually working to do something about the challenges to law students and recent grads.

The next panel was Paula Manning, Corie Rosen, Russell McClain, Rebecca Flanagan (me), joined after by Andrew Faltin. Paula et al got the program rocking with a song and dance (no joke) on how optimism, feedback, and programming can enhance law student well-bring. Andrew closed the section with information on how to use student self-evaluatuations to create happier law students.

The last panel, Laurie Zimet and Paula Lustbader, showed the audience how to get to know their students in"3D". Laurie and Paula provided some excellent tools to help professors get past their pre-conceived ideas about their students and help see them for who they are, not just a face in a seat. We closed out the day with Larry Krieger, the guru of law student balance and happiness, discussing his latest research on autonomy support and student success.

At the close of the program, the ASP business meeting announced the section officers for the 2011-2012 year:

Chair: Michael Hunter Schwartz

Chair Elect: Paula Manning

Immediate Past Chair: Robin Boyle

Secretary: Rebecca Flanagan

Treasurer: Herb Ramy

Executive Board:

LaRasz Moody, Emily Scivoletto, Louis Schulz, and Dr. Amy Jarmon


January 17, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight, Current Affairs, Meetings, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Are you happy?

This is related to the AALS 2011 theme of happier, healthier law students. For the past year, I have been brainstorming ways I can measure the success of my pre-law office at UConn. This is something of a challenge because of my background in ASP. Thinking about how to measure my success working with pre-legal education led me to some realizations about ASP. The questions traditionally asked of a pre-law office are questions that I don't think measure success.

1) Is there an increase in the number of students attending tier 1/top 100 schools?

Well, that question diminishes the value of scholarships. Anyone who has worked with law students know that debt can make life miserable. Many students I work with were accepted by tier 1/top 100 law schools, but choose less debt over more prestige.

2) How many of your students receive scholarships?

This question is the inverse of the previous question. I had a handful of students receive scholarships, but choose to go to their dream school. I can't fault these students. They are primarily super-achievers who spent 4 years attending public school so they can minimize their debt and attend their dream law school. 

3) What is the yield rate on applications?

Well, that depends on the student. Some of my students are risk takers, and only applied to their reach schools, because they would rather attend a dream law school or no school at all. I have other students who applied to 20+ law schools because they needed the safety of multiple options.  Students decide how many schools to apply to based on their motivation to become an attorney. It's all very individual. 

4) Are more students now applying to or attending law school since the pre-law office opened?

As an ASPer, this question makes me cringe. I have no desire to push more students into law school. I want to help the right students find the right law school to meet their personal goals. No one would think of pushing students into medical school; we know that being a doctor is a calling as well as a profession. No one would dream of pushing a student into medical school if she didn't know what doctors did on a daily basis. Law should be approached in the same way. Students should go to law school because law is a calling, and they should understand the demands and pressure of the field before they choose law school. 

Which leads me to what I really want to know...after my students begin law school, are they happy with their decision? Is there additional or different information they wish I had shared with them? Do they feel that UConn helped prepare them for the rigors of law school? Do they feel as if they were an educated consumer when comparing law schools?  I want to know about quality, not quantity.  The challenge, like measuring the success of an ASP office, is that quality is hard to measure. 

The most meaningful feedback I have received has come over the past couple of weeks, thank you letters and emails from students who are just starting their law school career.  The most important piece of information they can share with me is whether they are happy. I don't mean the in-the-moment happy that tends to slip away over the course of the first semester of law school, but happiness that is born of making the right decisions. 

One of the hardest parts of ASP is counseling students out of law school. The law students who didn't know what they were getting into, had no idea what law school would entail, and realize that a law degree will not get them what they were searching for broke my heart as an ASPer, and many times, the student's pain was wholly unnecessary. My goal is to minimize the number of students who wind up in ASP offices feeling like they made a mistake, or that they were totally unprepared for law school.  Effective pre-law planning and pre-legal education won't eliminate the need for ASP offices, but it should minimize the pain associated with law school.  By knowing some of the reasons why law students fail, I hope to empower pre-law students with the right information, experiences, and foundation. 

I am encouraged when I attend ASP conferences and hear from other ASPers that work with pre-law offices, not to sell their school, but to share information with the people responsible for students before they reach law school.  Both pre-law and ASP offices would be enriched by the sharing of information about how to help law students make the best choices before they get to orientation. (RCF)

January 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wisdom of the Know-Nothing

When I started in ASP, I thought I didn't know anything. I was convinced I knew nothing. I remember the panic when I had to teach my first class during orientation, a few weeks after I had taken the bar exam.  Now, almost six years later, I still get butterflies before I teach a new class, but the panic has subsided. I know I have a lot more to learn, but I don't feel like I don't know anything.

After being a part of the ASP community for six years, I am beginning to realize that I may have lost wisdom from that time in my life when I thought I knew nothing.  Part of that wisdom was empathy. I didn't realize it at the time (my panic was too overwhelming) but I was feeling the same thing as my students. They too were panicked and overwhelmed by the thought of law school, convinced they knew nothing. I was better able to anticipate their challenges because so many of the challenges faced by 1L's are emotional, not intellectual. While they panicked over their first set of exams, I was panicking with them, afraid that I had not taught them the skills they needed to succeed. However, exams came and went, and the vast majority of my students succeeded. When I was talking them through the steps needed to work through pre-exam anxiety, I knew them first-hand because I was using them myself. I keep in touch with a handful of my students from my first year teaching, and they have gone on to be successful, happy lawyers.

Right out of law school, I was in touch with the exam-taking process. I knew the process of sitting down, loading up ExamSoft, and knowing when to stop writing and edit. It's been almost six years since my last exam, and it takes some time for me to remember the steps students need to go through to take an exam. There are quirks to exam taking that are fading from memory, quirks that can impact grades. I ask my students now how they go about taking an exam, but its no longer something I experience, but something I know from being told.

There is so much I know now, so much I wished I knew when I started teaching. I have broken down the exam process at four schools and with countless teachers, I have studied the how and why of law student success, and I have seen myriad student issues. However, there is a wisdom to being new to something, to being the know-nothing doing something for the first time. It's not the wisdom of experience, but the wisdom of inexperience. I would not trade what I know now for the wisdom of inexperience, but it helps to remember what it feels like when you learn a new skill.  Law school is still new to our students. (RCF)

January 11, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are you a new law school ASP'er or know one at your law school?

Each semester we try to do "Academic Support Spotlight" postings to welcome folks who have joined the ASP community since our last round of postings.  Although I know we have already posted about a few new folks who joined law schools in November or December, I suspect that other new faces that have been arriving the last few weeks and will continue to do so into February.

If you have joined us in ASP work at a law school (or know someone who has) and have not yet been featured here on the blog, please send a picture (or link to your picture on your law school web site) and a short biography to Amy Jarmon at the e-mail given in the left-hand co-editor information.

Welcome to ASP work!  I look forward to hearing from you.  (Amy Jarmon) 

January 9, 2011 in Academic Support Spotlight | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Do you make resolutions each year for changed behaviors that you wish to implement during the coming year?  Most of us do.  And statistically, most of us are not successful at those resolutions.  Why is that?

Well, we may set too many goals.  We include a long list of behaviors that we want to change that would overwhelm any one human being.  Suddenly we expect ourselves to improve in ten or twelve areas at once - usually areas that we have always struggled with during our lives.  We resolve to lose 75 pounds, get rid of all debt, stop smoking, never procrastinate, eat more fruits and vegetables, do a major cleaning every week, be nice to everyone in the world who isn't nice to us, go to church every Sunday and Wednesday, save the whales, and ....  You get the picture.

Our students often set too many goals at once as well.  They tell themselves that they will get all A's, turn in every paper 3 weeks early, be President of six clubs, volunteer ten hours per week, work at the most prestigious law firm twenty hours a week, and do it all with full scholarships. 

When we set too many goals that are all major changes or accomplishments at once, we become overwhelmed quickly.  First, we feel pulled in a thousand directions and do not know where to focus.  Second, we quickly realize our progress is minuscule or at least slow.  Third, the moment we fail at one of the goals we are tempted to give up on that goal.  Fourth, when we fail on one goal, we may assume we will inevitably fail at them all and become discouraged. 

We also often set unrealistic goals.  We want to make huge leaps in our lives instead of taking manageable steps that eventually will lead to that huge leap.  We want to lose that 75 pounds NOW, instead of losing 1-2 pounds per week for however long it will take.  We want to get rid of all debt NOW, instead of paying off one credit card balance at a time after we have cut up the cards. 

Again our students set unrealistic goals.  It is inevitable that my students on probation will announce that they will get only A's the next semester.  Instead, they should focus on doing the best they can each day because it is consistent, hard work that produces good grades.  Instead of declaring that every paper will be turned in three weeks early, they should focus on meeting each deadline for each stage of the paper on time or perhaps several days early.  They should resolve to be a committee member or officer in one club and do an excellent job for that club. 

We often fail to ask for help with our goals.  We are more likely to succeed if we have help.  Think about going to the gym - if you have to meet a friend there for a spinning class, you are more likely to attend.  If a friend helps us stay accountable by pulling us out of the store when we get tempted by the $300 pair of shoes, we are more likely to avoid extra debt.

Some students feel ashamed of their weaknesses and avoid asking for help.  But going it alone can be - well, lonely.  If students align themselves with friends and family who will help them meet their goals, they will be more likely to succeed.  A friend who encourages the student to read for class is far better than the friend who encourages one not to read or to go out for a drink.  A sister who calls and asks for a list of what the student got done that day is trying to help the student stay accountable.  Academic success professionals often help students with accountability by setting up regular appointments and asking the hard questions about the student's progress on academic tasks.  Professors are happy to work individually with students who are sincerely working to improve.

Here are some tips for those New Year's resolutions that law students are contemplating:

  • Limit the list to no more than 3-5 items that are truly achievable.  Pick goals that one has a good probability of meeting rather than "pie in the sky" goals.  For example, outlining every week in a course is achievable while making the world's best Commercial Law outline is not.
  • For each goal, break it down into the small steps or tasks within the larger goal.  As each small step gets crossed off, progress is made which serves as encouragement for more progress.  For example, a paper can be broken down into all of the research, writing, and editing tasks.
  • When back-sliding occurs, do not give up.  Accept that everyone is human and get up and start again.  For example, when one oversleeps and misses class, get the notes from a friend and move on - go to bed earlier, set two alarms, and get up when the first alarm goes off. 
  • Set up a support system that will help you achieve your goals.  Ask family and friends to telephone regularly to discuss your progress, encourage you when you are having trouble, and praise you when you make progress.  Find a mentor (professor, administrator, staff member, local attorney, or upper-division law student) who will actively support you in your goals.  Ask fellow law students who are equally serious about changes in their grades/lives to team up as accountability and study partners.

Change can be daunting.  Behaviors are learned.  As a result, they can be unlearned.  The longer a bad habit has existed, the longer it will take to replace it with a good habit.  But, it can be conquered.  (Amy Jarmon)     




January 7, 2011 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Two Positions Open at Western New England


Western New England College School of Law is seeking candidates to become our Assistant Dean and Director of Academic Success.  The Assistant Dean will design, implement, and oversee all aspects of the Law School’s academic success programs, including efforts before matriculation and after graduation, and will work with the Dean, Associate Deans, and Assistant Dean for Student Affairs to provide academic support to law students and alumni.

The Assistant Dean will work with law students to help them adjust to the academic demands of law school and to develop skills to reach their full academic potential for performance in law school, on the bar exam, and after graduation; will design and implement an effective academic success program; will teach workshops and/or classes for students who need academic support; will work with students individually and in small groups; will track the academic progress of at-risk students and students in academic difficulty; will assist in planning and presenting the annual New Student Orientation; and with the Director of Bar Passage will oversee a supplemental bar review program or for-credit course and will work with students and graduates planning to take a bar exam to help them design a study and preparation process that will better enable them to be successful on the bar exam.

Qualifications: The successful candidate will have a J.D. degree from an A.B.A. approved law school, admitted to a state bar, strong law school credentials, and 2 to 5 years teaching experience, including demonstrated knowledge of learning theory and ability to work with at-risk students.

Application Process:  Nominations and applications should be received by February 1, 2011, although nominations and applications may be accepted until the position is filled.  Excellent fringe benefits including tuition remission for employee, spouse, and dependent children.  All applications should include a letter of interest and resume, together with the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least three references.  Applications should be addressed to Gregory C.

Michael, Executive Director of Human Resources and Career Center, Western New England College, 1215 Wilbraham Road, Springfield, MA 01119.  Electronic resumes may be sent to Donna Martin at

Western New England College is an Equal Opportunity Employer.


New Exempt Position (Part-time)


Western New England College School of Law is seeking candidates to become our Director of Bar Passage.  This is a part-time year round position.  The Director will assist in the design, implementation, and oversight of all aspects of the Law School’s bar passage efforts as part of the Law School’s Academic Success Program.  The Director will work with the Assistant Dean and Director of Academic Success to design, administer, and teach the Law School’s bar passage efforts, including, as appropriate, classes (for-credit and/or non-credit), individual tutoring, and related efforts.

The Director will work with law students to help them prepare for success on the bar examination; will design and implement an effective bar passage program, including strategies to assist all students, particularly students whose academic indicia are predictive of challenges in passing the bar; will track the academic progress of students, particularly at-risk students, to insure that students are receiving necessary bar passage services; will tract students’ bar examination results to focus better the Law School’s efforts and to satisfy accreditation reporting; will teach a supplemental bar review or for-credit course and will work with students and graduates planning to take a bar exam to help them to design a student and preparation program to be successful on the bar exam; will work with students individually and in small groups to help students be successful on the bar exam; and will work closely with members of the faculty and staff to help students achieve success on their bar exams.

Qualifications:  The successful candidate will have a J.D. degree from an A.B.A. approved law school, be admitted to a state bar, and have strong credentials.  The School prefers a person with experience in teaching in connection with bar examinations and standardized tests.

Application Process:  Nominations and applications should be received by February 1, 2011, although nominations and applications may be accepted until the position is filled.  All applications should include a letter of interest and resume, together with the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and email addresses of at least three references.  Applications should be addressed to Gregory C. Michael, Executive Director of Human Resources and Career Center, Western New England College, 1215 Wilbraham Road, Springfield, MA 01119.  Electronic resumes may be sent to Donna Martin at

Western New England College is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

January 5, 2011 in Jobs - Descriptions & Announcements | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)