Friday, November 4, 2011

Use Study Groups Wisely

Many law students are forming study groups for the first time at this point in the semester.  Instead of using a group throughout the semester to consolidate material and compare outlines, they are narrowing their focus to problem areas in understanding and practice questions. 

Study groups can be very effective.  Students may benefit greatly from the practice question discussions when they realize they would have missed certain nuances in the law or confused steps in the analysis.  In addition, working through problems together helps one monitor preparedness on a topic in comparison to classmates.  Finally, study groups can serve an accountability function - if you promise the group you will do something before the next meeting, you have the motivation to stay on task.

However, students need to make sure that they do not overuse or depend on a study group to the detriment of their individual learning.  It has to be a balance.  After all, one's study group cannot answer the questions for you in the actual exam.

Consider these points to monitor the balance between study group and individual time:

  • Make a list for each course of all topics with subtopics that you must learn before the final exam.  Use monthly calendars for November and December.  Mark your last day of classes.  Fill in your exam schedule.
  • Lay out on the calendar for each day through the end of classes which subtopics for which courses you will personally learn during the remaining time.  This method helps you front-load learning so that you leave only a realistic amount for the exam period itself.
  • Consider how much time you need for the grunt memory work on rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, and other information.  Determine how you will do your memory drills: flashcards, writing the rules ten timex, reciting the rules aloud, mind maps for each rule.  Distribute that time throughout the calendars.
  • Decide when you will do practice questions with your study group to get group input.  You will get more from these sessions if all of the members think about the questions ahead of time and come with outlined answers.
  • Leave time for practice questions that you will complete on your own.  You should outline every one and write out as many as possible.  Take some of the questions under exam conditions.  (See Dennis Tonsing's November 2nd posting for more information on scheduling your exam study and practice questions.)
  • If you find that group time is taking away from your ability to learn the material in time for the exam, moderate your group time.  For example, if the group wants to meet for four hours, perhaps you will go for the portion that focuses on the course you find most difficult but not stay for discussion on other courses.  Or you might go for the practice question discussion but not the more general discussion of course material.  Explain to the group why you are not attending the full meetings so there will not be hard feelings.
  • If the study group becomes non-productive because of personalities, too much socializing, or other negative dynamics, diplomatically resign from the group.  You may be able to find one study partner who will be more compatible than trying to stay with the group.

Consider the efficiency of being in a group (wise use of time) and the effectiveness from being in a group ("oomph" out of the time).  (Amy Jarmon)

          

November 4, 2011 in Exams - Studying, Miscellany | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

CORRECTION: Deadline to register for the NECASP conference: NOV 15

Please note:

The deadline for registering for the NECASP conference at BC Law is Nov 15.

My apologies for forgetting to add that to the original post.(RCF)

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New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals Annual Conference

ASP Without Stigma: Serving Our Diverse Populations”

Monday, December, 5, 2011

Boston College Law School

9am-2:30 pm

Please join us for the third annual NECASP conference at Boston College Law School. This year’s conference will feature admissions professionals and law students discussing who to best attract and serve the increasingly diverse law student population.  Keynote speaker will be Jacq Nance, Assistant Director of Admissions, UConn Law School, who will speak about what type of support students look for in law schools.

Schedule:

9-9:15-Registration

9:15-9:30-Welcome Address by Dean Vincent Rougeau, Boston College Law School

9:30-10:30-Keynote Address by Jacq Nance, Asst. Director of Admissions, UConn Law School

and Tracy West, Assistant Dean for Students, Diversity Initiatives, and Academic Advising, Boston College Law School

 Followed by Q and A

10:45-11:45-Mason Dunn, UNH Law student, LGBT issues and ASP

Followed by Q and A

12-1-lunch and law student panel

                Jennifer Kent, BC Law School, BLSA President

                Ramey Sylvester, The University of New Hampshire School of Law Diversity Action Coalition

1-2-group discussion of hypothetical situations encountered in ASP

2-2:30-Conference Wrap-Up

 

Registration:

$25, payable by check to NECASP by NOVEMBER 15

Please mail checks to:    Elizabeth Stillman-Suffolk Law School

120 Tremont Street

Boston, MA 02108-4977

November 3, 2011 in Meetings, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Ten Quick Ways to Energize Your Day

This time in the semester is difficult for a lot of students because they are running low on energy.  On the one hand, the semester seems like it has been lasting forever; on the other hand, exams are just around the corner.  Now is the time when students often depend on caffeine and sugar to get them through the week.  However, those two roads often lead to crashes, jitters, and cravings.

Here are some healthier ways to get an energy boost:

  • Walk around the building twice - outside if the weather is nice where you are located; inside if not - and breathe deeply and swing your arms.
  • Take a power nap of no more than 30 minutes - longer will make you groggy.
  • Spend 15 minutes doing relaxation exercises such as gentle neck stretches, ankle rotations, deep breathing.
  • Laugh.  Tell a story or joke.  Remember a funny incident from your childhood.  Read the comics.
  • Read some inspirational quotes or scriptures.
  • Do several random, small acts of kindness for other people.
  • Drink water with lots of ice in it.
  • Eat a piece of fruit: apple, banana, grapes, raisins.
  • Eat a handful of nuts: almonds, walnuts, and pecans.
  • Eat a granola bar.

Whenever you hit a slump in your energy level during the day, choose one or two of these quick fixes to get back on top.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

 

November 3, 2011 in Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fall Finals Study Plan

Thanksgiving approaches. Time for students to commit their study plans to writing!  Here are my recommendations for students who want to prepare for exams AND enjoy their families and friends during a (partially) relaxed Thanksgiving break.

For each course, set target dates for completion of your outline (course summary), early completion of your briefing for class, and the number of practice exam questions you intend to answer.  Thanksgiving Day is Thursday, November 24, 2011. Usually, law schools have no classes on the day before, Wednesday, November 23. Reading week and exams follow shortly after the semester resumes.

For many students, time with family and friends is too important to neglect at this time of year.  Plan to relax!  Writing out your detailed study schedule before November (then sticking to it) will allow you to relax, because you will see the relaxation as PART of the study plan instead of interference with it.  

Example for Contracts class:

A.  Outline completed by November 14.
B.  All cases briefed for class by November 16.
C.  50 MBE questions answered by November 22.
D.  50 single-issue essay questions answered in writing by November 24.
E.  20 one-hour essay questions answered in outline form before reading week.
F.  15 one-hour essay questions answered under exam conditions by 3 days before exam date.

The next step is to break each of those (A through F) down into components.  How many hours per week/day do you realistically estimate it will take you to complete your outline, and to brief the cases ahead of the class schedule? Spread those hours out on your daily calendar.

Do the same for the questions you intend to answer, including notes as to the source of the questions.  You can start gathering questions today.  Here's an idea: exchange questions with your study group, to share the burden of finding questions that address the issues you need to focus on.

Do this for each class, and you'll see that you have enough time between now and the date of each exam to prepare fully, so that you can enter the exam room with well-deserved confidence!

Look in your law library for an old issue of Student Lawyer Magazine, an American Bar Association publication ... Volume 33, Number 7, dated March 2005, includes an article I wrote entitled, "A Plan for Your Exams."  The article provides a more detailed explanation of this exam study plan!  (djt)

November 2, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Essay Exam Answering Tip #103011 - Focus on Key Facts

“Legal problem solving — identifying and diagnosing problems and generating strategies and tactics to achieve client objectives — is a legally trained person’s most basic function. Most legal problem solving activity involves some legal analysis — combining law and facts to generate, justify, and assess a legal problem’s merits.” (Legal Services Practice Manual: Skills (2010) Link)

All lawsuits arise as a result of disputes involving facts. Our legal system revolves around resolving disputes through the application of rules of law to the facts of a case. Yes, trials and appeals are about “law,” but remember that the trial court judge, or the jury, is referred to as the “trier-of-fact.”  Determinations of facts are so important that the Bill of Rights guarantees that facts once decided by a jury are pretty much the last word.  The seventh amendment provides that, “...no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."  This clause forbids any court from reexamining or overturning any factual determinations made by a jury, unless the factual determinations are clearly erroneous.

The two major components of the dispute resolution process are the applicable law and the facts of the dispute.  In the professional practice of law, you will be sifting through the case file to identify which of the hundreds or thousands of facts produced by discovery (for example, witness statements, deposition transcripts, answers to interrogatories, photographs, and correspondence) are “key” facts.  Key facts are those facts  that are critical to the outcome of the case. A key fact is so essential that if it were changed, the outcome of the case might well be different.

In law school, you are practicing this skill of focusing on facts – in order for you to learn to assess legal problems, you must be able to find the important facts ... the key facts, the facts upon which the outcome of the issue in question depends. When writing an answer to a law school essay exam question, you must ferret out these salient facts from all the facts presented in the narrative. Think of them as keys that unlock point-scoring issue discussions.

But how?  Here are the basic steps to determining which facts are key facts.

  • Identify each claim possibly raised by the exam question.
  • State the rules that will be used to resolve each issue of each claim. These rules include the elements which need to be addressed in the discussion of each issue.
  • Pinpoint which facts in the question possibly relate to the elements of those issues.

This last step involves determining which facts may be legally significant. Legally significant facts might be, for example, that a tenant with an eviction notice has never been supplied with hot water; or that the shooter was an off-duty policeman; or that a party to a contract may have been a minor; or that the geographical distance between the provoking incident and the killing may have been long enough to provide adequate time for a reasonable person to “cool off” the heat of his passion.

After outlining your answer, read through the exam question one more time carefully and quickly (you should be quite familiar with the question by this time, so the reading can go much faster than it did the first time through). Make sure you have assigned all the facts presented in the hypothetical question (the exam) to some issue. If not, ask yourself if these facts suggest another issue, can be used to further explain an issue you already noted, or are merely "red herrings" (facts in the question which might lead you to an errant discussion). Then use this fact-rich outline as a roadmap for answering the question. Note that your outline need not include explanations of why facts are important – the detailed analysis comes in your answer. The outline is only your writing guide.

As for the outline, you may want to follow a traditional outline pattern (bullet points, hierarchies, mind-mapping, etc.) … or, to accent the fact-finding, you may want to think about a two-column approach. You can outline your answer using two separate columns. Specifically, you can list the issues in one column, and then note the facts that need to be discussed in relation to those rules in the column next to it. This method will allow you to match the issues or sub-issues of law with the facts of the question. Skimming through the question quickly (again) before actually writing the essay, you can quickly note if you have skipped over a fact.

Long before encountering exams, work on recognizing key facts.  Focus on key facts when you brief cases for class. Some students find that including basic fact patterns in their self-made course outlines – as illustrations of the rules that appear in the outlines – helps them think of the rules in situational terms.

Many years ago, when I was a little boy, fictional Los Angeles police Sergeant Joe Friday, hero of the “Dragnet” television series, used to say to witnesses he interviewed, "All we want are the facts." Well, there’s more to it than that when you’re trying to score high on a law school essay exam … but Sgt. Friday was zeroing in on one of the two essential components – you should too!

{This “tip” is one of a continuing series.  Law school academic professionals are authorized to use this material in their work however they choose – and law students who read these tips are encouraged to integrate them into their practice sessions. To see where this tip fits in the grand schema: Click here.} (djt)

October 30, 2011 in Advice, Exams - Theory, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)