Saturday, November 12, 2011
Law students try at times to substitute memorization of the black letter law for actual understanding of their course material. They are then surprised that they receive grades in the "C" range in return for their efforts.
The focus on memorization is a leftover from many undergraduate courses where the professor just wanted students to regurgitate information on a page for an "A" grade. The difference in law school is that students have to go beyond mere memorization. Memorizing the rules, exceptions to rules, methodologies, policy arguments, and so forth is essential to a good grade in law school; but memorization is just the beginning of the learning process rather than the end goal.
Lawyers in essence are problem solvers. They are confronted with client problems that they must solve either by prior knowledge or through research. The easy questions are dealt with fairly quickly. The hard questions are the ones that consume their days and our court system. To problem solve, lawyers must understand the law and how to apply it to legal scenarios.
Law students must also be able to problem solve. On their exams, they are faced with new legal scenarios that they must analyze. To do so effectively, they need to understand the law that applies to the situation and explain their analysis in detail. Yes, they need to have memorized the law so that they can state it accurately. But without understanding they will be able to apply it only superficially.
Memorization is the start. Understanding is the key. Application is the reward. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, November 11, 2011
Hat tip to the Law Librarian Blog for information on Brian Cowan's article on November 6, 2011 in The Chronicle of Higher Education on digital natives and their learning. Although the article is about university students in general, it is relevant to law school students. The article can be found here (subscription required): 'Digital Natives' Aren't Necessarily Digital Learners. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, November 10, 2011
As the stress and anxiety of preparing for exams increase, some law students seem to go into overdrive on their procrastinating. Rather than motivating them to knuckle down and study, their stress and anxiety are causing them to turn their habit of procrastinating into mega-procrastination.
Here are the favorite ways of procrastinating that I am seeing among my law students right now:
- Shopping on-line for hours with or without actually purchasing something.
- Talking on the cell phone endlessly about trivial matters.
- Spending hours reading and replying to e-mails - especially the ones with cartoons, You Tube videos, chain e-mails, stories, and jokes.
- Spending hours on Facebook and Twitter.
- Playing endless games of Spider Solitaire to beat their old record.
- Playing endless hours of Internet games so they can play with their on-line gaming friends.
- Watching whatever there is on TV that is mindless and unexceptional.
- Watching multiple re-runs of sitcom episodes they have already seen multiple times.
- Watching endless news coverage (so they can feel righteous about being well-informed).
- Watching whatever sensational trial is currently in the headlines (so they can pretend to be doing something law-related and productive).
- Sitting in the student lounge talking with friends and drinking coffee.
- Sitting in a "study group" talking endlessly about the latest law school gossip.
- Running lots of errands (so they can claim to be doing a lot when they fritter away time).
- Taking three-hour naps each day.
- Sleeping in until noon or 1:00 p.m. each weekend day.
How do you stop procrastinating?
- Remove yourself from the environment where you procrastinate and find another location to study.
- Turn off or leave elsewhere your laptop, cell phone, or other electronic distractions.
- Unplug the TV and put it in the closet until exams are over.
- Do not study on your bed or the recliner/couch where you are tempted to nap.
- Get 7 hours of sleep minimum at night with a regular bedtime and wake-up time so that you do not need naps or late sleep-ins.
- Batch your errands and run them once during the week.
- Use the student lounge for lunch and the occasional break rather than live there.
- Avoid study groups that are merely social events with a pseudo-academic name.
- Allow yourself to answer e-mails, watch TV, make phone calls only at scheduled times once or twice a day - and then only as rewards for having completed your studying.
- Break tasks into very small pieces so that you can convince yourself to get started. Beginning is always the hardest part.
- Make a list of small tasks and subtopics for each course so that you can cross-off tasks as you complete them and see your progress.
- Set up breaks as rewards for getting work done.
As you see progress on your small tasks, you will begin to feel better about yourself. As you cross more and more tasks off your list, you will have less stress and anxiety. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Students often study for exams in ways that are counter-productive. They may adopt old undergraduate methods for exam study because they do not understand how law school exams are different. Well-meaning advice from upper-division law students may lead them into methods that go against memory and learning theory. Here are some common techniques that do not work and why they are not wise:
Re-reading cases is rarely an effective strategy. The professor is not going to ask a student to tell him everything the student knows about a case. Instead the professor is going to ask the student to apply the essentials from all the cases on a topic to a new fact scenario. Time is better spent on pulling together the topics and subtopics with the law for each. The cases become illustrations in that bigger picture.
Reading an entire study aid right before the exam. There is too much information to absorb at the end of the semester when reading an entire study aid. The study aid may not match the specific professor's version of the course which will lead a student to learn the material in a way that actually makes it harder for the professor to find points on the exam. Study aids tend to include multiple topics or subtopics that the professor never touched on in class.
Choosing to complete very few practice questions. Exams in law school are all about applying the law to new fact scenarios. Practice questions allow a student to check understanding of the material and ability to spot issues. Practice also allows one to get really good at organizing answers and writing them out - especially if some questions are done under timed conditions.
Treating all exam courses equally may lead to trouble. It is the rare student who has a truly equal situation in all courses. The amount of time spent for exam study in each course should consider: the amount of material covered in the course, the difficulty of the course for the student, the amount of black letter law to memorize, the number of practice questions to be completed, the format of the exam, and any other variables specific to a course and professor. Time should be divided among the courses to reflect these variables.
Studying X course for a week, then Y course for a week, then Z course for a week, and so forth. By focusing on one course to the exclusion of other courses for exam study, the student merely provides time to forget the material for the courses not studied. By the time the first course is cycled back to, even more material will be forgotten in that course. It is better to complete exam study in each course each week if at all possible.
Not preparing for classes in order to study for exams more. This strategy can be counter-productive because one is limiting deep understanding of the new material that will be on the final exam. By depending just on the highlights covered in class, the student loses the context as to why the law works the way it does.
Taking all of one's remaining absences at the end of the semester in order to study for exams more. Professors often give information about the exam during the last classes. Many professors will pull the course together at the end. Some professors will test heavily on the end material in the course. For all of these reasons, missing class is not a good idea.
Smart exam studying is the key to success. By using time and techniques to be efficient and effective, students can get higher grades on their exams. (Amy Jarmon)