Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Spring Break Dilemma: Surfing/Skiing or Studying

It is time for law school spring breaks.  This is our pre-break week; it is obvious that most of our students are already mentally away from the law school.  The few focused students are the ones with a mid-term exam, paper deadline, or other assignment due date.  My "no shows" for appointments and cancellations always increase during this week; they simply forget days and times.

Last week and this week have been consistently filled with appointments to plan the balance between study and play during their nine days away.  Most of them cannot afford to take the entire time off because exams are 6 weeks away when they come back.  Yet they do need to have some relaxation so that they return refreshed.

Here are some points that we cover in our discussions:

  • What are all of the due dates that they have during the week before break and the week after break?  We schedule the work required to meet any deadlines before they leave town.  We list the other deadlines for consideration as we plan their study tasks while gone.
  • What is their status on reading/briefing and outlining for each course?  We prioritize any catching up that is needed.  If possible, they complete that step before they leave.  If not, they schedule it for the first study days during break.
  • What is their status on any papers that must be completed for each course by the end of the semester?  We look at these long-term research/writing projects to determine what steps remain.  We look at any interim deadlines still outstanding for outlines, drafts, or other stages.  Many students plan to do major work on these papers over the break.
  • How much exam review have they already started for each course?  We prioritize where they need the most work, next most work, etc.
  • How many practice questions have they been able to complete already for each course?  Again, we prioritize.
  • What are their travel plans?  We look at travel dates, mode of transportation, locations, and possibilities for studying.  Listening to audio CD's is popular for students driving.  Reviewing outlines or flashcards is popular with students flying.  Other tasks on non-travel days will depend on their specific plans for the break. 
  • What portions of any day do they think they can study?  Each day has three parts: morning, afternoon, and evening.  Most students try to study at least two of those parts on the days when they can realistically do so.  We consider when they can study and when they want to be with family/friends.  Non-skiers study while the others are on the slopes.  Students at home may study while their parents are at work or before the rest of the family gets up or after others go to bed.  We also note any days that will not realistically include studying because of family plans. 
  • What tasks do they want to assign tentatively to each study block?  Some students like to spend the day on one course.  Other students like to divide their time among two or three courses.  Some students want to mix up the tasks for one course: intense exam review, practice questions, making flashcards, or other tasks.  Paper or assignment tasks also fill in slots.
  • What tasks do they want to list for any unexpected smaller blocks of study time that emerge?  By listing a few tasks that might work for extra time that is found, they will not waste those times.  Examples of such tasks are reading through an outline for a course, working with flashcards, or doing practice questions.
  • When will they complete their reading for the first class days on their return?  Sometimes students forget to schedule when they will read and brief for the Monday after Spring Break.  If they can get reading done for Tuesday classes as well, the beginning of classes will be less difficult for them.

We lay out the spring break schedule on a monthly calendar template so that they have a schedule to take with them.  By having a plan, they are more likely to accomplish their goals.  Within the plan they can move tasks to different days/times as they wish.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

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