December 13, 2012
Repeat Bar Takers: "Let’s Make a Deal and Let’s Make a Plan"
When repeat bar takers come to me for assistance, there are many facets to my strategy to help them. In previous posts, I discussed how to lend support and encouragement, how to help them diagnose their weaknesses, and how to destroy their self-doubt. Now, the next and final phase is to start planning for their next (and final) attempt at the bar exam.
A strong plan will make a huge difference in their preparation. I ask them to map out the next two to three months. They can print a blank calendar; use an online program; represent days on index cards and tape them to a wall; or use a white board. But, I find that they need a visual because it provides motivation, perspective, and a finish line.
Realistic, achievable goals are important for repeat exam takers. Easily reached goals are ineffective; but, goals that are challenging but doable provide the incentive students need to keep progressing. One tip is to have them use learning strategies like chunking to guide their organization of the material that they will be studying. Taking small chunks or pieces of subject will help them feel more in control and less overwhelmed.
Although they may get a calendar from their commercial bar review, since they are repeaters, I ask them to create their calendar based on their individual priorities and needs. They may need to spend more time memorizing, or more time on a particular subject, or they may need to concentrate their time on essay writing practice. In multistate jurisdictions, some students may need to devote more time to the MBE questions than the written portion or vice versa. Yes, they need to study every subject and they need to practice within every subject, but I want their schedule to reflect the specific needs we have diagnosed.
In addition to creating a calendar outlining their study schedule, I ask them to infuse a few “rewards” into their daily or weekly routines. For some, a reward will be time for an exercise class or a run around the lake. For others, it will be enjoying happy hour with friends on a Friday night. For students with children, it is carving out time to suit the needs of their family. It is a mistake to leave these soul- filling, stress releasing activities off of their schedules. Plus, when a productive environment with sufficient break time is created, the student is less likely to procrastinate.
Before they leave my office, the reality is that I may never see them again, so I not only try to get them to make a plan, I also try to get them to make a deal. The deal is that they commit to passing the exam this time around. While this seems like a simple statement, the ripple effect is powerful. They have made a conscious decision in my presence to begin again and declare their ability to pass. Now, they are ready, they are empowered, and they are equipped with the tools to help them succeed.
Best wishes to all of the repeater exam takers this coming February!
December 11, 2012
What to do when you don't know what to do
In mulling over various problems that students have told me about this semester after the fact, it struck me how often students have stated as part of the story, "I didn't know what to do."
Some situations take place in the dead of night when no one at the law school would be monitoring e-mail or answering phones. Other situations arise during the day.
Here are some examples of problems that students have told me about and remarked that they did not know what to do:
- A student wakes up seriously ill on the day of a mid-term or final exam.
- A student realizes that she inadvertently forgot to turn in a study aid book within the deadlines.
- A student is uncertain about allowed assistance on a paper.
- A student is uncertain of the professor's definition of "open book" for an exam two days from now.
- A student spills coffee on a library book and tries to minimize the damage.
- A student's laptop crashes right before a paper is to be turned in to a professor.
- A student tries to submit a paper electronically as required without success.
- A student's car breaks down, and she does not have the $200 to get it fixed.
- A student's car breaks down, and she needs to get to an exam.
- A student's whose grandmother has been admitted to hospital has to miss classes for a week.
These are all classic situations that we see over and over again in law schol. However, students often seem to think they are alone with the problem.
When you do not know what to do, it is usually a sign that you need to ask someone for help. E-mail, phone, or stop by to get advice and find out the correct protocol. If it is the middle of the night, there is still voicemail and e-mail to notify someone of the problem and indicate the steps one is taking. If the Honor Code requires anonymity so that a professor cannot be contacted, there are still faculty secretaries, administrators, IT/library personnel, and others who can help.
Often the student can get assistance or at least ameliorate the consequences by contacting someone or seeking an alternative. For the examples above, the possibilities will vary by law school. However, here are some examples of problem-solving that may work:
- If ill, go to the student health services or another doctor as soon as possible as well as leaving a voicemail for or sending an e-mail to the Registrar/Associate Dean to inquire about postponing the mid-term or final exam.
- For a late study aid, contact the law library circulation desk to explain the situation and request permission to turn it in late.
- Read the assignment instructions or contact the professor for clarification as to the assistance that is allowed on an assignment.
- Read the syllabus, contact the professor for clarification on the definition of "open book," or ask the Registrar's Office if the exam paperwork might have the professor's instructions as to what students can bring in to an exam.
- For damage to a library book, take the item to the circulation desk and explain what happened; depending on the amount of damage, the student may or may not need to pay for a replacement.
- For a laptop crash, contact the law school or university IT folks for assistance.
- Electronic submission can again be assisted by the IT folks. If all else fails, submission by the deadline may be possible to a faculty secretary or administrator if anonymity is an issue.
- Most law schools have emergency loan programs to help students with unexpected expenses when other financial options are not available.
- If a student has allowed ample time to get to the exam without rushing, a telephone call to a classmate or request for help from a neighbor or calling a taxi may all be options.
- A quick e-mail or voicemail to the Registrar when a student has to leave unexpectedly provides the law school with the information that can then be relayed to professors as appropriate.
Some crises can be averted by simple planning. Considering the parameters of assignments or of exams early can forestall problems (asking ahead about what assistance is allowed or what is "open book"). Completing work ahead of schedule rather than at the last minute can also lessen snafus (extra time to sort electronic submission or printer problems). Any computer-related assignment should have a back-up copy external to the student's computer (flashdrive or external hard drive) to provide an alternate copy. Allowing extra time to get to an exam can give the cushion needed for car problems or traffic jams.
Student Handbooks and professors' syllabi normally include procedures and information that relate to some of these problems. Students often mention that they never thought to look at those resources in the heat of the moment. It is a shame that panicky feelings and stress often exacerbate the situations so that students choose to go it alone or make less beneficial decisions. (Amy Jarmon)
December 9, 2012
Dewey's Concept of Suspended Conclusion and Law School Exams
Professor Donald J. Kochan published an article in Nevada Law Journal that might be of interest to you in this exam season. The article uses the Deweyan concept of suspended conclusion (approaching a problem with an open mind and without a predetermined conclusion) as a way for students to improve their thinking about exam questions. He explains the concept and then uses it to formulate 12 points for students to consider as they work through exam questions.
The suspended conclusion concept is specifically applied to the exam scenario in the article, but has wide application to exam school studying and lawyering in general. (Amy Jarmon)
The article can be downloaded from SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2034154. An abstract is included below:
As creatures of thought, we are thinking all the time, but that does not necessarily mean that we are thinking well. Answering the law school exam, like solving any problem, requires that the student exercise thinking in an effective and productive manner. This Article provides some guidance in that pursuit. Using John Dewey’s suspended conclusion concept for effective thinking as an organizing theme, this Article presents one basic set of lessons for thinking through issues that arise regarding the approach to a law school exam. This means that the lessons contained here help exercise thought while taking the exam—to think through the exam approach. The second, more subtle, purpose is to demonstrate that the law school exam can serve as a case study in the effectiveness of certain thinking tools that have much broader application. For that reason, this Article is not your typical “how-to” guide, but instead provides guidance critically and generally applicable to the thinking enterprise itself.