Thursday, October 31, 2013
With Halloween upon us, I started thinking about all things frightening. While at this time of the year ghosts and ghouls are the first to come to mind, the bar exam is a close second. The bar exam is the single most grueling test of an individual’s resilience and stamina. While it is a test of legal knowledge, it goes far beyond just knowing the black letter law.
The bar exam is a test of personal strength, courage, and endurance. Applicants are tested in a variety of ways on subjects both familiar and unfamiliar in a severely time limited environment. It is a scary endeavor.
Oftentimes, Law School Deans, Administrators, and even Professors want to mask the bar exam for 1Ls to conceal the utter horror. They want 1Ls to acclimate to their legal education without the haze of the bar exam impeding their focus. Bar review companies are even forbidden on campus so as not to disrupt a student’s transition to law school.
These practices make me wonder. Should we scare our students into studying for the bar? If yes, should we instill this fear as early as 1L year? While I agree that 1Ls have more pressing fears to overcome than the bar exam, I also think it is a disservice to ignore the intensity and sheer hell that awaits them. If I walk into a theater expecting to see a romantic comedy and end up seeing Jason in a hockey mask with a bloody hatchet, my expectations are quashed and I may not know how to react. (I had to...it is Halloween.)
Training students on how to prepare in advance is part of our duty as legal educators. Law students need help learning how to prepare for class, how to prepare their study aids, and how to prepare for their exams. Preparing 1Ls for the bar is also necessary. However, it does not look like full fledge bar prep or even like training given to a 3L.
Instead, 1Ls need notice. They need to know what awaits them and what (if anything) they should be doing before they reach their final year of law school. Here are a few considerations that should be conveyed to 1Ls.
- Think about where you want to practice law. There may be jurisdictional requirements specific to that state.
- Ask questions! Your first year courses are bar tested. If you slip by without having a good understanding of the concepts, you will also be lost during your bar preparation. Seek out the answers to your questions as early as possible so that you can get the academic assistance that you need.
- Begin thinking about your 2L and 3 L years and your course selection. Consider the subjects that are bar tested and the subjects that interest you most. Try to balance your course load between these interests.
- Start planning for the financial impact of the bar exam. Applying for the bar exam is costly and bar exam review courses are as well. Additionally, many students fail to consider the cost of taking time off and paying for incidentals like travel and accommodations while taking the bar exam. Begin saving early!
- Research commercial bar preparation offerings. Many of the bar review companies offer resources for 1L and upper division students for free or a minimal charge. Take advantage of these resources as a 1L!
In other words, let's not "Freddy Krueger" scare them...maybe just add a little Hitchcock anxiety and suspense.
Along with decorative gourds and tiny sociopaths demanding candy, the end of October brings an uptick in study group formation as we get closer to finals (I saw what looked like three new ones in the lobby on my way into work).
Several years ago, this annual rite resulted in some major kerfluffles, ados, and foofaraws -- so-and-so is cheating on one group with another, so-and-so doesn't do any work, s0-and-so always brings an enormous bag of potato chips, so-and-so's non-lawyer biker boyfriend enjoys attending -- and everyone ended up in my office for advice on how to work things out.
In response, I found an earlier posting from Amy Jarmon about the things study groups need to keep in mind, and I turned it into an actual contract, which I printed out and passed around to the First Year class.
A few days later, I saw several completed and signed contracts sticking out of bookbags, books, and binders, and all the complaining stopped. Since that time, I have mentioned the contract (repeatedly) and the concerns and complaints disappeared.
Many, many thanks to Amy, and below is the contract (Alex Ruskell) --
non in legendo sed in intelligendo legis consistent
STUDY GROUP CONTRACT
1. New members will be added only if _____ members agree.
2. New members will not be added after _________ (a certain point in the semester).
3. A member may/may not belong to more than one study group as long as all members are informed of the decision to do so.
4. A member will not be “fired” unless:
A. The group has talked with the person about problem behaviors (eg. argumentativeness, slacking on commitments, lateness, dominating the group discussions, etc.).
B. The person has had ____ chances to improve on the problem behavior after discussion.
C. The group unanimously agrees that the member will be told to leave and as group discusses the decision with the member.
5. A member who decides to leave the study group must tell the other members that he or she intends to do so and not just “disappear.”
6. The study group will have a rotating facilitator who is responsible for setting the agenda and keeping the group on track each week. The order will be: _________________, ___________________________, ______________________.
7. The study group will meet ________ times per week at _______________________.
8. Study group members may/may not bring food -- certain types of food are banned: ________________________.
9. Each member is to show respect for other members and their opinions.
10. All materials developed by the study group together are not to be shared outside the group unless __________________of the members agree.
11. All matters discussed in the study group are to be confidential and are not to be used for “gossip.” (The exception would be if the group is concerned about the physical or mental well-being of a member so that the appropriate action would be to talk to a dean, counselor, etc.)
12. Study aids purchased jointly should be equally available for use as a matter of courtesy. If the group agrees to share study aids purchased by individuals, then rules may be needed.
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Most of our law schools have only 5 or 6 weeks of class left in the semester. Students are starting to get overwhelmed at how much they have left to study before they will be ready for finals. They are also horrified at how many steps need to be completed before their paper deadlines.
I find that some students are so overwhelmed that they make very poor decisions about managing their studies. Because much of what I advise students is based on common sense and tried and true techniques, they are often surprised at fairly simple solutions and ask "Why didn't I think of that?"
They did not think of the solutions because they are in the midst of the situation and cannot view things objectively! If you are panicky over the quicksand all around you that is sucking you under, you may indeed overlook the jungle vine immediately above your head.
You cannot control how much more material your professor will cover. You cannot control the questions on the exam. You cannot control usually when your exams are scheduled.
But there is a great deal that you can control. You can control how you distribute your study time among courses. You can control the study strategies that you use. You can control your daily use of time.
Have a plan for the remaining weeks.
- Make a list for each course of all of the topics and subtopics that must be learned for the final exam. This list gives you the skeleton outline for the review needed for the exam.
- The lists will be long because they focus on subtopics. It takes far less time, however, to learn a subtopic than an entire topic. Progress can be made more quickly by focusing on subtopics in the list than trying to complete an entire topic at one time.
- Draw a line below the subtopic most recently completed in the class. Above this line is the material that has already been covered; below this line is the material that will be presented in the coming days.
- Estimate the amount of time that each subtopic will take to learn intensely so that you will be ready to walk into the exam (the learning time only and not the practice question time that one might also do on the subtopic later - you have to learn it first).
- Total the subtopic estimates for each separate course. This total gives you an approximate idea of the time needed to learn the material thus far for the course.
- Compare totals among the courses to understand how you should proportion study time. Perhaps Course A and Course C need equal time while Course B needs twice as much time and Course D needs three times as much time.
- Decide when in the class week you can find time for exam study each week for the remainder of the semester. Label the found times by course in proportion to the totals.
- Number the subtopics on each list. Distribute the subtopics over the next three or four weeks to finish your review of the material that has already been covered.
- Save the remaining two or three weeks before the end of classes to distribute the new material as you estimate the time for intense study that is needed for each subtopic.
- If possible, leave only two weeks of new material to learn during the reading/exam period.
Make sensible decisions so you stay in control of your time and focus:
- Prioritize what you need to get done each day. Start with the most important tasks and move down the list to end with the least important tasks.
- Within these prioritized categories, consider doing disliked or harder tasks earlier in the day when you are fresh and alert. Then complete the liked or easier tasks in a category.
- Break every large task or project into small pieces. You will not get as overwhelmed when you focus on a small task (reading one case, writing one paragraph, studying one subtopic) instead of the enormous task (a 30-page paper, an entire course).
- Take small breaks throughout the day - 10 minutes every 90 minutes of studying. Get up and walk around or stretch to get some movement into your routine. Then refocus for the next task.
- Use self-discipline. Do not turn a 10-minute break into an hour break. Do not waste time on Facebook, Twitter, television sitcoms, and other distractions.
- Decline invitations to spend time on things that will mean you do not finish your daily task list. Be diplomatic, but say no. Avoid excessive meal breaks, shopping excursions, socializing instead of scheduled studying, and more distractions.
- After you have learned a particular topic well, move on to the next topic. Do not just keep reviewing what you already know to avoid getting to the hard stuff.
- Get questions that you have about course subtopics answered as you do your review. Do not store up hundreds of questions for the last week of the professor's office hours.
Law school is to a great extent about organization and time management. So is legal practice. Take control of what you can. Move forward - any progress is still progress. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
Everyone has heard of "right brain/left brain thinking." However, this article debunks the right brain-left brain split as old science, and proposes a new way to look at the way people understand, perceive, and plan. The article has interesting implications for how we understand our students. We are all frustrated when we see a student struggle, but fail to act in ways that will help them improve academically. Students who are "adaptors" may not learn from feedback in an optimal way, while "movers" will act on feedback immediately, and learn from academic setbacks. (RCF)
Sunday, October 27, 2013
It is a common misconception among law students that studying cannot be accomplished in small time blocks. Yet students feel that lots of other things can be accomplished in smaller amounts of time: e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, cell phone calls, surfing the Web, watching TV sitcoms, exercising.
Here are some study tasks that can fit into less than sixty minutes and less than thirty minutes:
- Read and brief one mid-sized case.
- Read and brief two short cases.
- Draft the statement of facts for a legal memo.
- Draft the short answer for a legal memo.
- Complete ten multiple-choice questions without reviewing the explanations for the answer options.
- Complete five multiple-choice questions with reviewing the explanations for the answer options.
- Complete a one-issue fact-pattern essay and review the model answer.
- Review part of a paper draft for punctuation and grammar.
- Review part of a paper draft for citation.
- Review several pages of an outline for intense learning.
- Create a graphic organizer to summarize a course topic.
- Compare an outline or class notes with a classmate.
- Outline the material from several class periods.
- Read a study aid to clarify a topic.
- Complete memory drills with flashcards.
- Make some flashcards for later memory drills.
- Read and brief one short case.
- Stop by a professor's office to ask some questions about the material.
- Discuss the cases with a classmate before the next class.
- Review your brief, margin notes, and prior class notes to re-visit your class preparation for the next class.
- Review your class notes from a class earlier in the day to fill in gaps, reorganize the notes, and gain deeper understanding.
- Read a study aid to clarify a subtopic.
- Outline a couple of short subtopics.
On the downward slope of the semester, it is important to use time well. Major blocks of time are not needed to make progress. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 25, 2013
As a part of my required OneL course, all students are required to turn in outlines from two of their courses. This has been standard in all of my classes for the past several years. I don't grade the outlines based on mastery of the law; I grade them with a check/check plus/minus, based on how much effort they are putting into sythesizing the material. Every year, without exception, at least one student tells me they don't "do" outlining. Here are some of my responses to their reasoning:
1) "I don't outline because Prof. X told me he never outlined when he was in law school in 1964."
It's wonderful that Prof. X succeeded in 1964, when there were a fraction of the cases that you need to understand and apply on an exam in 2013. 1964 is not 2013. You are not Prof. X. The bar exam looks nothing like it did when he graduated from law school. You need to outline in order to synthesize the vast amount of material that is covered in class, to create a "big picture" for yourself, and to prepare for exams. You need to learn the process of outlining because it is also critical to success on the bar exam.
2)"I was an A/3.9 student at my undergrad, and I never needed to synthesize my learning. I just do the required work, and it's enough for me."
Law school is not undergrad. Law school grades on a curve/normed/around a median. At most undergrads, everyone could receive an A if they memorized the material and regurgitated it on the exams. In law school, memorization is not enough; understanding and application are essential to success. A law school class gives you 10,000 trees, and you are expected to describe the state of the forest on the exam. Undergrad classes never asked you to do that. Don't the required work will help you describe 10,000 trees, but it will never help you see if it is a deciduous forest on the verge of collapse due to fungus, or a coniferous forest transforming itself after a wildfire.
3) "I don't outline because I use flashcards and create PowerPoints."
You are outlining. Outlining means synthesizing case briefs, reading, and class notes, to help you see the "big picture" and apply what you know on the exam. An outline can be in a variety of formats; it does not need to look like the outline format you learned in 6th grade with Roman numerals.
4) "I don't outline because I don't have the time; I have kids, a job, and I commute 3 hours a day to law school."
You need to think long and hard about whether you want to continue to invest the money in a law school education if you do not have the time to do the work to succeed. There are no shortcuts to law school success. You must have the time to do the work, and part of the work required for success is outlining. Don't throw good money after bad; don't pay for the opportunity for an education if you are not learning.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
We are in the ninth week of class here at our law school. It is dawning on mamy students that exams are getting much closer and that they are not where they want to be in their studying. I am beginning to see more negative ways of handling stress emerge. In the midst of their stress, students often seem unable to see more positive fixes for their problems.
Some of the negative responses to stress that I see (or hear students talking about) are:
- Staying up until the wee hours of the morning to get everything done.
- Skipping classes to have more study or paper time.
- Skipping meals and exercise to have more study or paper time.
- Procrastinating on tasks because you do not feel like doing them.
- Losing your temper with others who are in the fallout zone (classmates, spouses, children, friends, pets).
- Blaming others for your study predicament (the professor assigns too much reading, the casebook is awful, the Tutor/teaching assistant is not any help, my study group is clueless).
- Assuming that everyone else is getting the material and you must be stupid.
- Wasting time on bemoaning what you should have done earlier in the semester.
- Giving up and allowing yourself to accept failure.
- Avoiding going to professors, academic support professionals, and deans for assistance.
- Using drugs or alcohol to mask the stress and gain a temporary high.
Here are some positive responses to stress that work for students:
- Start immediately to get 7 - 8 hours of sleep each night and go to bed and get up at the same time. Brain cells need energy to absorb, understand, and retain information. Sleep allows you to get more done with greater focus in less time. It often takes a week for your body to recharge, but after that period you will start to get much more done.
- Attend classes regularly unless you are sick. By skipping class you become even more confused about the material. It is the point in the semester when professors begin to talk about the exam and pull information together across the course. You do not want to depend on a classmate's notes for these important aspects.
- Meals and exercise like sleep are essential to how your brain works. Eat nutritious meals rather than depend on junk food, caffeine, and sugar. Exercise at least 150 minutes per week - walking is fine. Exercise is a great stress buster and will also help you to sleep better.
- How you feel is not important quite honestly. Sure, it is more fun doing other things than reading and briefing or outlining or reviewing for exams; but no one told you to come to law school to have fun. Break down tasks into smaller pieces to help you get motivated: a 40-page reading into 8 chunks of 5 pages; a paper assignment into small sections; practice questions into fewer questions at a time. If you are really unmotivated, tell yourself you will just read 1 page, write 1 sentence, or do 1 problem. Getting started is the trick.
- Being irritated and grumpy with others will not make you feel better. You will just have guilt for being a jerk. If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all - grandmother was right when she told you that. Tell people that you need some alone time. Or do random acts of kindness for others to help you feel better about yourself. Go for a run or walk to burn off the stress.
- Blaming others means you are giving up control over what you can do. Break down the reading assignment into smaller chunks so it seems more manageable. Read a study aid to clarify the casebook material. See the professor or teaching assistant on office hours to ask questions one-on-one if a larger group setting is unhelpful. Restructure your study group to make it more effective (an agenda for meetings so everyone comes prepared) or take responsibility to explain material to the others (you can learn by teaching).
- You are not dumb - you would not have been admitted if the law school did not think you could succeed. Stop comparing yourself to others and instead start doing the best you can do each day. Persistence means a lot in law school. There is a lot of bluff among law students - you cannot know whether others are really spending more hours studying or wasting time while in the library, whether those speaking in class can talk a good game but not get it on paper, whether someone else really understands the material or just says she does.
- Forget about what you should have done. Focus on what you can do today and tomorrow and the next day. Decide on your priorities and then get started. Use a to do list each day and each week to stay on track. Get help from the academic success professional at your school if you have trouble deciding what to do and how to get it done.
- If you give up and allow yourself to fail, it does not get you any place you want to be. Make a plan as to how to get the most results from the time you have remaining in the semester. Get help if you need it.
- Every law school has people who can help you. Use their assistance. Swallow your pride if that is what is getting in the way of asking for help. Decide what help you need and go to the source that is appropriate. Find out who at your law school can help with a particular problem. Do not overlook sources at the wider university: counseling center, health services, etc.
- Do not get caught up in a cycle of drugs or alcohol to deal with your stress. You may feel as though you get temporary relief, but you are not dealing with the problems that cause the stress. If you can step back from this cycle on your own, use exercise and other techniques to deal with the stress. If you need help in getting back to healthy ways of stress reduction, see the counseling center or health services for assistance.
Stress in law school is something that everyone has to learn to cope with effectively. If stress is getting out of hand, seek assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
"Comedy isn't pretty." -- Steve Martin
I worry quite a bit about the impact of humor on our weakest students. Everybody likes funny. Students say it makes class more interesting, academic studies sing its praises, and, frankly, "funny" makes teaching a lot more fun.
For years, one of the most common comments on student evaluations regarding my teaching is how "funny" I am. I don't want to give the impression I am up in front of the class doing Who's on First routines all day long. A lot of it is simply personality and teaching style, but sometimes I actively try to be funny. One of the biggest challenges I've found in Academic Success is that I have never been able to put on a program that was given for credit or required--everything I have ever done across four different law schools has been absolutely voluntary, and I imagine most of us are in the same boat. Consequently, I take a lot of cues from advertising to attract and engage students in any way I can. And, like the Dodge Durango or Dos Equis, one of the things I try to use is "funny."
For example, for a sign advertising a Workshop on Outlining, after saying the Workshop was provided by "Your Friends at Academic Support," I followed it with the following disclaimer:
*Such mention of “friendship” is not meant to create a legally binding contract or other agreement between you and the Academic Support Office. While we in the Office, of course, consider you friends, such a promise of friendship does not necessarily mean that we’d have you in our wedding or name a pet after you, or at least not a large pet, maybe a fish, definitely a plant, at least if the plant was something other than a cactus, as the naming of a cactus is a deeply personal undertaking and we would like to make sure that the cactus’s name does reflect its southwestern origins. “Friend” means one favorably disposed. Ned v. Robinson, 181 Okl. 507, 74 P.2d 1156. This varies in degree from greatest intimacy to acquaintance more or less casual. U.S. Trust Co. of Newark v. Montclair Trust Co., 133 N.J.Eq. 579, 33 A.2d 901. In Old English Law, a “friendless man” was an outlaw, so called because he was denied all the help of his friends – of course, we are not imputing this to you, and by reading this, you of course acknowledge, uphold, and agree that any such notices given by the Academic Support Office are in no way meant to impute anything upon anyone. Imputing is not our bag! We neither impute, implode, impact, impair, impeach, impress, imbide, imprint, immolate, immunize, imminent, immigrate, imitate, or ingratiate. In fact, whatever we say, by reading this, goes, and the party of the first part who reads the party of the second part should probably mind their own business and stick with the party of the first part because God forbid that the party of the third part finds out, because we heard he’s a really big guy, and we really don’t want to deal with such nonsense. For the remainder of this disclaimer, please contact the General Law Office of the Academic Support Office where some nice person may or may not help you because who knows really – they could be busy. They could be out to lunch. Or saving a dog. Or a cactus. We’d save a dog over a cactus, but not a cat over a cactus, as we’re not so sure about cats.......
Now, that might not actually be funny, but that would be an entirely different issue.
There is a general belief in academia that humor in the classroom is a good thing, and lots of scholarly articles support that belief. A simple Google search for ''humor in the classroom" turns up dozens of articles touting the benefits of using humor to engage and connect with students. I imagine many of us have comments in our evaluations praising our use of humor in one way or another.
But, every year, when I tell students about my own or their professors' experiences in law school, my weakest students make comments along the lines of "well, you were an expert student, so all of this was easy for you" or "my professor is so smart she can just spit this stuff out," and I've been wondering if humor might sometimes support the feeling that law teachers are in some different league from their students -- a league that a student, no matter how much work and intelligence he or she puts into law school, can only hope to join. Humor requires a recognition of signs and symbols to make the joke funny, and our weakest students, or students with very different academic or social backgrounds, might not get them. It also tends to imply an "other" -- for example, the above sign implies a ridiculous "other" who would actually think such a disclaimer was necessary or a good idea. For the weakest students, they probably feel like an "other" as it is, and I worry about humor building a fence instead of a bridge between these students and their learning.
So, this year, I haven't used "funny" as an intentional advertising strategy, and I've tried to tone it down when I teach. I'm still getting tons of students, and while "funny" might have attracted me as a 22-year-old law student, I have decided to retire "funny" so as not to inadvertantly alienate those who most need my help. (Alex Ruskell)
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Task lists for what one needs to accomplish (commonly called to do lists) are effective ways to track items and not forget anything. However, there are a number of strategies to improve on this old standby in time management and work organization.
- Consider having multiple levels of the lists: a daily list, a weekly list, a monthly list, a master list. The master list is for items that need to be done some time during this semester but which have no definite timeline or deadline attached to them. The monthly list captures all the items that truly need to be distributed through the current month. The weekly list brings into focus the items that must be completed in this limited 7-day period. The daily list delimits what can realistically occur today to bring one closer to finishing the week's tasks.
- Include a realistic number of items on a task list. It is very easy to include two or three times as many tasks on the daily list or weekly list as can be completed by even superhuman efforts within that time period. Depending on the complexity of the tasks, limit a daily list to 7 - 10 items maximum.
- Prioritize within the task list. Most people will designate items into three categories: most important, important, and least important. I know some people who designate Categories A, B, and C or 1, 2, and 3. Prioritizing focuses attention on the most essential tasks so one does not fritter the day on barely essential tasks.
- When considering the priority category for a task, focus on an honest appraisal rather than whether you like or dislike the task. Ask the following questions to help you determine priority: Is this task really necessary? Does this task have a major payoff for the time involved? What will happen if I do not complete this task? What is the deadline (if any) for this task? Can this task be broken down into smaller, more manageable steps?
- Decide whether personal and school/work items go on the same list. Some people prefer to have separate lists for each category.
- Save your lists for an entire week and analyze how you did. If each day shows a multitude of unfinished tasks, then you may need to be more realistic about how many items you can accomplish. You may also need to consider what interruptions or obstacles occur for completing the list if the number of items was realistic: phone calls, walk-ins, too much time on e-mails/texts/Internet. Make adjustments to how you formulate your lists and how you manage your interruptions or obstacles.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night afraid you will forget something the next day, keep a pen and pad on your bedside table. Capture the task for inclusion the next day on a task list. Then go back to sleep without the worry of forgetting.
Task lists are just one way to keep on track with work. The lists can be handwritten or completed with electronic software. Use whatever method helps you be more productive. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, October 21, 2013
I would like to introduce you to the third ASP writer in our series. Louis Schulze is Professor of Law and Director of the Academic Excellence Program at New England School of Law. Louis is the 2013 Chair of the AALS Section on Academic Support. I have listed below some of his publications. (Amy Jarmon)Alternative Justifications for Academic Support III: An Empirical Analysis of the Impact of Academic Support on Perceived Autonomy Support and Humanizing Law Schools 38 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 999 (2012) (with Dr. Adam A. Ding).
Partnering for the Benefit of All Students: Simple Ways to Incorporate ASP Techniques Across the Curriculum, 19(1) The Law Teacher 8 (Fall 2012) (with Rebecca Flanagan).
Integrating Doctrinal Material and Faculty into Academic Support, 2009 The Learning Curve 13 (2009) (with Elizabeth Bloom.)
Sunday, October 20, 2013
Law students often put off completing practice questions until the very end of the semester. They give me a number of reasons for delaying this important step in exam preparation:
- "I don't know enough yet to do practice questions."
- "I can't do practice questions until we have had the entire course."
- "I know the material really well so it is not necessary to do questions."
- "I get discouraged when I get questions wrong and don't want to do any more."
- "I can't find practice questions for the course."
- "I don't know what type of questions the professor will ask because he has never taught before/has never taught this course before/is a visitor."
- "I'll do practice questions with my study group later."
Successful law students complete as many practice questions as they can find time for throughout the semester. In addition to thinking about the questions, they outline answers to many of the essays, write out completely the answers for multiple essay questions, and complete some questions under exam conditions (timed, closed book, etc.). For multiple-choice questions, they track their mistakes so they can correct error patterns. They also carefully read the answer explanations to learn nuances that they may have missed.
Why do successful law students spend time on practice questions? They know that the following benefits flow from the task:
- Practice questions help them see if they really understand the law and can apply it to new scenarios.
- Multiple practice questions before the exam allow the student to manipulate the material through a number of different fact scenarios so that the actual exam scenarios seem less terrifying.
- Practice questions can increase confidence when one gets them right and can allow one to focus future time on less well-known material.
- Practice questions can pinpoint areas of confusion that need more work to master that topic long before the exam would uncover the same weakness.
- Practice questions and their model answers (essays) or answer explanations (multiple choice) help students gain deeper understanding of the law and its proper application.
- Practice questions allow students to practice issue spotting, careful reading of facts, charting or outlining answers before writing, stating the law precisely, analyzing for both parties, making appropriate policy arguments, and determining the best multiple-choice answer.
- Practice questions under timed conditions help students with properly pacing their work during the actual exams.
What about the objections that I mentioned at the beginning of this posting? Here are my responses to each one:
- Once you intensely review a subtopic or topic, you should be prepared to complete practice questions that are available. Intense review means learning that slice of the course as though the exam were Monday.
- Most courses have discrete topics or a series of topics that interrelate. Most practice question books indicate in the table of contents or index which topics are covered in the individual questions.
- You don't know how well you understand the material until you complete practice questions. Memorizing material and being able to apply the material to new fact scenarios are separate skills.
- Students should not attempt practice questions until they have studied the material in a serioius manner. Then they should do questions in increasing levels of difficulty: start with one-issue questions, move to intermediate-level questions, and then move to full-blown exam questions only after success at the prior levels of difficulty.
- For some courses there are fewer practice question sources. Ask the professor if s/he can supply the class with old questions. Go to the state bar examiners' website if old exam questions in that legal specialty are available. Get together with several classmates in the course and write and swap your own practice questions. Check out other law school websites for professor practice questions or old exams.
- If you don't know the professor's exam style, then practice questions of a variety of types. Once the professor decides the exam format, then switch to that particular style of question. All practice questions will help you test your knowledge and understanding until you have more information on the specific exam.
- Working on practice questions with a study group has merit - especially if each person works on the questions individually ahead of time. However, you also need to do plenty of questions on your own - your study group won't be allowed to help you think it through in the actual exam.
Practice questions are a critical component of exam study. If you have not started on them yet, now would be the perfect time to do so! (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Assessment Across The Curriculum
Assessment Across the Curriculum is a one-day conference for new and experienced law teachers who are interested in designing and implementing effective techniques for assessing student learning. The conference will take place Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law in Little Rock, Ark.
Conference content: Sessions will address topics such as:
- Formative Assessment in Large Classes
- Classroom Assessment Techniques
- Using Rubrics for Formative and Summative Assessment
- Assessing the Ineffable: Professionalism, Judgment, and Teamwork
- Assessment Techniques for a Legislation or Statutory Interpretation Course
By the end of the conference, participants will have concrete ideas and assessment practices to
take back to their students, colleagues, and institutions.
Who should attend: This conference is for all law faculty (full-time and adjunct) who want to learn about best practices for course-level assessment of student learning.
Conference structure: The conference opens with an optional informal gathering on Friday evening, April 4. The conference will officially start with an opening session on Saturday, April 5, followed by a series of workshops. Breaks are scheduled with adequate time to provide participants with opportunities to discuss ideas from the conference. The conference ends at 4:30 p.m. on
Saturday. Details about the conference will be available on the websites of the Institute for Law Teaching and Learning and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.
Conference faculty: Conference workshops will be taught by experienced faculty, including Michael Hunter Schwartz (UALR Bowen), Rory Bahudar (Washburn), Sandra Simpson (Gonzaga),
Sophie Sparrow (University of New Hampshire), and Lyn Entrikin (UALR Bowen).
For more information about the conference and to access the registration form, please go to Institute for Law Teaching and Learning Website - http://lawteaching.org/conferences/2014assessment/
UALR Bowen website - is http://ualr.edu/law/iltl-conference/
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
This is the second in the series on ASP writers. Robin Boyle Laisure is Assistant Dean for Academic Success and Professor of Law at St. Johns School of Law. She has written a number of articles and book chapters that deal with academic support topics. Robin is a prior Chair of the AALS Academic Support Section. I have listed below some of her publications. (Amy Jarmon)
Law Students Are Different from the General Population: Empirical Findings Regarding
Learning Styles, with Jeffrey Minneti and Andrea Honigsfeld, 17 (3)
PERSPECTIVES: TEACHING LEGAL RES. & WRITING 153 (2009).
Applying Learning Styles Theory in the Workplace: How to Maximize Learning-Styles
Strengths to Improve Work Performance in Law Practice, 79 St.
John's Law Review 97 (2005).
How Schools, Parents, and Courts can Respond to Federal Law and Improve Classroom Teaching for At-Risk Students, in DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION FOR AT-RISK STUDENTS, by Rita
Dunn and Andrea Honigsfeld (2009).
A Blueprint for a Truly Innovative Law School, in What If . . . : A Guide to Improving Education (R. Dunn & S.A. Griggs, eds., 2007).
Impact of Learning Styles and Law School Teaching, in Synthesis of the Dunn and Dunn Learning-Style Model Research: Who, What, When and What? (St. John's Univ. Center for Study of Learning & Teaching) (R. Dunn & S.A. Griggs, eds., 2007).
Research on Learning Style and Legal Writing, in Synthesis of the Dunn and Dunn Learning-Style Model Research: Who, What, When and What? (St. John's Univ. Center for Study of Learning & Teaching) (R. Dunn & S.A. Griggs, eds., 2007).
Bringing Learning Styles Instructional Strategies to Law School, in Practical Approaches to Using Learning Styles Application in Higher Education (R. Dunn & S.A. Griggs, eds., 2000).
In Response to the Remarks by Lawrence H. Summers, Presenting Empirical Data on the Differences in Learning Styles Between Males and Females, with Andrea Honigsfeld, 11(3) Cardozo Women's L. J. 505 (2005).
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
At UMass, we start our year quite early. Our classes are in session by the second week in August, so our midterms are early. Tonight is the midterm for my Property class, and students just took a Civ Pro midterm on Monday or Tuesday (depending on their section).
If you are at a school with midterms, you will see a shift after midterm grades are released. The cocky, swaggering students either fade away or become more forceful. The shy, withdrawn students who look like they would like to disappear become ghosts in the classroom or suddenly find their voice. For many students, the experience is disheartening and shocking. They have never seen anything less than an A, or maybe a B, and they are disillusioned when they see C's and D's.
I have a firm belief that one of the best things that happened to me in law school was a D on a midterm my 1L year. I received constructive feedback (that I was doing everything wrong, AND I misunderstood the rules) so I was able to fix my errors, and end the semester with an A in the course.
Students need to manage their expectations. Midterms are not:
1) A sign of your intelligence (or lack thereof). Law schools grade differently than undergrad institutions. Don't complain and pout; re-frame your understanding of A, B, C, D etc.
2) A signal that you cannot "do" law school.
3) A signal of your worth as a human.
Midterms should be framed as an opportunity.
1) Midterms let you know where you are misunderstanding the law. If you have misunderstood the rules, seek help NOW. Do not sulk, pout, blame, or hide.
2) Midterms let you know if you are using the right exam format. If you were disorganized, conclusory, repetitive, or underinclusive, seek help with ASP.
3) Midterms let are a fantastic opportunity to de-construct your teacher's testing format; use the midterm as a guide to studying for the final exam. (RCF)
Monday, October 14, 2013
I recently wrote a post about getting involved in writing as ASP'ers. It occurred to me that our readers might want to meet some of the ASP folks who have contibuted to the wealth of ASP-related articles and books. Over a series of posts, I'll spotlight some of our ASP writers. (Amy Jarmon)
Herb Ramy is Director and Professor of Academic Support at Suffolk University School of Law. Herb is well-known in ASP for his contributions to the field. He is a prior Chair of the Academic Support Section for AALS. Here are just a few of his publications which would interest our readers:
Succeeding in Law School Carolina Academic Press (Second Edition 2010).
Moving Students from Hearing and Forgetting to Doing and Understanding: A Manual for Assessment in Law School, 41 CAP. U. L. REV (forthcoming 2013)
Student Depression Becomes an Issue of Faculty Concern 33:8 STUDENT LAWYER MAGAZINE (2005).
Sunday, October 13, 2013
There are many things that we want our students to accomplish in law school. Each law school has a mission statement and various goals/objectives. All of us have been in on discussions as to what we want to have happen during three years of law school (or four or two depending on the model).
I made the following list for my students to ponder because some of them had not really thought about what they wanted to accomplish in law school and how it relates to future practice. The list is not all-inclusive nor is it in a perfect order. Instead it is a starting point for my students' reflection.
- Learn how to solve legal problems.
- Learn to use a legal vocabulary precisely.
- Learn the details of our U.S. legal system.
- Learn basic legal concepts and principles for a variety of courses.
- Learn how to use legal reasoning strategies to analyze any legal problem.
- Learn how to argue both sides of any legal problem.
- Learn how to use policy arguments appropriately.
- Learn how to research the law.
- Learn how to write objective and persuasive legal documents.
- Learn ethical principles that will promote success in practice.
- Learn professional skills to manage work assignments, time, and stress.
- Learn legal skills and a foundation in the law to facilitate passing the bar exam on the first attempt.
- Learn legal skills, a foundation in the law, and ethical behavior to facilitate being a respected lawyer among your colleagues and clients.
If students get too focused on the next reading assignment or the next exam question, they miss why they are here and what they can gain from the experience. ASPers work with faculty to help our students accomplish these items before they graduate. It is a team effort. (Amy Jarmon)
Saturday, October 12, 2013
I meant to write about this article when it was published this summer, but time got away from me.
I think it is highly relevant now as we see bar results come in (although those of us in East Coast states have a bit more time before "the big ones" come out).
Where were our students studying when for the bar? Does this impact pass rates? Is this a trend for students with the wealth to study in Barbados, or is this a trend manifesting a different ways for students without the means to travel to an exotic locale?
Thursday, October 10, 2013
I saw a good number of a ASP faces at the NCBEx conference in Madison, WI last week, but there is not complete overlap between our worlds. For those of you who work in bar but could not attend the conference, here is a brief overview:
Susan Case, psychometrics guru of NCBE, started off by explaining the four multistate exams; MBE, MEE, MPT, and MPRE. Next, we heard from Christina Whitman of Minnesota, who discussed how the MBE committees draft MCQ's for the MBE. The bottom line: your faculty CANNOT draft MCQ that are similar to the MBE, unless they work in a group of ten experts and test teach MC question for at least five years. Judy Gunderson discussed the process of developing MEE and MPT items. Interestingly, MEE questions are drafted in a similar manner to MBE questions. The next sessions were devoted to discussion among bar graders about what they look for in a good bar exam answer. What they said would not surprise anyone in ASP; they look for a concise, well-drafted, organized answer that includes the relevant rule and an analysis. They do not want to see fact recitation in lieu of analysis, they don't like disorganized answers, and a treatise on the law with no analysis of the relevant facts isn't going to score well. Susan Case also discussed the predictors of bar success and bar failure; they are the factors we know well--MPRE passage, law school grades, and to a much lesser degree, LSAT's and UPA's. There was an open discussion on construction of bar courses at our schools; we are all trying a variety of methods. The variety reflects the diversity among law schools; different methods work for different students taking different bar exams.
In addition to the sessions, we discussed the spread of the UBE and what that means to bar exams everywhere, and the necessity of waivers so we can get access to essential graduate bar data for ABA reports.
Overall, it was an excellent, very, very packed conference. I don't think a second was wasted; we woke up, ate an amazing breakfast, and had session after session filled with fascinating and critically important information on the bar exam. (RCF)
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
I want to give a hat tip to Paul L. Caron, Professor of Law at Pepperdine and owner of Law Professor Blogs, for the following link that might be of interest to our readers. http://witnesseth.typepad.com/blog/2013/08/what-are-my-chances-of-passing-the-bar.html
While I think it is risky to rely on calculators to assess bar passage probability as their results only factor in quantitative data, some students may find this calculator a useful resource for determining where to take the bar exam. Since many of us in Academic Support realize that qualitative data plays a huge role in bar success, the results from this "bar passage calculator" are not perfect. Additionally, if a student is told that their bar passage odds are low, they may make that prediction a reality. However, if a student is open to moving to a jurisdiction where their bar passage odds may increase based on the numbers, this calculator could be beneficial. My advice is to check it out and think about the pros and cons before distributing it widely to your students.