Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Downward Slope

Students are realizing that the semester is speeding along and rapidly coming to a close.  Many students have done a good job of completing outlines regularly, reviewing outlines already, and completing practice questions on material they have already learned.  Other students are just now contemplating efforts beyond daily class preparation.  Those students with paper courses are either well into their research and writing stages or have suddenly realized they need to get underway.

Why do some students postpone exam study or papers until the last few weeks?  There can be several things at work that influence a student's decision to delay.

The delay in exam review and on paper tasks is often a habit left over from undergraduate education.  When there were multiple tests and no cumulative final exam, it was easy to get A grades by studying a few days before the test.  The amount of material on the test was minimal.  And without a cumulative test later, there was no reason to remember the material beyond the test date.  When a paper was only a few pages long, it was easy to pull it together rapidly and still have an excellent grade.

Another aspect of delay is the well-meaning but erroneous advice of upper-division law students.  The mantra around our law school is that you do not have to study for exams until "six weeks out."  To most upper-division law students who experienced those multiple/non-cumulative exams, this mantra seems to make sense since the suggested time period is so long compared to past study periods (You want me to study for 6 whole weeks!). 

Some students delay because they are chronic procrastinators.  Like Scarlett O'Hara they will think about it tomorrow.  But then they do not think about it - or just put it off again.   Rather than go away, however, the delayed tasks become more and more urgent.  As they become more urgent, they also may become more paralyzing.  And then the delay just continues.

These students who now realize how much they need to accomplish can help themselves by implementing the following techniques:

  • Evaluate their time managment.  Honestly determine where they waste time (long lunches, e-mail/Twitter/Facebook, long exercise regimens, food preparation, sleeping late on the weekends, etc.) and commit those "found" hours for study.
  • Commit on paper to the hours that will be used for review for exams or for paper completion every week: Monday 2-4 review Wills; Tuesday 1-2 review Copyright and 6-7:30 review Tax; Wednesday 2-5 Natural Resources paper; Thursday 9-10 review Tax and 6-7 review Copyright; Friday 1-2:30 Wills practice questions and 4-6 Tax practice questions; and so forth for each day.
  • Break down the large tasks into smaller steps.  Use a monthly calendar to distribute tasks into the designated times committed each day to those tasks.  Put into review slots the subtopics to review.  Put into paper slots the research, writing, or editing tasks to complete.  Put into the practice question slots the questions to be completed from the professor's course site, a study aid, or other source.   
  • Find an accountability partner to help stay on track.  Agree to meet and study in the same room so studying cannot be skipped.  Agree to discuss certain subtopics or practice questions on a particular day so that the work must be done.  Tell the person at the end of each day what was or was not accomplished from the monthly schedule.
  • Ask for help if they need it.  The academic success professional at the law school can assist with prioritizing work, formulating study schedules, and discussing additional strategies that match the student's situation.
  • Minimize life tasks to find more study time.  Food preparation can be done on the weekends.  A major apartment cleaning now and then minimal spot cleaning and pick up until exams are over.  Stock up on food staples and other supplies now to avoid extra shopping trips.  Switch to an easy care wardrobe instead of high maintenance fashion. 

It is time to take control over the remainder of the semester.  The downward slope is here, but there is still time to correct any delaying tactics that have become detrimental.  (Amy Jarmon) 

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