Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Pause For Your Mental Sanity

Fall semester break (Thanksgiving Break) is approaching and there are many signs that students need a break to refocus, rest, and put a dent in tasks they have either avoided or simply had insufficient time to tackle. First year law students, in particular, have been spread very thin trying to learn new skills, balance multiple tasks, and learn new information. Simply put, they are pushed to the brink of their perceived capabilities. These activities are all potential sources of stress that may negatively impact one’s body and mind even when you are aware that you need to slow down. Students forget about focusing on what is most important to them when everything within them says that they cannot complete this or that assignment. Productivity starts to plummet, sleep schedules are off, healthy eating habits are replaced with unhealthy ones, gradual withdraw from social life takes place, frequent panic attacks occur, and some students no longer enjoy things they once enjoyed. In essence, students no longer feel good about themselves.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “mental health” as:

“the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet the demands of daily life; also: the general condition of one’s mental and emotional state.”

Our students should aspire to have good mental health; always be aware of how they feel and how they manage their feelings. There are several resources at counseling centers and student affairs offices on various campuses on this topic that I am only mildly addressing.

Our students have a week off before they return to wrap-up the semester and take final exams. Of course, I relentlessly encourage students to maximize the time they have over break. Use this time wisely and effectively but also get some rest. I encourage students to develop a realistic and productive study plan in order to set themselves up for success by implementing the plan. I also encourage students to develop an additional plan for rest and recuperation, emphasizing it is very easy for time off to develop into all play and rest and no work, nevertheless, it is important to plan and limit their rest time.

A top priority on the list is to get some true rest and some valuable sleep of at least eight hours each and every day. I also encourage students to have a day when they do absolutely nothing but what they want to do and engage in at least one activity that makes them happy. Their goal is to be re-energized and in the best, mental and emotional state to wrap-up the last few weeks of the semester.

This is not to say that no time is spent on maximizing study time but I would let you refer to my colleague’s entry here which addresses exam preparation in detail. Happy restful yet productive break to all students. (Goldie Pritchard)

 

image from media.giphy.com

November 15, 2017 in Advice, Exams - Studying, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Power of Positive Thinking

It can be quite difficult to adopt and maintain a positive outlook when everything around you seems to be falling apart. You may not find yourself in a position to have a positive attitude when time seems to evade you and you simply cannot find ample time to complete each and every task. This is a particularly stressful period of time for various populations I interact with; therefore, why not address positive thinking? 1Ls have possibly received feedback from a midterm and now have to change everything about the way they study, all while balancing their final writing assignment for the legal writing course. 2Ls and some 3Ls completed the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE) and some are now questioning whether or not they adequately prepared for the exam to obtain the desired score. Others are hoping to have successfully passed the MPRE so they do not have to take it again or take it for the third time if this is their second go at it. 3Ls are starting to panic as they realize that this is the last set of exams and all that stands between them and a law license are bar applications, final grades, and the bar exam. For all these groups, there are a few short weeks prior to final exams and each day gets them even closer.

With the above-mentioned concerns and the semester progressively nearing a close, students are tense and quite stressed. I try to keep all of this in perspective as I interact with these students individually and collectively. A positive attitude is infectious and with each interaction, my intent is to highlight positivity thus enabling students to focus on the “big picture” while remaining positive in each challenge they face along the way. A positive disposition can lead to success when obstacles are no longer viewed as obstacles but rather seen as opportunities. Individuals are more disposed to help others with a positive attitude and more likely to avoid those with a negative attitude. Negative thoughts, words, and attitudes generate negative feelings, moods, and behaviors. Negativity can forge a pathway to failure, frustration, and disappointment. I have witnessed students talk themselves out of opportunities and successes simply because of fear which generated negative attitudes.

How then does one address the inevitable occasional negative feelings? Creating a vision board with a list of things you aspire to have and are working towards. Stating weekly affirmations that uplift, encourage, and empower you. Adopting positive words in your inner dialogue or when interacting with others. Being cognizant of your negative internal dialogue and quickly changing it to positives can work wonders. All the best with the final stretch. (Goldie Pritchard)

November 8, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Sports | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Learning Tune-Up Time!

With many law students facing final exams in just over a month, this is a great time for students to reflect on their learning with the goal of making beneficial improvements before it is too late, i.e., before final exams are over.  

There are many such evaluation techniques but I especially like the questions that adjunct professor Lori Reynolds (Asst. Dean of Graduate Legal Studies at the Univ. of Denver) asks each of her students because the questions are open-ended, allowing students to reflect, interact, and communicate about their own learning with their teacher.  

And, if you are a law student, there's no need to wait on your teachers to ask these questions.  Rather, make them part and parcel of your learning today.  

So, whether you are currently serving as a teacher or taking courses as a student, you'll find these questions to be rich empowering opportunities to make a real difference in your learning! (Scott Johns).

Photo of Evaluation

November 2, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Everyone Passed The Bar Exam But Me

As bar results from various jurisdictions continue to trickle in, July 2017 bar takers are either filled with excitement and relief or are sorely disappointed and devastated. As those who were unsuccessful on the exam sort through their emotions and decide what to do next, they cope with the results in different ways. There are those who know they did not put forth the effort necessary and are therefore disappointed with the result and even mad at themselves as they see friends elated to have passed the bar exam. On the other end of the spectrum are those who put forth every effort but did not yield the expected result. These individuals are distraught, directionless, overwhelmed and apprehensive about embarking on the bar study journey all over again. As individuals who were unsuccessful on the bar exam regroup, some will sulk in their emotions, sadness, and fear of failing the bar exam again. The reality is that some will continuously be haunted by the fear of failure throughout their bar preparation period. Others will be motivated to succeed by the fear of failure and make significant strides toward passing the bar exam.

The most challenging aspect for bar support professionals is working with students who were unsuccessful on the bar exam but their entire ‘friend group” passed the bar exam. It is even more difficult when the unsuccessful individual overwhelmingly put in their best possible effort and was the very source of encouragement and support for the entire group of friends who passed. It is also difficult in an era when everyone posts every life event on social media so one is constantly faced with the successes of others and one’s perceived failure. Where then do we even start?

As a bar support professional, we have a general idea about the probability of success on the bar exam for those law students we have regularly engaged with throughout law school. Of course, students defy the odds and my goal is to ensure that students beat the odds against them each and every time. When one has worked with a student who struggled throughout law school, helped that student build the mental fortitude to overcome defeats in small battles throughout law school, seen the student master various skills and work diligently during bar studies, it is difficult to see the student not attain their goal of passing the bar exam. How do you uplift the encourager?

My approach to working with any student who was unsuccessful on the bar exam is twofold. First, address the mental coping mechanisms then second, address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam. Individuals usually want to avoid discussing how they feel about the bar exam, how it is impacting their day to day life, and how it will affect their bar preparation process but these are conversations bar preparation professionals should never shy away from. It might involve tears and maybe even require a break but strategizing about how to manage interactions with former classmates, professors, family, and employers, just to mention a few, are all very important. Also realizing that they are not alone in having these emotions and that others who were also unsuccessful feel the same way and may have coping mechanisms that might be helpful to adopt. This is also a time to build a relationship with the bar studier which might encourage them to have the conversations with you about their fears and moments of doubt and concern throughout the bar preparation process. However, there might be situations when we might need to encourage students to obtain other professional help.

Although we aim to adequately address the practical aspects of preparing for the bar exam, it is the mental fears that typically make this process daunting. The voice students hear ringing in their ears, “you are going to fail the bar exam again” or the frustration of not immediately getting all questions correct might awaken the fears that all of their hard work may not yield the result they long for. Students can learn how to write better essays and performance tests with strategies and individualized and consistent feedback. Students get better at multiple choice with strategy, practice, and specific techniques to critique their process. Students can build time management skills with progressive time management drills. Students can build knowledge and memory by developing techniques to study and retain material and adequately applying those techniques. The one thing we cannot do is get into the minds of our bar takers to block all of the negativity they might tell themselves.

To those who had a practice run and are going to get back on the bar study schedule, LET’S DO THIS!!!  You CAN do it.  You are not the first and you are not alone.  Your bar support professionals are there to support you with this round.  Be courageous! (Goldie Pritchard)

November 1, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Preparation | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson #5: Be Passsionate

Last Thursday (October 26) was National Pumpkin Day and today is Halloween; it seems like a fitting day to conclude my “Giant Pumpkin Growing Lesson” series.

For the first four installments (read #1, #2, #3 and #4 here), I not only detailed my experience growing a giant pumpkin, but also tried to empathize with first-year law students.  For this final post, I’d like to focus on “passion,” which I believe is an essential element to successfully transition from novice to expert. 

You have to be truly passionate about the work in order to perform at a competitive level over a sustained period of time.

During the early morning hours on October 14, I officially entered my pumpkin in the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Grower’s annual weigh off.  At 516 pounds, my pumpkin took 35th place out of 38 eligible entries. 

  Presley 516a

Many of the more experienced growers were impressed with her* shape and color, but commented that she was simply “too small” to be a real contender—even in the rookie category. These other growers would then immediately follow-up their statement with a question about my plans for next year.  Although each of their questions varied slightly (e.g. “What seed will you grow next year?” “Will you be performing a new soil test?”  “Do you think you can outgrow your husband?”), implicit in every question was the notion that I would undoubtedly be growing a pumpkin again next year.  I responded to each of their questions with a straightforward answer: “I’m not going to grow another pumpkin.  This was a one-time-thing for me.”  Then, almost universally, a sense of disbelief would appear on the questioner’s face for a brief moment before a Cheshire Cat grin would settle in across their lips.  The grinning grower would respond with something like “Oh, give it a few months.  You’ll be itching to plant a seed in the spring.”

After the third or fourth time, it dawned on me that the other growers simply did not (or perhaps more accurately, could not) believe me. Because these vegetable enthusiasts love growing pumpkins so much, they are unapologetically eager to get back in the patch and try something new.  The fact that I was not as equally eager seemed too confusing for them to accept.  But for me, most days in the patch were a chore that I could manage, not a task I wanted to master

I suspect that both the “can do” folks and “want to do” crowd exists in the law student population as well. The question then becomes what do we, as academic support professors, do to assist the “can do” students; that is, those students who are able to achieve the minimum benchmarks of success, but are likely disinclined to challenge themselves during their three years of school. Can we motivate someone to evolve from “can do” to “want to do”?  And, is the evolution really necessary? 

With regard to the latter question first: I submit that the evolution is imperative to long term success in the legal field. Extrapolating from my own experience trying something new and challenging, I feel comfortable asserting that in order to be content and fulfilled while working long hours, you have to be truly passionate about the project.  Therefore, if a law student possesses a can-do attitude, but doesn’t actually enjoy the work, he will eventually lose interest and the quality of the work will suffer.  In law school that translates to mediocre grades, but in legal practice poor quality work may result in the loss of a client or even malpractice.  In addition to producing lesser quality work, the student will be fundamentally discontent and unfulfilled.  Perhaps this helps explain the extraordinarily high rates of depression among law students.  The difference between me—the novice pumpkin grower—and the law student is that I have the luxury of walking away after one season.  Giant pumpkin growing is just a hobby, not a career path.  On the other hand, most law students—because of financial commitments, family pressure, or a lack of personal insight—are not in a position to just walk away from law school after one year.  Even if the student finds the entire first year a laborious chore, his can-do attitude will likely convince him to return for another year.

So, if we conclude that the can-do student is likely to persist through all three years of law school, even if he finds the entire process somewhat miserable, then what can we do to help transition his mindset from can-do into one of want-to-do?  How can we make him passionate about his project?  I suspect that identifying the student’s long-term career plan and then tying law school tasks directly to his individual goal(s) may prove useful in reframing his motivation.  A more defined end goal may motivate the student to engage beyond the basics and eventually spark a real passion.  Numerous ASP articles outline the benefits of curiosity, self-directed learning, and internal motivation in achieving academic success.  My own experience echoes these scholars' findings. 

Looking forward: next time I encounter a can-do student, I plan to spend a few extra minutes trying to identify his real passion, and (hopefully) tie that passion directly to his legal studies.  In short, I hope to spark a passion for the law which should better equip and inspire the novice to transition into an expert who is excited about facing new challenges and his own potential for exponential growth.

*Like most sailing vessels, giant pumpkins are referred to using female pronouns.

Happy Halloween! (Kirsha Trychta)

Pumpkins in truck

Novice grower at 516 pounds on the left; expert grower at 1,337 pounds on the right. 

October 31, 2017 in Advice, Learning Styles, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Outlining=A Better Understanding of the Doctrinal Materials

I mentioned last week that 1Ls are likely starting to think hard about outlining for their podium courses. With the end of October approaching, students need to focus some of their precious time on preparing for their final exams. It takes a while for some students to shift their focus. But, those students who take time to prepare for final exams may often feel more confident and less stressed come the end of the semester. And a more confident and less stressed student may be better able to focus and demonstrate to the professor what he/she knows about the doctrinal subject come December.

One way students can to start feeling more confident and less stressed is by organizing their class notes around big picture rules in an outline. Students can insert into the outline various hypotheticals that test these big picture rules. The professor in the Socratic class could have generated these hypotheticals. They could also be pulled from other sources, like law school study aids or from the casebooks’ Notes and Decisions. Or, better yet, students can try to generate the hypotheticals on their own.

An outline can take many shapes or forms. What’s important is that each student focuses on what helps him/her best understand the material. What’s also important is that students try to create their outlines on their own. It’s cliché—but, a huge part of the learning process is synthesizing all the materials that each student has available to him/her and putting it down in the outline. Working with the materials and thinking about how and why the materials fit into the doctrinal course can help solidify or create a better understanding of the material. And who doesn’t want a better understanding of the material before finals? (OJ Salinas)

October 30, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 23, 2017

The End of October is Approaching

It’s hard to believe that we are already heading towards the end of October. It seems like the Fall semester just started.

As the end of October approaches, many students are trying to figure out what they plan to wear for their Halloween parties. They are also trying to figure out what they need to do for the rest of the semester as well.

By now, 1Ls have heard of this “outlining” word. But, they may not fully understand what it means. They have read and briefed most of their cases, but they may not have a good grasp of how these cases link up with one another in their doctrinal classes. They may have been so focused on writing down and remembering each miniscule detail from their cases that they have neglected to see how each case from their individual doctrinal classes ties in with every other case in those classes. They may not be ready to attack a large final exam question that assesses their ability to analyze the various legal issues that they have covered throughout the semester.

As law school academic support professionals, we should be ready to assist 1L students as they negotiate the latter part of their first semester. Let’s remember that most 1Ls may not, at this point, fully understand the big picture law for each of their doctrinal subjects. Let’s remember that many 1Ls may not have fully practiced issue spotting and exam writing. Let’s be ready with a non-judgmental and empathic listening ear so that we can best serve each individual student. (OJ Salinas)

October 23, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Miscellany, Professionalism, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Be a Risk-taker for Your Legal Education

Occasionally, prospective law students ask me what it takes to be a successful law student. I am always happy to respond to this question because most of the time, these students find information from current students more valuable. One basic answer I provide is that students who are risk-takers and do not fear multiple bouts of failure tend to be some of my most successful law students. Although a somewhat perplexing response, I always proceed with an example, knowing from experience that most prospective students do not believe me initially. It is not until the end of the fall semester when exams are over and students have had a moment to step back and reflect on experiences that they understand what I meant.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “risk-taker” as “a person who is willing to do things that involve danger or risk (possibility of loss or injury) in order to achieve a goal.” The danger or risk referred to in law school academic performance is exposure of academic weaknesses and short comings. The perception that everyone knows that you do not know something; you are not yet good at something; you failed at something; or more importantly, your professor is aware of it all is quite terrifying to many first year law students. Some of them prefer to stay in the dark about everything for fear of possibly being relentlessly judged by one misstep. They do not realize that other students are preoccupied with their own fears and may forget about classroom exchanges or that due to the number of other students in the classroom; the professor may inadvertently forget the exchange. The worst aspect of this is likely when students avoid resources and/or interactions such as engaging with vital academic support programs and services that could eventually be beneficial to them.

Encouraging students to utilize resources that are available to them through the academic support program is probably the most difficult obstacle in the first year of law school. As a result, I try to use a number of modes of information delivery with the hope that students will use or tap into one or more of them. These include large and small group interactions, one-on-one interaction, and access to digital resources that allow students to work at their own pace. But sometimes, this is not enough. The hope is that at the very least, classmates, teaching assistants, and other administrators will help remind and direct students to resources that a conducive to learning.

My risk-taking students are often my high achieving students because they have redefined failure for themselves and created opportunities to excel. All of them were not the students one would expect to perform well from the beginning. Redefining failure is crucial to overall law student success. One simply cannot rely on past measures of achievement, otherwise one might become disappointed. Students need to focus on innovative ways of assessing improvement, understanding, knowledge, and time management just to list a few. They also need to determine how to obtain the feedback necessary for the positive adjustments necessary for academic success. Taking ownership of one’s own learning and managing one’s emotional reactions to feedback requires some skill and tenacity. My students who attempt all of this are self-empowered and build their arsenal of knowledge and skills throughout the academic year which typically yields positive results around exam time.

Risk-taking students are the students who attend regular professor office hours but also get answers wrong and spend time understanding where they went wrong. They may suggest and lead study groups, ask the questions every student wants to ask but does not dare ask the professor, are in my office regularly showing me how they have diagrammed and organized concepts, or are simply doing the things they should be doing. (Goldie Pritchard)

October 18, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 16, 2017

October Slump and Shout-Outs

I first want to provide a special shout-out to Russell McClain, the University of Baltimore School of Law, and everyone involved with the planning and running of the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) Diversity Conference. The presentations and accompanying dialogue were informative and thought provoking. And, as always, the camaraderie among the law school academic support community and the community’s genuine interest in law student success were inspiring and helped serve as continued motivation to push us through the rest of the academic semester.

I also want to provide a separate shout-out to my colleague, Rachel Gurvich. I have mentioned Rachel’s name and Twitter handle (@RachelGurvich) on several occasions at law school conferences and on this blog. Rachel recently wrote an ASP-ish post on The #Practice Tuesday blog. The post, entitled, “It’s not so shiny anymore: 1Ls and the October slump”, provides seven tips on how 1Ls can push through the rest of the academic semester. I encourage you and your students to take a look at the post and follow Rachel on Twitter. She’s a great colleague and resource at Carolina and beyond—her Tweets have reached and supported law students throughout the country, including this one and this one.

Rachel and Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) started The #Practice Tuesday blog as an opportunity to expand their #Practice Tuesday discussions on Twitter. On Tuesday afternoons, Rachel and Sean lead great discussions on “advice and musings on legal practice and the profession.” Participants in the discussions include practitioners, judges, and law school faculty and students throughout the country. Feel free to join in on the conversations!

Again, thanks to Russell McClain and everyone involved with the AASE Diversity Conference! And, thanks, to my amazing colleague Rachel Gurvich! (OJ Salinas)

October 16, 2017 in Advice, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Smart-Phone Dilemna: "Blood Pressure Spikes, Pulse Quickens, Problem-Solving Skills Decline," says Columnist

 As recently reported by columnist Nicholas Carr, if you have a smart phone, you'll likely be "consulting the glossy little rectangle nearly 30,000 times over the coming year." 

Most of us don't think that's too awful.  I certainly depend on mine...and all the time.  It's become my phone, my mailbox, my knowledge bank, my companion, my navigator, my weather channel, to name just a few of the wonderful conveniences of this remarkable nano-technology.  But, here's the rub.  Accordingly to Mr. Carr, there are numerous research studies that, as the headline above suggests, indicate that smart phone access is harmful, well, to one's intellectual, emotional, and perhaps even bodily health.  

Let me just share a few of the cited studies from Mr. Carr's article on "How Smart-phones Hijack Our Minds."  https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811?mod=e2tw

First, as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a California study that suggests that the mere presence of smart phones hampers our intellectual problem-solving abilities.  In the study of 520 undergraduate students, the researches - using a TED lecture talk - tested students on their exam performance based on their understanding of the lecture with the students divided into three separate groups.  In one classroom, the students placed their cellphones in front of them during the lecture and the subsequent exam.  In another classroom the students had to stow their cellphones so that they didn't have immediate access (i.e., sort of an "out-of-sight--out-of-mind" approach).  In the last classroom situation, the students had to leave their cellphones in a different room from the lecture hall.  Almost all of the students reported that the placement or access of their cell phones did not compromise their exam performance in anyway.  But, the test results shockingly indicated otherwise.  The students with cellphones on their desks performed the worst on the exam. In addition, even the students with the cellphones stowed performed not nearly as good as the students who were not permitted to bring cellphones to the lecture.  Apparently, just the knowledge that one's cellphone is ready and standing by negatively impacts learning.

Second, also as reported by Mr. Carr, there's a Arkansas study that suggests that students can improve their exam performance by a whole letter grade merely by leaving one's cellphone behind when headed to classes.  In that study of 160 students, the researchers found that those students who had their phones with them in a lecture class, even if they did not access or use them, performed substantially worse than those students that abandoned their cellphones prior to class, based on test results on cognitive understanding of the lecture material.  In other words, regardless of whether one uses one's cellphone during class, classroom learning appears to be compromised just with the presence of one's cellphone.

Third, as again reported by Mr. Carr, cellphone access or proximity not only hinders learning but also harms social communication and interpersonal skills.  In this United Kingdom study, researches divided people into pairs and asked them to have a 10-minute conversation.  Some pairs of conversationalists were placed into a room in which there was a cellphone present.  The other pairs were placed in rooms in which there were no cell phones available.  The participants were then given tests to measure the depth of the conversation that the subjects experienced based on measures of affinity, trust, and empathy.  The researches found that the mere presence of cellphones in the conversational setting harmed interpersonal skills such as empathy, closeness, and trust, and the results were most harmful when the topics discussed were "personally meaningful topic[s]."  In sum, two-way conversations aren't necessary two-way when a cellphone is involved, even if it is not used.

Finally, Mr. Carr shares research out of Columbia University that suggests that our trust in smartphones and indeed the internet compromises our memorization abilities.  In that study, the researches had participants type out the facts surrounding a noteworthy news event with one set of participants being told that what they typed would be captured by the computer while the other set of subjects were told that the facts would be immediately erased from the computer.  The researchers then tested the participants abilities to accurately recall the factual events.  Those that trusted in the computer for recall had much more difficulty recalling the facts than those who were told that they couldn't rely on the computer to retain the information.  In other words, just the thought that our computers will accurately record our notes for later use, might harm our abilities to recall and access information.  And, as Mr. Carr suggests, "only by encoding information in our biological memory can we weave the rich intellectual associations that form the essence of personal knowledge and give rise to critical and conceptual thinking.  No matter how much information swirls around us, the less well-stocked our memory, the less we have to think with."

Plainly, that's a lot to think about.  And, with all of the conversations swirling about as to whether teachers should ban laptops from classrooms, it might just add "fuel to the fire."  On that question, this article does not opine.  But, regardless of whether you take notes on a computer or not, according to the research, there's an easy way to raise your letter grade by one grade.  Just leave your smartphone at home, at your apartment, or in your locker...whenever you go to classes.  (Scott Johns).

 

 

October 12, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

MPRE FRENZY

During the past few weeks, my focus was on the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). Students have received countless resources to help support them with the MPRE preparation process. Students recognize that the exam is fast approaching and some have not yet started to study. Others are considering various study strategies and asking themselves whether they are learning what they need to learn.

Below are some considerations as students wrap-up or engage-in MPRE studies:

• Build your skill and momentum. Most bar-type multiple choice questions are reading comprehension questions so initially, you might want to go at a slow pace as quickly reading the fact patterns then selecting an answer might not yield the correct answer. Often, you may overlook key facts which could dictate your selection of the correct answer. Develop your reading comprehension skills by slowing down, then building your pace. Take it one step at a time and focus on your timing closer to the exam

• Practice to practice. Simply completing practice questions or exams without a purpose can be detrimental; therefore, you may wish to consider your fundamental justification and benefits for completing questions. Why you are completing questions? Are you completing question to determine your understanding of a sub-issue, to determine your exam time management skills, to determine your ability to manage multiple sub-issues at once, to learn, or to highlight strengths and deficiencies? You want to think about why you are completing questions, what purpose it serves and is it service that purpose. You might need to make adjustments depending on your answer. You absolutely do not want to avoid the difficult questions.

• Review and learn the rules. How are you ensuring that you are committing the rules to memory, particularly the ones you “trip up” on? How are you condensing the information to review them? Typically, students stop at either reviewing an outline or watching a lecture but you might want to have an idea of what a rule on a particular topic says to effectively be able to arrive at the correct answer. Are there flashcards or other available resources you can use?

• Resources you may wish to consider. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) Website has a number of resources posted so use them or at the very least, check to see whether your selected MPRE preparation course includes such information. Does it cover the entire content in the MPRE Subject Matter Outline? Does it highlight MPRE Key Words and Phrases? Are you aware that the NCBE website includes a practice exam that you can purchase and sample MPRE questions available for free?

To the November 4th MPRE bar takers: All the very best! (Goldie Pritchard)

October 11, 2017 in Advice, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Dare to Disclose?

The counseling field has often highlighted the benefits of some personal disclosure from therapists to their clients. Some cited benefits include increased trust and rapport, as well validation of the clients’ experiences.

Join me this week at the Inaugural Diversity Conference for the Association of Academic Support Educators (AASE) in Baltimore, Maryland, for a moderated discussion on the benefits of academic support professionals sharing personal stories and struggles with their students.

Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences (i.e., their stories or struggles) relating to diversity and inclusion or their law school experience in general. These experiences may either be personal stories or struggles or stories related to students that the participants may have worked with in their capacity as academic support professionals. As presenters and participants share their stories, the “listening” participants will be modeling and reviewing some of the same active listening skills and nonverbal behaviors that academic support professionals should be engaging in when they work with students in either individual or group conferences.

Hope to see you in Maryland! (OJ Salinas)

October 9, 2017 in Advice, Disability Matters, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, News, Professionalism, Program Evaluation, Stress & Anxiety, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Letter from a Bar Coach to Her Goal Achievers

The hustle and bustle of day to day academic support life does not always allow for me to say all that I would like to say to the countless students who contact me to let me know that they passed the bar exam. In the moment, I am excited, I might scream, my heart and my soul are filled with joy, and I might even shed a tear as the bar passer and I recall the challenges they overcame to make it to this point. While addressed to one individual, this letter addresses most of what I would have liked to say but may not have. I am certain that I missed something so please forgive me in advance.

Dear Achiever,

I am so very proud of you!!! You passed the bar exam and did it on the first try! You should be very proud of yourself and your accomplishments. I am certain that your family is very excited for you. Many of your former law school colleagues have stopped by to ask whether I heard about your success and expressed their joy, excitement, and pride. You are an inspiration, a role model, and mentor to others who will walk in your shoes very soon so please do not take that role lightly. I also look to you for support of soon to be bar takers so please do not forget to provide me with any advice you have for those who will soon sit for your state bar exam.

At this time, passing the bar might be a surreal experience but I am here to remind you that you did it. I also want to remind you of what it took for you to get here because the journey was not a simple walk in the park. You sacrificed a lot in the past three years. Was it worth it to you? I want you to take some time prior to your swearing-in ceremony, prior to the start of your job, prior to your journey to finding a job, or prior to the official start of your legal journey to reflect on your legal education journey so that you never forget what it took to achieve this success.

Remember the community you come from and what lead you to consider pursuing a law degree. Maybe you are a first-generation college student, first-generation graduate, or first-generation professional school student so you had to sort through how to navigate the necessary steps to attend law school. Maybe everyone around you said you could not make it to or through law school or maybe you had a supportive family who believed that you could achieve anything and you were slated for success. Maybe you were the only one in your community to graduate from high school and/or college. But you did it and that in itself is an achievement you should be proud of.

Remember all that you sacrificed to attend law school and how much of a toll it took on you, your children, your marriage, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your family, and all those around you. Maybe you moved from across the country to attend law school. Maybe you gave up a well- paying job to live like a college student to pursue your dream of obtaining a legal education. Maybe you left an environment you felt comfortable in to move to one where you stuck out like a sore thumb and never really understood or felt a part of. Maybe you had to leave significant others behind or become a different type of parent, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, son, daughter, brother, or sister to achieve your dream. Maybe you were not as “present” as you used to be, missed holiday celebrations, and other significant life events to obtain your law degree.

Remember the countless hours you devoted to law school studies and bar exam studies. Maybe you were admitted through a conditional admission program, alternative admission program, or simply opted to participate in a pre-law school program, early start program or jump start program. Maybe reading cases, understanding concepts, briefing, outlining, and drafting memoranda took you longer than the next person to master or at least get comfortable with. Maybe law school studies posed the first academic challenge you have ever experienced in life. Maybe you sacrificed hours on course preparation, did not yield the expected results but you kept going. Maybe you experienced many challenges during your summer bar studies. You had no idea how you would manage all of the subject matter and apply it when necessary. Maybe your scores and feedback on essays, Multistate Bar Exams (MBE), Multistate Performance Tests (MPT) and mock bar exams were subpar and you were unsure about whether you would pass the bar exam. Maybe your entry credentials did not “guarantee” law school or bar exam success but you nevertheless dispelled every single one of those myths - you PASSED!

Remember when you said that you were “over law school”, law school was not for you, and you wanted to and also planned to go back home and never return. Maybe you felt like an impostor, alienated, alone, pushed to your limit. What would have happened had you given up on your dream? Would you have experienced the success you now have? The world would have lost an amazing attorney, YOU!

Remember when you ran out of funds and had no food to eat, no means to buy books, and thought you might become homeless. You became resourceful, learned about the options available to you, and overcame each and every one of those obstacles. Your classmates, professors, friends, and family may not have known about your needs and thought you were doing alright. Remember when your grandmother passed away, when your classmate passed away, when your mother or your father told you they had cancer, and when you faced countless other tragedies. Those experiences may make you relatable to some of the clients you will encounter or at the very least will motivate you to support causes that impact various indigent, disenfranchised, and struggling communities and individuals. You are also a stronger person because of what you have experienced.

You did that! No one else! You stared fear and challenges in the eye and emerged stronger, wiser, and capable. Someone once told me: “what is meant for you is yours, and no one can ever take it away.” This statement holds true for you.

You are an amazing person! You inspire me every day and by sharing your story with me, many others will benefit. You persisted in the face of challenges when some others gave up.

My only advice is that you remember the positive things others did for you and do it for someone else if and whenever you are able to. That is the biggest reward you will ever experience. My role as your coach was to push you so that you would see your endless potential and to propel you beyond your own limited dreams and aspirations because hopefully, I saw more in you than you saw in yourself. Remember all that you are, all that you experienced, all that you accomplished and did not accomplish, and where you have been. Never be so important as to deny your ability to lift someone else up. You are done with one challenge and I am certain that you will experience countless others in the months and years to come but you are equipped for it all. Believe it!

All of the very best,

 

Your ASP and Bar Coach (Goldie Pritchard)

October 4, 2017 in Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Hypothetically Speaking . . . .

I mentioned last week that students don’t have to wait until final exams at the end of the semester to find out whether they have a good understanding of what their doctrinal professors are teaching. Since most law school classes don’t have traditional periodic tests, I encouraged students to use their professors’ various “what ifs” and “how abouts” to test their understanding of key rules and concepts that the professors are covering in class.

Students: If you are able to answer the professors’ hypotheticals—whether out loud or in your head—you are positioning yourself well to answer the professors’ hypotheticals on their final exams.

A final exam is often just a mixture of a bunch of hypotheticals in one or two large stories. The hypotheticals test your recollection and understanding of key rules that you have covered throughout the semester. The hypotheticals also test your ability to identify and apply significant facts within the hypotheticals to your key rules. This application of law to facts is legal analysis. The better your legal analysis is on a final exam, the more likely you will get a better grade.

But, I know the Socratic class can often be an intimidating and difficult experience, particularly for many 1L students. I know it is not easy sitting in a Socratic class worrying about getting called on—I’ve been there, and I didn’t particularly like it. I disliked the Socratic class so much that I wanted to quit law school after my first year (That story is for another blog post; but you can read a little more about my law school experience here.)

I feared speaking up in the Socratic class because I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent. I worried too much about what my professors or my peers might have thought about me during that moment right after the professor called my name in class. I worried about getting the professor's question wrong. I worried about appearing nervous. I worried.

It took me a long while to adjust to the type of teaching in the Socratic class. It took me a long while to realize that it didn't matter if I was nervous or got a question wrong--what mattered was how I did on the final exams. 

So, I wanted to do what I could to prepare for the final exams. I tried to do a lot of preparation outside of class. I read my cases. But, I also used study aids to help give me context for what I was reading. The study aids also provided me with a bunch of hypotheticals where I could practice my legal analysis.

I practiced my legal analysis within the confines of my safe apartment where I didn’t have to worry about others “judging” me if my voice cracked or was shaky or when I didn’t answer a question correctly. I trained myself on issue spotting and applying law to facts so that I could feel more confident not only in the Socratic class, but on the final exams as well. And things turned out okay for me. The guy who wanted to quit law school after his 1L year is now teaching in a law school.

It’s funny how things turn out. And things can turn out well for you, too. Try to engage with your professors’ hypotheticals. If you are not fully able to engage with the hypotheticals in class, look for ways to engage with hypotheticals outside of the potentially intimidating classroom. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you will get. And you have an entire semester to practice for your big day (and it won't matter on that big day whether your voiced ever cracked in class or whether you got a question wrong when the professor called on you). (OJ Salinas)

October 2, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Illustrating the Law Thru "Picture Books": An Ancient Practice that Might Help in Learning Today!

Perhaps surprisingly, there might be some ancient history right under your nose illustrating the value of creating "picture-books" to teach, guide, synthesis, and communicate legal principles at work.  At least, that's the case at one law school's library (and it might be the same at your law library).  

As related by the Wall Street Journal, the use of illustrations to depict the law is nothing new.  And, it's not really old either because a brief internet search provides lots of exemplars, even in legal educational settings, of the value of "seeing" the law through pictures and illustrations.  So, as you approach midterms or just want to help catch the "big picture" overview of your notes and outlines, feel free to doodle.  Let yourself go wild with your legal imagination.  Create something in a picture, as they say, that is worth a thousand words.  That will be a great way to remember all of those words without having to try to even remember them!  

For your reference, here's the article:  https://www.wsj.com/articles/laws-picture-books-the-yale-law-library-collection-illustrating-the-letter-of-the-law-1506460653 (Scott Johns)

September 28, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 25, 2017

We Are Not in College Anymore

We are several weeks into the Fall semester. 1L students are starting to get a little better handle on what law school is all about. If they didn’t know this already, they are starting to realize that law school is much different than college.

There are no boldface words and glossaries in the law school casebooks. The Socratic class is not filled with a professor lecturing at passive students for the duration of class. And there are few, if any, written “chapter tests” during the semester so that students can assess their understanding of the material.

But, there are many opportunities throughout the semester where students can assess whether they are picking up what they should pick up in the course. These opportunities happen every day in class as a result of the often-dreaded Socratic method (and I dreaded it when I was a 1L--but, that story is for another blog post).

The professors’ many “what ifs” and “how abouts” give students opportunities to test their understanding of the relevant law; they are given chances to apply this law to many factual scenarios—which, in turn, help the students become better issue-spotters and legal analysts. And, as we all know in the ASP world, the more issues a student is able to spot and analyze on a law school final exam, the more likely that student will gain more points on the professor’s final exam rubric.

So, students: Try to engage with the professors’ hypotheticals in class—even when you have not been cold called in class to verbally answer the questions. Try to answer the questions to yourself in your own head. If you can’t come up with an answer to a hypothetical, write the question down on your notes and revisit that question after class or on the weekend when you review what you have covered in class for the week. You may not have come up with the answer in class. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t come up with the answer on the final exam--when it really counts!

One of the many differences from college and law school is that you don’t have several formal written tests throughout the semester; you often only have one exam at the end of the semester per course that often dictates your entire semester course grade. Try to prepare for that final exam every day in class when you engage with the professors’ hypotheticals, and practice the legal analysis skills that will help make you a better law school test-taker and, eventually, lawyer. (OJ Salinas)

September 25, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Exams - Theory, Learning Styles, Miscellany, Professionalism, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

I Understand Everything…

“I understand everything we have covered thus far and I am able to follow along in class!” This statement summarizes what I have heard thus far this academic year from several first year law students and I have to say that I am a little concerned. In the past, very few first year students verbalized such sentiments. Some students have an acumen for law school learning and do in fact understand and know what they need to do. Others think they “understand everything” but when pressed, realize there might be a little more that they could work on. I am always apprehensive when students display such confidence so early in the semester. What further concerns me is that several of my upper level students have also heard the same from first year students and expressed their concern to me. Could this be a new phenomenon? Is this a rare group of first year students? Do more students have an acumen for law school learning or am I simply hyperaware of first year law students I interact with?

There is often a very thin line between confidence and overconfidence.  It is my opinion that some confidence about law school ability is good, particularly with courses that employ the Socratic Method.  The faster a student understands why the course is lead using the Socratic Method and overcomes the fear and embarrassment of providing an incorrect answer or simply being on the spot, the more meaningful the learning experience becomes.   Students who recognize that the Socratic Method is not an affront on their intelligence, ability, knowledge, and/or understanding are apt to have a very positive learning experience.  However, the danger of getting too comfortable with the in-class dynamics and forgetting that their exams require written responses demanding them to tap into their ability to communicate their understanding in writing.  Some students bypass arriving at this point because early on, they were significantly disarmed by the teaching technique that they never regained their confidence and sense of self as they were distracted by the emotions generated by the Socratic exchange.

Belief in one’s ability is always good as it allows students to reach heights of academic performance but overconfidence, an excessive sense of assurance in one’s ability, can be counterproductive. Overconfidence often prevents students from taking advantage of opportunities and programs destined to develop and challenge them to the next level of excellence. Often, overly confident students do not take advantage of Teaching Assistant lead directed study groups, skills workshops, review sessions, and other programming intended to help students excel. They may also have a group of a few upper level students they listen to and hang on to each word they utter. However, some of the advice might be misleading because often time upper level students forget their journey and process. They focus on end techniques they deem effective, forgetting that trial and error allowed the development of such effective processes. Overconfident students are individuals who may or may not stop by my office in the spring semester to solicit assistance only to realize that several of their requests and concerns were addressed in programming in the fall semester. They missed an opportunity and have to visit these skills for the first time in the spring.

I sincerely hope that my concerns about my first year law students are misplaced; nevertheless, I anticipate a busy spring semester. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 20, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 18, 2017

1L Enrichment Groups

I am having an Enrichment Group Leaders training meeting today at noon. So, I have enrichment groups on my mind (hence, the blog post!). Perhaps, many of you are also working with enrichment groups or are thinking about developing enrichment groups. I am sure many of us would love to chat and learn more about our various programs and how we can continue to best serve our students. We can continue the conversation via email or on Twitter (tweet me @ojsalinas, and use #lawschoolASP).

Like many law school academic success programs throughout the country, we provide an opportunity for our 1L students to get additional training and support from upper level students. One way that we provide this opportunity to our 1Ls is through participation in Enrichment Groups.

Every 1L student at Carolina Law is invited to participate in our Academic Excellence Program Enrichment Groups. These groups are run by upper level law students who have done well in school and have shown the ability to do well in mentoring and meeting with students. 1Ls are assigned to their groups based on their 1L professors, and the groups are “tied” to two of the 1L casebook classes—with one upper level student “Enrichment Group Leader” often taking the lead on one of the two casebook classes.

The groups typically meet once a week for about 50 minutes starting late September. The groups alternate discussing ASP topics related to one of their two casebook classes during the group meetings. These topics change as the 1Ls advance during the semester. So, the initial group meeting may simply focus on developing rapport within the group and identifying group member goals for choosing to participate in the group. The next groups may focus on taking notes and case reading for the particular casebook classes. Later group meetings may introduce outlining and the use of study aids to help review practice questions related to the casebook classes. And, finally, we try to end our semester with a practice exam for each of the two casebook classes.

We generally have strong positive feedback from our 1Ls on our Enrichment Groups. Students typically feel that the groups are great ways to provide additional support and guidance in their classes. They also like the idea that these study groups are voluntary and that the groups are already formed for them—the students don’t have to worry about not getting “chosen” or “asked” to join a particular study group.

As I mentioned, I am having a training session for our Enrichment Group Leaders this afternoon. One thing that we try to emphasize with our leaders and their group participants is that the leaders are not “tutors.” They are not there to teach the 1Ls the substantive law, and they certainly don’t replace their law school professors. While the leaders have done well in the casebook class that they are “leading” (and, many of them actually had the same professor for that particular casebook class during their 1L year), our Enrichment Group Leaders are there to help facilitate learning. They are there to provide further support for our students. They are there to “enrich” the students’ 1L academic experience. And we believe a more enriched 1L experience is a better 1L experience. (OJ Salinas)

September 18, 2017 in Advice, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Learning Styles, Meetings, Miscellany, Program Evaluation, Reading, Stress & Anxiety, Study Tips - General, Teaching Tips | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Activist Learning Practice Hypos: Yours for the Taking!

Attention First-Year (and Upper-Level Law Students)!

Here's a handy link for super-short & super-helpful hypothetical essay prompts (complete with discussion guides and point sheets)...yours for the taking (no pun intended!): 

http://www.law.du.edu/pastbarexamessays

And, the best news is that it is totally free!

Oh, and there's more great news. The essays are organized into the following subjects:

  • Administrative Law
  • Agency Law
  • Civil Procedure
  • Constitutional Law
  • Contracts
  • Corporations
  • Criminal Law
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Evidence
  • Family Law
  • Partnership
  • Property Law
  • Torts
  • Sales (UCC Article 2)
  • Commercial Paper (UCC Article 3)
  • Secured Transactions (UCC Article 9)
  • Wills & Trusts

So, as you're working your way through the casebooks, feel free to dabble in a handful of practice problems to put you in the pilot's seat of your learning, i.e., taking control of your "learning travels" this semester through "learning by doing")!   (Scott Johns)

P.S. This is THE LINK that I wish I had as a law student...BECAUSE...the best way to prepare for midterms is to see and work through examples of midterms!

 

 

 

 

 

September 14, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Exams - Studying, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Getting into a Routine

We are in the third week of classes, a time when many first-year law students start to feel overwhelmed and upper-level students recognize it is time for them to follow a routine. This is, therefore, an ideal time for me to discuss time management with both groups of students. The upper-level students have experience in the law school environment so they are more likely to know exactly what they need to do to get on task, stay on task, and complete tasks. First-year law students are still adjusting to the environment and sorting through what will be most effective for them to do, often unlearning some habits such as procrastination that previously made them successful.

A routine is very helpful to first-year law students for a few primary reasons. First, it limits the agony of lacking time; second, it takes the decision making out of the process of accomplishing tasks; third, it saves time. A routine removes concern and internal conversation about what to do and when to do it because the decision is already made and the plan is established; thus, only implementation is required. Having no plan can be quite overwhelming for first-year law students, leaving them lost and confused. They usually simply complete tasks that have immediate deadlines, spend an exorbitant amount of time on minute inconsequential details and tasks, and take longer than necessary on other tasks. Even students who are accustom to planning and organizing their lives struggle with this.

Of course, classic organizational tools, processes, and workshops are available through academic support programs at various law schools to assist students. Some of the typical time management steps include:

(1) Brain dumping - gathering information one needs to complete a task in a day or on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis

(2) Ranking or compartmentalizing tasks – distinguishing between tasks that take ample time and those that take less; those that you dread or would avoid at all costs and those that you prefer, assessing the time factor of each task

(3) Creating a time table for completion of each task - morning, afternoon, or evening, but also remembering to include buffer times for tasks that might consume more time than projected and for emergencies. Most importantly, pretest the pan and be open to making adjustments

Issues to consider are whether or not students attend such programming, heed the advice, and/or are open to testing new strategies.  For a few consecutive years, we held an in-person time management workshop but it was very poorly attended even though students consistently complained about struggling with time management.  So we spent a lot of time working with students on an individual basis.  Nowadays, we post a video of the time management workshop and direct students to it at various points during the semester as well as work with students individually.  Most first-year law students wonder why things they did in other academic environments are not effective nor efficient for them in law school.  Their concern is typically a cue to change habits but are they simply resistant to giving up the familiar?

Develop a plan, get into a routine, and implement it. You can manage all you have to do but you need to first understand your goals, available time, and how to put it all together. Many before you have successfully sorted through this; therefore, you too can do the same but it might take a few different tries so be patient. (Goldie Pritchard)

September 13, 2017 in Advice, Encouragement & Inspiration, Study Tips - General | Permalink | Comments (0)